I circled the wagons in my classroom in the aftermath of the mass shootings. I put on some Eliza Doolittle tunes and greeted the students with the admonition to not talk among themselves about the writing prompt, rather to write down everything they were thinking. There would be time for discussing it later.
Today’s student isn’t used to the art of being contemplative. Our educational model isn’t even set up for such activity any longer. The experts who study these things advise that we keep students hopping from one thing to the next. Some teachers even set timers in their classes to make sure that every 15 minutes students are engaged in another learning module.
Don’t even get me started.
But on this one day, they were quiet. On this one day, they were writing. As it turned out, they had a lot of insightful things to say about mass shootings, our writing prompt for the day.
The prompt asked them to consider why these shooters are so intent on killing. And why is it that so many of the mass murders in this country are carried out by white men of privilege? And why when it is a person of color does media often then identify such killers by their religion? And what is it that religion offers these killers anyway?
Here’s some things to know about the bulk of the students in my class: Most are not affluent. Most are brown-skinned. Many do not have access to laptops or Internet outside of school. Some have witnessed horrific violence up close and personal. Some suffer from PTSD. Almost all of them want to make something good of this one wild life of theirs.
After everyone had pretty much penned their thoughts, I asked them to read aloud their insights. Those insights didn’t vary much from class to class, evidence perhaps that there are things that we as a people can agree upon:
– Most of these murderers display some sort of emotional and/or mental imbalance prior to the shootings
– Rage and anger is the most common precursor to the shootings.
– We are uncomfortable around angry people and/or emotionally/mentally unstable people.
– We are uncomfortable because we are afraid.
– The more afraid we are, the more we avoid those people.The more we avoid those who are suffering emotionally and/or mentally the more likely they are to turn elsewhere to find community.
– Today’s mentally/emotionally unstable person will typically go online to find community/acceptance.
– These are the people that ISIS and other extremists organizations seek out.
– These are more likely to be young men from affluent families because weapons like the ones they are using are expensive. And buying a lot of ammunition takes money, too.
– Maybe economic privilege makes a fellow more prone to raging because he is full of hubris (vocab word) and believes he is entitled to have everything go his way, whereas, someone from a lower income level tends to have more humility and accepts things more readily.
– Maybe religion gives such a person a sense of purpose, and that sense of purpose gives that person justification for his actions.
– It is a very dangerous thing when any of us feel we are right and everyone else around us is wrong. Such thinking emboldens mass murderers.
– Religion can be a very dangerous thing misused.
– So can guns.
– People are broken.
– We all need to do a better job taking care of each other.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Burdy (Mercer University Press).