Mooney’s Class: School Issues, A Flag Too Often Used

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Dr. Edward Mooney Jr., Professor of Education

(Warning: This content may be activating to some individuals.)

Once again, I have to put out a half-staff American flag in front of my house. It has been my tradition for years to do this to mark another school shooting. Sadly, I keep this particular flag at half-staff all the time – it’s to put out just for school shootings. It’s had to fly too often over the last year. This time I put it out for Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee.

Some see the flag as a remembrance of the people who lost their lives in the latest shooting, this time in Nashville, Tennessee, but it represents more than them. What a lot of Americans don’t realize is that each school shooting triggers those who endured previous shootings. The terror, the sleeplessness, the feelings of vulnerability and lack of control – they all come crashing in on those who have lived through a shooting.

Over the last thirteen years I’ve interviewed dozens of teachers who lived through the horror of a violent attack at a school. I’ve noticed patterns in the interviews. The emotions of those moments are just below the surface of too many of them. It’s as if the shooting is happening again; that’s the imprint of trauma, years later. So, with every shooting, thousands of survivors are re-traumatized.

I know. I was one of them, albeit in a shooting well before the current insanity started, in April of 1999. I was eating lunch in front of the high school where I taught when a boy leaned out of a car and started shooting at our small group. Fortunately, the bullets missed.

The bullets missed, but their memory stayed around for a long time. Every “pop” I heard any time I was on campus made me jump. Too many of the people I interviewed had the same issues. Feeling safe is critical to learning, and not feeling safe degrades your ability to teach and learn.

The flag is flying at half-staff at my house today for all of those teachers, students, administrators, cafeteria workers, janitors, secretaries, and counselors who are living through a school shooting again. The half-staff flag is also a sign of mourning. Learning and teaching have been degraded because of these shootings. Social development at school, so important to young people, is degrading. Kids are afraid of other kids, in more ways than what we “Boomers” remember.

The flag is flying at half-staff at my house today for my country. There’s something seriously wrong, and we don’t seem to have the will to overcome it. The obsessions with guns and violence are eroding the institutions and security of our democracy.

Let’s give this a sense of perspective. According to the Washington Post, more than 348,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine, in April of 1999. There have been 376 school shootings since then. According to James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology, law, and public policy at Northeastern University in Boston, we are on track to experiencing the greatest number of mass shootings in the US since recordkeeping started.

This is overwhelming. What can we do? On a national and state level, we need to increase the pressure on our representatives to do something about this. Lobby for whatever you think can work – metal detectors, automatic weapon restrictions, more mental health availability, anything.

On a personal level, reach out to your schools. Let teachers know you care, and are working toward finding answers. There’s a kind of helplessness you feel in a classroom – one feels alone. When my principal, Larry Yeghoian, assured me he was doing all he could to keep me safe after that, it helped. Let educators know that their anxieties are understood. Don’t tell them to “tough it out;” that leads to emotional distance, and disconnection.

Do the same for the children. They’re scared, too. They need to know someone is trying to find answers. Allow them to own their feelings; accept them as they are. Don’t tell them to get over it. Find ways for them to express their frustrations; find ways for them to work on answers.

Help me to be able to put my half-staff flag away for good. Please…

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