On Thursday evening, at 6:00 p.m., there will be a “community forum” at Winona Senior High School. The purpose of this forum is to discuss the recent incident at the high school in which a student brought a gun to school, and reportedly pointed it at another student. I hope it is well-attended by parents, teachers, students and members of the community.
I also hope that there will be a frank discussion between the adults and the teens in attendance about why — since it was reported that many kids knew about the gun, and had known since May that the student was bringing a gun to school — not one of them reported that fact until he threatened another student.
I have a difficult time remembering my own teenage “code of silence.” It could be because I was sort of out of it in high school, and didn’t have much to report. On the other hand, it could be that I never gave it a thought. I most likely felt that my parents wouldn’t be interested in slights that I, or my friends, suffered, or in the fact that a girl in gym class told us all how she shoplifted clothes all the time from high-end department stores.
How do we impress upon our children the importance of reporting the dangerous incidents they see or hear about? Do we know if they consider them dangerous? Or thrilling and titillating? How can we be welcoming, assure our kids that we won’t “out” them, open them up to being called a “snitch,” get them in trouble with their peers?
Tragically, too many children are hurt or die in our schools. Nearly all of the perpetrators of this horrible violence were known by the kids to be “scary,” or “weird.” To a child, another kid being weird or scary doesn’t carry the threat that it would to an adult. Kids don’t have the experience that we do. A freshman in high school today was an infant when the massacre happened at Columbine. That same student was in middle school, not watching the nightly news or reading the newspaper, when the tragedy occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
It is up to us, as adults, who do know the evils of this world, and the fragility of life, to help our kids protect themselves. We have to stop thinking like adults when we urge kids to report what they see. Kids don’t want to, often don’t have the self-confidence, to report kids who are scary or dangerous.
Let kids report what they see anonymously, through anonymous emails, or texts. Don’t blow their cover.
We have to start being adults when we design preventive measures against violence and the attendant possibility of a homicide on school property. Certainly we can hire school guards. We can make rules. We can give teachers the task of reporting questionable behavior. But does one guard deter violence? Do we enforce rules with real consequences? Do we take teachers’ concerns seriously enough, and remove dangerous kids? Or do we simply return them to the classroom?
Kids are burdened with too much freedom, and we have given it to them, because we think like adults, not kids. Naturally children want to be able to leave school whenever they like, break the rules against backpacks in class, hang around the “smoking tree” unsupervised before and after school, and get away with both major and minor infractions time after time. But should we allow that?
High school kids may have adult bodies, but they don’t yet have adult brains. We do them a disservice when we assume they will make the right decisions without adult guidance. It has been proven time after time that intelligent discipline produces good results. Why do some parents, teachers, and administrators chafe against it so much? Perhaps if adults seemed more in charge, more capable, rather than so much like their peers — who they know will call them snitches and gossip about them—kids would trust them with their secrets.
We must find a solution. Whatever the answer, Winona has had its wake-up call.