When I sat down to write this essay I had in mind a different subject. I have decided to save those thoughts for another time. This week there was another school shooting. Another.
An ongoing Washington Post analysis has found that more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
Did you know in some school districts troubled students are expelled and their vulnerable, often food insecure and fractured families are encouraged to seek alternative education? Out of sight, out of mind. The concerned parents choose the district's cyberschool as a tuition-free alternative, but students with disinterested caretakers often quit school altogether.
While this new form of discipline has replaced counseling and intervention, a 24 hour, seven days a week, three-hundred-and-sixty-five days a year diet of sex, drugs and violence has become common household fare. Available to anyone with an internet connection. Now imagine, being young and disenchanted and your school district has expelled you - what will you learn about with all that time on your hands?
You probably noticed the photograph at the beginning of this essay. It is a pipe used for smoking illegal drugs (possibly cocaine or methamphetamine). Because my son and I have become more vigilant in the woods I have learned a lot about identifying drug paraphernalia . Our education began years ago. And it evolves to this day. On more than one occasion we have arrived at a local nature preserve to discover we are not alone. We began finding drinking straws, cellophane wrappers, tiny plastic baggies, Q-tips, syringes and pipes...and it became clear: our public lands are being used for illegal drug activity. There is an invisible population of disenchanted people who have been systematically ostracized from our society. They have taken refuge in the woods. Our woods. We have seen them.
I wish I didn't have to teach my son about the differences between sex (in contrast to physical love shared between committed partners), drugs (in contrast to medication that keeps my breast cancer in remission) and violence (in contrast to say, self-defense). I wish I could bury my head in the sand. Don't you agree...I would be doing him a disservice if I ignored the fact: our culture is diseased?
We should never expect any child to navigate this society of sex, drugs and violence unaided. No child should see graphic images on television and in movies, hear explicit lyrics in popular music or target to shoot-and-kill in what designers call first-person shooter (FPS) games...and traverse between childhood and adolescence unguided.
And so again this week, I gaze into the empty eyes of another school shooter. I cringe as I watch dozens of grief-stricken parents rush onto a campus praying their kids are not among the victims. And I grieve for the families who've lost - forever - their sons and daughters.