As many of you already know, we had another school shooting in Colorado recently, at Arapahoe High School in Littleton. A few days later, on December 21st, 17-year-old Claire Davis, a classmate of the shooter who was shot at point blank range, died, the most recent victim of what is becoming an all-too-frequent occurence: Kids killing kids. At school. Intentionally.
It is a desperate plea for help, but a plea that can never be answered, because it’s always too late.
All that day, that shooting, and all of the school shootings, were in the back of my mind, along with the thought that there must be something that can be done to address them – to help stop them. Not to contain them when they happen, but to deter them from happening in the first place.
That night I went to sleep with it still on my mind, and thinking about how I wished that I would be hit with an epiphany during the night, the kind that would have me sit bolt upright in my bed and think “That’s it!”
And that next morning I suddenly opened my eyes, wide awake, and sat bolt upright, with the thought “That’s it!”
That’s really exactly how it happened.
I woke up with the realization that the key to preventing school shootings is in the commonalities unique to school shooters, how they have so much in common that it should be possible to put together a profile of a youth who could be on the path to becoming a school shooter, and identifying them in time to intervene.
Of course, the first obvious thing is that they are all boys. Which is more relevant than you may think. It also has to do with how boys are treated in school, and how they are often ‘labelled’ basically because they are boys – their boy energy. They are labelled as problem kids just for being themselves. Demonized. Medicated for ADHD when often they are just being..you know… boys. (Several years ago I did research on this, and at that time, 17% of all k-12 kids in public schools were being medicated for ADHD and 80% of them were boys.) I am not saying that ADHD drugs are part of the problem. I am saying that treating a boy like there is something wrong with him – making him take medication for his ‘condition’ of being a boy – labelling him as somehow ‘defective’ for having boy energy – is a big problem.
Where we used to say that “boys will be boys”, now we say “boys are bad.” There is even a line of t-shirts and school supplies with the slogan “Boys are stupid – throw rocks at them.” Do you think that anybody could get away with a line of clothing saying “Girls are stupid”?
Can you imagine what it does to these boys to be told constantly that they are worthless? And that they are a “problem” if they can’t sit still for hours on end? That they are stupid just because they were born a boy?
Especially in a culture that otherwise seems to celebrate every little achievement. In a world where other kids get a ribbon just for showing up, they must feel like the biggest losers of all.
Trivialized, marginalized, these boys are made to feel completely worthless. With all of their power over their own lives – even their own minds – taken way from them. As they feel more more and more isolated, it spirals downward.
Imagine how powerless they feel.
Of course, this is only part of the story, and there are other socioacademic factors that we believe we will find that the school shooters have in common, some of which we have already started to identify.
After I had this realization, I contacted my colleagues Jim Black, Stephen Walker, and Warren Farrell, and told them about my idea. To gather the data, interview those closest to the shooters, and from that information to create a profile of what a youth who is at risk for going down that path looks like. And getting that information out to every school, along with information and resources for intervening.
Each of them said, without hesitation “Count me in.”
And that is the story of how this project got started.
It breaks my heart that so many children have died in school shootings. And that includes the shooters. These school shooters are all just kids themselves. They are boys who have been horribly, horribly failed by several systems. Who have parents who have lost their sons to these horrible acts. They are human. They are as much victims as are their own victims.
And you know, I think that we have a really good chance at making a difference.
Boulder Colorado, December, 2013