A Teacher's Musings on Virginia Tech
I got in touch with a teacher friend of mine from Jersey and asked him to share his thoughts on the events of the past few days... His words follow.
Like any other tragic event that we're reminded of daily, the shooting at VA Tech. looms large in our minds and causes us to feel increasing anxiety. Drivers who take the tunnels and bridges in New York feel it every day, as thoughts of 9/11 haunt them while in traffic entering and exiting the city. Going to work in the morning gives me a similar feeling. Our only weapon against our fears and anxieties is our vigilance (against both terrorists and school shooters).
I am currently covering a unit on school violence in my juvenile justice class, which includes a section on school shootings and the profiles of typical shooters. I saved several Internet articles from the past few days for my students which include profile characteristics Cho Seung-Hui exhibited before the shootings. At first thought, I wondered whether there were enough services being provided for students who are "loners", who share violent writing with others, who are depressed, and who are relatively deprived. But after I let the event set in I realized that this event had many causes, including our complete inability to come to grips with our need for greater gun control. I will continue to update you if you'd like, with my students reactions over the next few days.
My first day back in school since the VA Tech shooting was bizarre at best. Students were much more reluctant to discuss the news than past weeks events. Tensions that accompanied our dialogue seemed to originate from my students' anxiety about former peers who had been removed from the school after exhibiting behavior similar to Cho Seung Hui. They remarked that the college coeds who were killed could have been them, if our school had not identified the troubled student in time.
I explained to my pupils that New Jersey law allows school principals to send disturbed students out for psychological evaluation. Until a thorough evaluation is completed by a certified psychologist or psychiatrist the student may not attend public school. Universities, however, have legal boundaries regarding the civil liberties of mentally ill students. This trend in respecting the rights of the mentally ill was solidified by events that recently occurred at the George Washington University, my alma mater. A students who tried to commit suicide sued the uinversity because he was banned from campus buildings until he had a pyschological evaluation and treatment. The university settled the tort and helped create precedent in the matter.
News of Cho Seung Hui's past pyschological problems and possible "imminent danger to himself" made me, a strong civil libertarian, wonder whether students, even in private institutions, should be disallowed from participating in the higher education process if they are a danger to themselves or possibly others. I am still pondering that thought now.