Saturday, September 30, 2006

School shootings.

Violence in schools was sort of a pet issue of mine when I was in high school, because I saw it all around me. Kids were brutally beating up other kids while other kids stood around in a big circle-jerk and watched. I actually wrote an editorial about it in the school newspaper advocating that instead of just standing around with their mouths hanging open, maybe these large groups of people could step in and do something about it. It tapered off, since I think seeing students advocating vigilante action motivated administrators to clamp down on it.

Eleven years later, and I'm hearing about a thwarted shooting plot at my alma mater, Green Bay East High School. I see that the problem, in the long run, hasn't gotten better. It's gotten worse. Why is this? What do we need to be doing differently? Here's another story of a disgruntled student who, tragically, killed his principal before being stopped.

Why is this allowed to happen? Every time one of these students goes over the edge and kills students, teachers, and an occasional principal, you always hear about the warning signs that the kids exhibited that were ignored until it was too late. Suggested solutions generally range from better counseling, cracking down on teasing, and metal detectors. All of these are band-aid approaches. The problem isn't that we aren't acting to prevent the violence in schools. The problem is that we're putting these mentally ill children in the same schools as everyone else, putting them in different classes that only serve to further ostracize them from their peers, and then still subjecting them to the harsh ridicule that inevitably stems from being unique or different. In some cases, these mentally ill children are very fragile and can only take so much. In other cases, they're just sociopaths who see nothing wrong with using violence to solve their problems.

We need to get past the tendency to sugar-coat mental illness in children. A homicidal maniac is a homicidal maniac, whether he's 15 or 51. The notion that we can put these square pegs into the round holes of public education is absurd. So many of these kids are ticking time bombs that need to be defused, but never get the help they need. In most cases, they don't blow up while they're still in school. Instead, they go on to be abusive spouses, abusive parents, criminals, or serial killers. Treatment in early adolescence could prevent a lot of these problems, but instead, we insist on working harder to force conformity on them. Mental illness isn't something that you can beat out of a kid with a "good whuppin' behind the wood shed". They need to be treated, and yes, coddled. They're sick.

How do I know that Eric Hainstock was mentally ill? I don't, but any child whose solution to a little teasing is to grab his dad's guns and gun down the principal clearly doesn't have all of his faculties about him.

And that's another thing: what were this psychopath's parents' doing keeping guns in the house? Did they just not know their kid wasn't right in the head? His peers seemed to.

Rupp described Hainstock as a freshman with few friends who was “just weird in the head.“

“He always used to kid around about bringing things to school and hurting kids,” she said.

Student Ellen Laufenberg said Hainstock was always nice to her but described him as a “problem kid” with “a short fuse.“

I'll tell you the real reason nobody wants to talk about setting up separate schools for mentally ill children: the financial cost. It would cost a lot of money to get these kids the help they need. Nobody wants to acknowledge the human cost of just putting these kids in "special ed". Instead, they say what these kids need is just a good whuppin', when in fact that just exacerbates the problem.

I feel compelled to point out that not all special ed kids are mentally ill. But there are enough of them that are that I feel that they merit a more comprehensive approach.

Do parents feel safe knowing that four eight hours a day, their kids are locked into a brick building that may or may not contain psychopaths who are ready to show up out of the blue and start killing people? I wouldn't want that for my kids. Nobody wins in that situation. Not the normal kids, not the teachers, not the parents, and not the mentally ill kids in need of treatment. It's just short-sighted.

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