Another school shooting.
While the pandemic has prevented some of these horrors for some time, lack of proximity being preventative, it seems that part of “normalcy” associated with re-grouping students in their classrooms is this tragedy as well.
The thing was not even on the front page of most newspapers, and where it was, it was below the fold. A quick look at the front page of the New York Times, “America’s Newspaper of Record,” reveals a story about “where the new variant is spreading across Europe” (maps, too); a thing about how flights to and from various places were causing fear, and a right column line on how the variant had arrived in Europe “earlier than expected.” Below the fold are right column stories about the Fed, and there, on the left, in a small box, is the note that “3 is killed at Michigan school…” (and a jump page to A-19).
School shootings are not new. It has been about 23 years since I was rocketed out of my office reverie by the Columbine horrors. I was teaching in Nebraska at the time, and some of my students came from Denver, most from the suburbs in and around Cherry Creek. Columbine was the “new school” in the district, and some of my kids had siblings there. I honestly thought the grief would never subside – but it was a shocking aberration; an anomaly – twisted, terrible, behavioral weirdness of the rarest kind. But of course, it wasn’t going to be rare – shooting followed upon shooting.
And we began to look askance at two things: the availability of guns, and the mental health of the perpetrators.
By 2012, shootings had become pretty common, actually; we were sickened, but lulled. Then Alan Lanza killed his mother, six staff members and 20 kids, aged 6–7 years at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The violent deaths of 20 little kids, unexplained, spurred a real grassroots tide for gun control – which failed – and for increasing the availability of mental health services, especially for kids. But that has yet to materialize, either.
And it’s this we need to point to.
Accessibility to mental health service for anyone is difficult, and for juveniles (minors; those in K-12, for example) is very difficult indeed. Difficult, for those who can afford it to begin with – for those without the ready cash, it is nearly impossible. The issue comes to the top, briefly, when tragedy strikes – when an unbalanced person causes a public heartbreak. But when the incident falls off the front page and we start looking at plans, at price tags, and at logistics, it once again sinks below the priority surface.
The charitable interpretation of what has happened – or not happened – is to put it down to higher primacies during the pandemic or something, but the bottom line is that despite the pandemic, we have managed to pay billions to solve for the problem of repairing portages and charging electric cars. And at likely a much higher price than many alternatives that might help us be sure that a modicum of mental health services are available to all kids. Why hasn’t this happened?
Its complicated. It’s not a quick or simple “fix.” It will take time and money and expertise. But that’s true of anything worth doing.
There are plenty of reasons why kids should have access to mental health care that have absolutely nothing to do with violent crime – just as they do for physical ailments. Simple anxiety, depression; bipolar issues. There should be a person in every school that works with this – and in our wider communities, for when there is no school.
This would be an unalloyed good, and if the mental health experts are correct, it may also save lives. Direct, cost-free access to counseling and treatment should be a constant – not only invoked when we have to bring in the grief counselors.
R. Bruce Anderson is the Dr. Sarah D. and L. Kirk McKay, Jr. Endowed Chair in American History, Government, and Civics and Miller Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Florida Southern College. He is also a columnist for The Ledger and political consultant and on-air commentator for WLKF Radio.