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Franklin Regional High School and the danger of politicizing tragedy

Franklin Regional High School
Franklin Regional High School
Photo by Ben Filio/Getty Images

Franklin Regional High School made headlines this week because of a mass stabbing. It is something that no news editors can avoid covering without worrying about losing their jobs. Journalists that have the luxury of doing primarily analysis and opinion items may have avoided it, and some probably should have.

In the face of tragedy that places the lives of young people in danger - this incident appears to have not caused any deaths at this point - it is too tempting to start delving into political topics surrounding school violence. It's born of the general notion that government should do something to prevent these events from happening. Unfortunately, the issues are highly polarizing, and the ensuing debate rarely addresses the real problems.

First, there is no "one-size-fits-all" answer to preventing school violence. In the case of Franklin Regional High School, perhaps the administration there will be thinking about how students enter their building. There were no metal detectors that would have prevented knives from being brought into school, in example. But, there is something that was definitely done right. The fact that the school and surrounding emergency services personnel engaged in a drill that included how to react to a multiple casualty incident can be credited with the quick responses of many on that day. The next step should be to address how to prevent it from happening in the first place.

But, what works in one school may not work for another. A school with thousands of students wouldn't be helped very much with a plan geared for one with just over one thousand, like Franklin Regional. Also, there are demographics of a given community to consider. While it might make people feel better to start demanding action from state or federal politicians to come up with a law to prevent school violence, the fact is that may not be very useful in the end. One law for hundreds or thousands of schools leaves the people with that "one-size-fits-all" situation that really won't solve the issue for very many at all.

Maybe people realize that a little, and maybe that is where the venomous arguments begin. It's a normal response, to think that "something" must be done, but the knee-jerk reactions rarely are of any value. In the case of Sandy Hook, there were immediate calls for more gun control, and then Connecticut ended up with the highest number of gun permit requests shortly after the shooting there. One common thing is that this bickering by the adults does much more harm than good. We're talking about a situation where we want to make children safer, but we resort to partisan battles in front of them. The end result is that we're teaching our children that keeping them safe is a valid cause for adults to act like children battling in a schoolyard. That isn't very "safe."

Chief David Oliver from the Brimfield, OH police department explained very clearly why this is wrong:

Good Afternoon,

A little while ago, I posted about the tragic stabbings of students at a high school in Pennsylvania. We post info like that incident (and also officers being killed) as a notice for mourning and reflection. Soon after, the insults and innuendos started, with words like “conservative” “liberal,” “it wasn’t a gun” and “arm the teachers.” Here is some unsolicited advice. Do with it what you will. If it does not apply to you, then ignore it.

Until we, as adults, learn to stop being angry, insulting each other and picking fights every chance we get, how in heck can we expect our kids to behave any differently? I guarantee, if you are an Internet troll, generally angry and surly and by all appearances hate the human race, the children around you will act no better than what you are modeling. We have to be the examples for those who are still growing.

If you want another opinion, here you go. Until adults start leading and acting like adults, we are just spinning our wheels. There is no perfect political party, no perfect way to peel a banana, and no perfect person. Adults insulting each other and cramming political views in our ears in a constant barrage of “the world is ending,” is only making the kids in our society more stressed and angry.

In a case like this awful stabbing incident at a HIGH SCHOOL….pipe down and let the people mourn. Be there for them, but be quiet unless there is something helpful to say.

My apologies for being direct. It’s sort of my thing.

Carry on….Chief Oliver.

We, as adults, have created this atmosphere where children resort to violence to resolve their issues. We have given them the example that is alright to act with complete disrespect for others simply because they disagree with us. Our stilted notion that violence is alright in comparison with sex when it comes to exposing young children to adult content. (Doubt that, take a moment and ask a salesperson at a video game store how many times they've watched parents pass over games with sexual content, but allowed their child to have games with warnings about graphic violence.) Schools that previously provided some degree of discipline and structure for children now embrace "zero tolerance" policies and "positive reinforcement" programs. They are also defining policy based on the advice of attorneys that are more concerned with potential exposure to litigation than the safety or well-being of students.

Solutions to school violence are not going to be found through state or federal legislation. This is something that needs to be addressed on the local level. It's also not going to come from consulting legal counsel. Most importantly, it's not going to come from heated arguments about issues like gun control. It's time for the adults to start thinking before they talk, particularly when there are children watching. We need to stop teaching them that being out of control is acceptable.

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