Art Rainwater’s Memo on School Violence

Madison School District Superintendent Art Rainwater:

By now, I’m sure you know that last Friday a 15 year old boy entered Weston School in Cazenovia (Sauk County) and allegedly shot and killed the principal. This incident has stirred in all of us the uneasy realization that this can happen anywhere, at anytime. We mourn the loss of the principal and empathize with the staff, students, families and community members of that school district. We also feel tremendous responsibility for our own students and staff. Last week, our entire staff spent a day talking about the crucial nature that relationships play in our schools. While the primary focus was on issues of race and equity, we also know that we were talking about any student who doesn’t feel connected to the school and valued by an adult. Last Friday after we heard about what happened at Weston High School, we sent to our staff the following reminders:

Notes & Links:

  • Channel3000
  • Clusty News | Google News | Microsoft Live | Yahoo News
  • Rafael Gomez organized a Gangs & School Violence Forum last September [Audio / video / Notes], attended by all Madison High School Principals and local law enforcement representatives. East High grad Luis Yudice also participated. Yudice is the Madison School District’s coordinator of safety and security.
  • Many more links
  • Johnny Winston, Jr.:

    Message from Johnny Winston, Jr., President of the Madison Board of Education
    On behalf of the Madison Board of Education, we send our heartfelt condolences to the Klang family, Weston School district and Cazenovia community.
    In response to this tragedy as well as recent incidents in Green Bay and Colorado, Superintendent Art Rainwater has sent a message to all employees of the Madison Metropolitan School District outlining strategies and effective communication tools between students and adults. He wrote, “The most effective tool we have for preventing violent behaviors at school is building and maintaining a climate of trusting relationships and communication between and among students and adults.” He has also indicated that the Madison Police will increase their presence at our schools for the next week.
    We know that the Madison community joins our school board in support of the Klang family, Weston School district and Cazenovia community. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult period.

Elizabeth Mannering:

Culture of high school marginalizes those who don’t conform
Seven years after Columbine, school shootings are still occurring with frightening regularity. Much has been made of the influences that culturally sanctioned violence, neglectful parents and video games may have had on the actions of disaffected young men, and I have no doubt that these are powerful influences indeed.
However, I have yet to see any analysis of the way the culture of public high schools may be linked to the tragedies.
American public high schools have a culture that deifies the physically attractive, the athletically gifted and those who find conformity easy.
This adulation not only gives the “chosen ones” an enormous amount of social power, it also marginalizes students who are not members of the elite.
Not everyone gets to be a beauty, an athlete or a member of a well-adjusted family. There are many students who cannot or will not conform to the accepted norms, and their voices are silenced through abuse, ostracism and simply being allowed to slip through the cracks.
The fact that school administrators the target of the most recent incident in Cazenovia apparently ignore the abuses of the popular and powerful represents appalling indifference to the difficulties the outsiders face.
Bullying is dismissed as something kids just do, and victims are too often told to buck up and ignore it, or that they bring it on themselves by being weird in other words, that simply being who they are gives bullies license to hurt.
I remember all too clearly, all too painfully, my own experiences as a bullying victim in Madison’s public schools, and although I cannot condone violence, a part of me understands the motivations of school shooters.
When you are silenced, marginalized, treated as if you don’t matter, and abused every day by the people around you, you become desperate. Desperate enough to kill just to make yourself heard.
The culture at large may be the driving force behind the culture of high school. Professional athletes and stereotypically beautiful entertainers are paid sums of money vastly disproportionate to the significance of their occupations. They are held to different standards of behavior, as though they were royalty.
It does not matter whether these individuals have any personal integrity, intelligence or imagination so long as they can throw a touchdown pass or look a certain way. They are held up as role models nonetheless, warping young minds into believing that this is what one should must aspire to.
What does this leave for the uncoordinated young man with acne who writes poetry, or the overweight bespectacled young woman with intellectual curiosity?
Why is it so threatening to the mainstream when a young person chooses to dress outrageously, or falls in love with someone of the same sex?
As members of the same species, we are more alike than we are different, whatever our ethnicity, home environment, appearance or sexual orientation. It is shameful that a culture as rich as ours offers such a narrow spectrum of expression.
I don’t know how to change any of this, but the culture of high school needs a serious overhaul. Without it, we can look forward to new generations of desperate young people who feel they have no choice but to lash out with violence.

Doug Moe: School Violence a Tie that Binds:

FOR YEARS, Margaret Nelson had been thinking about writing the story of her family and the tragedy that happened in Tomah in 1969.
Nelson, a Minneapolis-based journalist, finally started to write the story last week. “I wrote a few pages on Thursday,” Nelson was saying this week.
Then, the next day, Friday, she heard the terrible news out of Cazenovia, the 15-year-old with a shotgun, a principal dead.
“It really did take me right back to that time and what happened to us,” Nelson said.
How could it not?

Wisconsin State Journal commentary.

Legislator suggests arming teacher, says Erin Richards.
The Economist:

TO JOURNALISTS, three of anything makes a trend. So after three school shootings in six days, speculation about an epidemic of violence in American classrooms was inevitable, and wrong. Violence in schools has fallen by half since the mid-1990s; children are more than 100 times more likely to be murdered outside the school walls than within them.
Of course, that average is not wholly comforting. Most children who are murdered are murdered by someone they know. But most parents know with certainty that neither they nor their friends or relations are killers, so their worries focus on strangers. Their fears are inevitably stoked by the breathless coverage of school shootings.