The snowball fight is over, my teenage daughter the clear winner, the banana muffins are on the cooking rack, and the kids are quietly playing Minecraft in the family room. It’s cold outside, though sunny, and I’m sitting at my desk reading about Columbine.
Outside, in the real world, the world not paused by snow, more than a hundred teenagers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are addressing the Florida legislature. As one headline read: “Florida Students Began With Optimism. Then They Spoke to Lawmakers.” There are those in politics questioning if the students are really actors, or whether because they’re teens they’ll lose interest and be sent away once they hit resistance. The people with those questions must never have spent much time with students.
As a principal and former teacher, I have seen first hand the power passionate and purposeful students can bring to the issues that inspire them. That this group of teenagers will change the world is something I would certainly not bet against.
How different this is than the tragedy in 1999 that saw fifteen students lose their lives to two shooters at Columbine High School. Today, reading journalist Dave Cullen’s thorough and heartbreaking descriptions of the tragedy in Colorado is as difficult emotionally, both as an educator and a parent, as it is important to my understanding. It is, for me, one step in the direction of trying to be the best principal I can be for my students, teachers, and families, a person with perspective, if not answers, and some kind of conception of how horrors like the one we saw happen last week come about.
I see in Cullen’s historical view of Columbine a society, particularly educators and law enforcement, still learning how to deal logistically with a new reality of students with access to high powered guns, an abundance of rage, and a mindset bent on hurting others. Reading about what happened I can’t help but see in the stories of the students and staff at Columbine parallels to the people I have worked with for the past quarter century.
In the years between Columbine and Sandy Hook the responses to school shootings, both in the way they are treated by law enforcement and educators have evolved, even as the horror and heartbreak of each subsequent event have remained just as profound. Every year we practice how to “lock down” and “lock out,” we invite police to speak to our staff and students, and we learn more how to protect our schools from events like this.
And Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
As a principal I struggle at what to tell my kids, my staff, myself about what more we can do to prevent tragedies like we have seen.
So I read. Today Columbine by Dave Cullen. Tomorrow, on the recommendation of another principal, Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings by Katherine S. Newman.
They will not have all the answers.
So I will talk with our school resource officer, serious, earnest, and determined; my fellow administrators, so many so talented and caring; and look for understanding and inspiration wherever I can find it.
Today I find that inspiration in those students from Florida who have transformed their wail of grief into a cry for change. I see in them hope, spring shoots rising through the cold snow, and I am inspired.