15 December 2012

of loss and anger and memory on a rainy winter day

I am watching the rain fall on a chill winter's day, and I am thinking.

Yesterday morning I had the joyous opportunity to play with letters and words with kindergarten kids in three different schools in Albemarle County, Virginia.

They showed me how to make a J.
I challenged them with a special "J-word" - Jelloricious.
This was special. Special because, though I am not in Virginia this week, I could join through the contemporary technologies which make the world of these children something unique, and special because, unless you routinely see "school,' "education," and our planet through the eyes of young children, you are in no position to discuss education and educational poverty. The gift these five-year-olds give to me is a gift which makes my work possible.

But yesterday morning I also became aware of the horrible evil playing out in a Connecticut suburb, a place close to the homes of friends, a place close to the homes of dearly loved cousins - not that that matters, really - but a place any of us might find ourselves... as parents or teachers.

A mentally ill young white suburban male - does this sound familiar - who did not get the help he probably needed in school, whose family was spread out too far, whose father spent three hours a day commuting to a job I know was longer than eight hours in length, whose - well, we'll never know most of it but we know it all too well, walked into an elementary school, an elementary school secured with all the silly security systems politicians and media-trained parents demanded after Columbine, and murdered 20 babies, five and six-year-olds, and six of those "lazy, unionized" adults our leaders say work in our schools.

Why? There's no answer. I could tell you about profiling the paranoia which grows in certain isolated minds, about how that morphs into conspiracy, merges with America's peculiar machismo love of heavy weapons, and turns lethal, but that's the stuff of stupid Today Show interviews now. It doesn't matter.

There may be answers in American gun laws. America's leaders are far more interested in arresting 19-year-olds with beer cans than people with assault weaponry - "killing machines" is the only term we can use. (A police academy instructor once told us, "There may be legitimate reasons to own a single shot rifle, but the only purpose of handguns and multi-shot weapons is the murder of humans.") There is a great deal of the mantra of the American right wing in this, "the "right-to-life" ends at birth." We like to pretend, in America, that we are heroes instead of an increasingly frightened population, terrified of our own shadows, so we cling to our guns as a faux masculinity, unwilling to take any necessary steps which might make our children safer.

There may be answers in our health care system as well. As middle class health insurance has been gutted by greedy corporations and moronic state legislators, mental health supports have dropped. As school budgets have been cut so has counseling support. I remember being amazed, when I first went to work in a high school, that we had one social worker for 1800 adolescents. Many football coaches, one social worker. It is only because of Obamacare that this shooter could have even had health insurance as a 20-year-old not in college, and, you know, Obamacare is a socialist plot.

The Twilight Zone - The Bewitching Pool - not every suburban idyll is idyllic

There may be answers in our desires for status. I do not know if I would have spent a great deal of money to live in a place which left me with three hours of commuting each day, and only minutes with my children. I earned very little during the time I had to devote to parenting, but I was there. And I'm glad my son and I watched TV together and ate dinner together almost every night. I'm not trying to make anyone feel guilt here, but I think we might need to examine our priorities, to stop laughing at the Greeks or Irish because they value time home with their families more than money and 3,000 square foot homes on half acre lots. I think we need to decide whether our time is better spent in our adult pursuits or in parenting. I think we need to wonder about living in neighborhoods instead of subdivisions.

President Obama

And there may need to be a rethink about how we act when our kids are in trouble. Do we protect our reputation or do we get help?

But, as I watch today's rain, I guess the biggest question is our priorities as a society. I understand that I, as someone who hates guns - I carried one every day for my job, I'd never do that again - its no big deal for me to give up guns if it makes kids safer, but if guns are your love, your hobby, your passion, would you make that choice? I know every tax dollar I pay "hurts" - but I pay, as Michigan's late great Governor George Romney said, "because its my responsibility." I'd rather pay ten more bucks and have a psychologist in every school. I'd rather pay another ten bucks more and make sure the teenager on the next block over has the access to great mental health services. I'd rather pay more at a store which offers benefits to my retail-employed neighbors than shop at Walmart. I'd rather drive a car built by an American unionized worker because I know they have the salary and benefits they need to take care of their families and have dignity in their lives. And I'd rather do what I do with schools than make a lot of money.

I'm hardly a saint. That's not the point. The point is that from every direction, the White House, the Republicans in Congress, America's governors, the Koch Brothers, even Andrew Cuomo (who, like Mitt Romney, was raised to know better), and especially corporate America, children in our society have been pushed to the back of our priorities list. We worry about taxes, and rights, and unions and socialism, but maybe the first question should be, "what about our children?"

We are hurting right now. Horribly hurting. It is beyond our imaginations. But it will go on and on like this until we choose to make different decisions.

There is nothing a school policy or any school security can do about this. This is a society which needs to ask itself some very deep questions.

Because when I next interact with five-year-olds, I do not want to look at them with fear in my heart. I do not want to do that.

- Ira Socol


Maureen Devlin said...

Thank you for writing this powerful post that challenges all of us to ask the important questions about the decisions our country has to make.

Mary Ann Reilly said...

It is beyond our imagination.

Miss Shuganah said...

One thing we need to do is remove stigmas of parents with mentally ill children.

I just read this post: I am Adam Lanza’s Mother

I don't know how this woman gets up in the morning let alone shepherd her mentally ill son as well as her other children through a day. I cannot imagine her wondering moment to moment, which child am I going to get? I also cannot imagine how this boy wrestles with his demons.

I have enough pain with two SpEd kids. I cannot imagine these challenges. Some people call me courageous. If I am courageous, then this woman is a superhero. I reckon I'd roll up my sleeves and do what needs to be done, but I am
glad I do not have to find out.

I used to think that "we don't know what to do with him," was a sorry excuse, but frankly I am more compassionate these days.

We can all thank Ronald Reagan for starting this downward spiral in mental health services.

It is easy to villify these very bright but troubled young men with sometimes elaborate schemes who shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot until they kill themselves or are apprehended. But the fact is that, for the most part, they, too, are victims of an indifferent society just as much as mentally and physically disabled are ignored.

We need safeguards to protect our children from these mentally ill people, but we also need to acknowledge that at least some of them are also suffering.

Compassion first. Condemnation second.

The awful truth is that we cannot ensure that all kids will be safe. All we can do is our best not to fail them.

Scott Smith said...

Thanks for this, Ira.

Hoping that Governor Snyder does the right thing with the concealed weapons bill that landed on his desk last week.