I attended Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids, Minnesota for grades 6 – 8 (Go Vikings!). I had joined a high school sport in the fall of 7th grade, so by the spring of 8th grade I was more than ready to move on from that weird, wall-less school.
Did I mention Northdale had no walls? Well, the science rooms had “walls” and some of the classrooms had dividers that went all the way to ceiling, but most of the school was open, with classrooms having dividers that went half-way to the ceiling on only three sides of the room. The idea was that the learning would flow from room to room, and kids in English would be influenced by the discussions happening next-door in Algebra. The reality was that it was highly distracting to a student population at an age to be restless anyway.
The lack of walls in my school had always been just an oddity; a slightly annoying factoid, but not really anything to think twice about. That is, until April 20, 1999. Because on that day, 2 kids opened fire on their classmates and teachers in Littleton, Colorado, killing 12 people and injuring 21 more. Stories came out about how people hid under tables, behind doors, inside classrooms…..
But where do you hide in a classroom with no walls? Because on that day, the no-walls situation at my school became more than an oddity. It became a threat.
No child should have to explore their own mortality. No child should have to consider how to react when death comes to stalk them. It’s time we stopped wringing our hands because the problem is so big and the solutions are complex. Sometimes things worth doing aren’t easy, but we shouldn’t let the difficulty of the task prevent us from taking that first step.
I typed, “First School Shooting US” into my search bar. The search engine pulled up a popular website, which provided a handy list of all the shootings that have occurred in the United States on or around school property.
- March 30, 1891. Liberty, Mississippi. 14 people are injured, some seriously, at a school exhibition when a gunman fires into the crowd.
- November 12, 1966. Mesa, Arizona. 5 people, including a 3-year-old child, are killed when a gunman enters a beauty school and shoots everyone present in the head. 2 people survive being shot.
- September 26, 1988. Greenwood, South Carolina. A 19-year-old wounds 8 and kills 2 in an elementary school. One of the injured persons was the school’s gym teacher, who confronted the gunman in the girls’ bathroom.
- April 20, 1999. Littleton, Colorado. 2 high school seniors kill 12 of their classmates and a teacher and wound 21 others, with an additional three suffering wounds as they tried to leave the school. The gunmen kill themselves at the end of their spree.
- March 21, 2005. Red Lake, Minnesota. A 16-year-old kills two people at home, then goes back to school to open fire, ultimately killing seven and wounding seven more before killing himself.
- December 14, 2012. Newtown, Connecticut. A 20-year-old kills his mother at home, and then drives to the local elementary school and kills 32 people and injures two more before killing himself.
- February 14, 2018. Parkland, Florida. A former student enters the high school, killing 17 and injuring 14 more.
I had half-expected the search engine to spit back, “Columbine,” since that was the first school shooting of my memory. It was there on the list, but I was surprised to learn that people have been shooting folks on school grounds since not long after this country was founded.
That got me thinking: Isn’t it time we stopped letting our children and those who dedicate their lives to our children’s education live in fear that their school could be the next to get added to the list?
Some people think it’s a gun issue; others will insist it’s a mental health issue; yet others will blame something else. That’s fine. This is not a zero-sum game. We can address multiple issues! Sometimes complex problems require a multi-pronged response – a little of this, a little of that, add a pinch of that other thing and voila! You have a sensible solution to a societal woe.
But whatever we do, we must do something. If the elected officials serving in office right now continue to lack the political will to try to solve this problem, we must express our discontent in the ballot box and elect new people to office. We could enact new requirements around background checks, prohibit those who commit domestic assault from purchasing firearms, and dust off the ol’ assault weapons ban in addition to providing full funding for public mental health programs and increasing patient access to mental health services by incentivizing medical professionals to enter the mental health field. If that doesn’t work to address the issue of school shootings, we can go back to the drawing board and try something else. No matter what we do, we’re bound to help people, and we may just stumble upon the formula that puts this horrifying era of school shootings behind us.
But no matter what, we cannot lose sight of the fact that children are being killed. It’s too important an issue to shrug our shoulders helplessly and do nothing. Let’s start by electing people who agree.