Yesterday morning I had the joyous opportunity to play with letters and words with kindergarten kids in three different schools in Albemarle County, Virginia.
I challenged them with a special "J-word" - Jelloricious.
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.
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.
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