Unlike other professionals who have spoken about how to prevent school shootings, the elementary teacher requested anonymity, in order to speak candidly. She teaches elementary school in an upper middle class district in the suburbs of Washington, DC. She has been teaching for over 15 years, and has several children of her own.
What Makes a Shooter?
“One or two in 20 million become shooters. It’s easier to blame guns, but you have to admit that some people become evil. You have to look at a mass shooter and ask, how did he get from being a cute little kid, maybe a little weird, to being evil? They choose evil, in countless little choices all along the way. It’s a series of events and issues that take them out of human associations.”
“You have to look at a mass shooter and ask, how did he get from being a cute little kid to being evil?”
“Millions of kids don’t fit in, but they turn out okay as adults. People who become mass shooters are really sick. I don’t believe we can predict or identify potential shooters in elementary school. They’re not evil yet. They haven’t been corrupted. You can’t write anyone off. Lots of kids are a little odd, but someone who wants to go out and harm others is just sick. But that level of sickness doesn’t arise until after elementary school.
The teacher spoke about mental illness, and the importance of using the criminal justice system as a tool to intervene. “When you see all those flags [in the Parkland shooting], he should have been arrested. He could have been helped by psychiatric aid in the juvenile justice system. The Obama administration attempts to stop the ‘school to prison pipeline’ didn’t help him – they prevented his getting help. Everyone failed him,” even the police.
Structure and Discipline
The teacher spoke passionately of the need for structure and discipline. The first step any rider on a roller coaster takes is to make sure the bar is down. They can’t enjoy the ride unless they are sure they won’t fall out. Growing children are the same way. “They need structure, they need to feel they can control their fate, control themselves. Without discipline, parameters, hands-on parenting, making an attachment – then they fail.”
The first step on a roller coaster is to make sure the bar is down. You can’t enjoy the ride unless you’re sure you won’t fall out.
She stressed the importance of parental attention. “It’s not hardship, hunger, or great need that drives these shooters. Mass shooters are usually not inner city kids – they are middle class white boys with mental illness, usually heavily medicated. They want fame, attention, notoriety. They have never formed an attachment to other humans – they live in a world where they are dissociated from everyone. Normal people can’t relate to it, even normal people with mental health issues.”
The simplest things matter: eating, sleeping, exercise. “Parents have to enforce basic rules, pay attention to the simple things. Kids need a regular sleep schedule, they need to eat right, and exercise. They need sunshine, time spent outdoors. Most of all, they need to learn self-regulation and self-discipline.”
Don’t Walk Out, Walk Across the Lunchroom
The teacher questioned the practical value of the walkout that many students across the country are planning this week to express solidarity with the Parkland students. “What difference will it make to walk out? A better alternative to having your kid walk out of school for 17 minutes, or to protest, is to go find a kid sitting alone in the cafeteria, and sit with them and have lunch. Look for the lonely kid, or the kid who is being bullied. Go connect with him. Some parents will tell their kids, ‘I don’t care if you get a B in math, I care that you be a friend to someone else.’”
“What difference will it make to walk out for 17 minutes? A better alternative is to go find a kid sitting alone in the cafeteria, and sit with them.”
“Maybe if someone had listened, and taken action, it could have prevented a shooting. But if it had, we would never know. We only know when something fails. The problem is that there are a few kids out there who are just not attaching. There are more and more all the time. You pray for your kids, that somebody will be kind to them, or that they will be kind to others. We try to teach kids to be the friend who goes over and invites someone to eat lunch with them. You have to do that.”
There is more commentary from the elementary school teacher in the next segment. It includes some surprising opinions about arming teachers, and comments about what teachers can do, and why they don’t do more.