Friday, December 28, 2012

Some belated reflections on the tragedy in Newtown

This may or may not make me a terrible person, but it actually took a few days for the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT to sink in.  Nonetheless, seven women and twenty children died two weeks ago today.  By rights, they should still be alive.

I didn't hear about it on the day when it happened; after a fairly busy morning, I spent the bulk of the afternoon and evening with a close friend that day, and since checking the news isn't generally one of our priorities when we spend time together, I didn't hear about it until at all until the day after.  And then it seemed that it was almost all I heard about; as I understand it, more detailed stories were then beginning to emerge, both true and untrue, about the shooter, about his actions, and about the women (none of the people he killed were men) and children whose lives he so cruelly took.  And in all honesty, it didn't really sink in until a few days later, when the principal at the school where I'm doing my volunteer work handed me a bulletin that was put together by the school board about dealing with questions that the students may ask about dealing with this tragedy, as well as our own reactions to the news.

You know, I was sixteen years old when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris went on their killing spree at Columbine High School in Colorado.  I still remember the shock that I felt, still remember the backlash against people who dressed predominantly in black, or who happened to wear long black coats.  (And this was in a school whose official "colours" were black and grey; we wore uniforms in the school's colours, for goodness' sake, and a good many of the more comfortable shirts happened to be black!)  I remember the rumours that went around, both about the Columbine tragedy and possible copycats at our own school.  Most of all, though, I remember being completely unable to understand just why anyone would do anything that horrible, why they would take lives that weren't theirs to take.

It may be a mark of the cynicism that I developed for a few years, but although I'd never do such a thing myself (I'm fundamentally a non-violent person), I think I understand a bit better.  There is such a glorification of guns and violence in Western culture; it's not as prevalent in Canada as it is elsewhere, but it exists nonetheless.  To have a gun is to have a kind of power that it seems many people find to be intoxicating.  Shoot someone, and you can utterly change their life, or even end it entirely.  This doesn't excuse the crime.  It doesn't even really explain it.  But it certainly makes it easier for tragedies like the shootings at Columbine and Sandy Hook to happen in the first place.  Until this stops, until people stop celebrating guns and violence as a mark of power and masculinity, these things will keep happening.  And despite anything that the NRA might say about the matter, arming teachers is not the solution.  If anything, it would only open the door to further violence.

Because I'm a teacher myself, and because I'm currently working with children who are very close to the age of the kids who were killed in Newtown two weeks ago, I can't avoid the fact that this tragedy hits very close to home.  Shootings like this are rare.  They happen even less frequently in Canada than they do in the USA.  (That said, we passed the 23rd anniversary of the massacre at the École Polytechnique de Montréal at the beginning of this month, and there were a number of bomb scares at schools in my city in 1995, though no explosives were ever actually found.)  But we have procedures to be followed in the event that something like this does happen, and I work with at least two students who are, even at their young age, enthusiastic about first-person-shooter video games.  One of these students has anger management issues, though he's getting better at handling them, and because he is at present a fundamentally good person, I do not ever want to hear that he has turned out like Klebold, Harris, Marc Lepine, or Adam Lanza.

It's sobering to think that, as rare as these things are, they could conceivably happen to me, or to any of my friends or acquaintances who are teachers.  It's heartbreaking to know that they still happen at all.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Quick PSA

If one's sexual orientation were a choice, it would still be wrong to condemn people for not being heterosexual.

If one's gender identity were a choice, it would still be wrong to threaten and assault people who feel that they were born with the wrong type of body.

If one's race were a choice, it would still be wrong to hate non-white people for not being white.

If having a disability were a choice, it would still be wrong to pick on people whose bodies don't work the way that we're told that they're supposed to.

If poverty were a choice, it would still be wrong to make the lives of poor people even harder than they already are by gutting the social assistance programs that make it possible for them to survive and sometimes even give them a chance to escape poverty.

If body size were a choice, it would still be wrong to bully people whose body size falls outside of the relatively narrow range of sizes that is currently considered to be "normal," whether their body is thinner or fatter than the current ideal.

Do you see the pattern here?

All of these characteristics are things that are not necessarily under the control of the people who possess them.  All of these things are things that people use as excuses to harass, bully, intimidate, and abuse other people.  None of them are good enough.  There is no justification for such behaviour.  Not even if you think that they chose these conditions.

That is all.