Why do we send children to school?

02-10-2013Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

This past week Law Enforcement officers were able to rescue the 5-year-old Alabama boy who was snatched off a school bus after the perpetrator killed the bus driver and then held the boy hostage for one week. Add this to the heartbreaking slaughter of young children in Newton and ask yourself what do parents today tell their children when they send them to school? Do they say, "well I am sending you to school where you'll learn all sorts of fun things like how to read and write and the history of the world and make new friends and oh, well you might be shot and killed." We even apply prison terms to our schools: they go on "lockdown" and students have "early release." Many of our schools are patrolled by Police officers and even more use metal detectors. Is this just the cost of doing business? Have we just accepted this is the way it is going to be?

Things were not always this way. So why can't we return to a safer society for children that's more like the Sound of Music rather than Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome? And why are we allowing this critically important issue to be used by those who want to promote a political agenda? So if we ban high powered rifles and magazines that hold more than ten bullets then what? Killers will be forced to use handguns with no more than 10 rounds? So only ten children are killed instead of twenty? And that is an effective strategy?

The problem of mass killings in our schools over the last twenty years or so has two key ingredients: mental health issues and violence. Our mental health system has failed the mentally ill in a big way. In the 1960's we began phasing out all the State Hospitals that had long-term residential care for the chronically mentally ill. What really has happened is a massive transfer of mentally ill persons from the State Hospitals to the State Prisons. And when they are not in prison they are mostly the homeless who wander our streets. The seriously mentally ill can often become dangerous to themselves and others. Yet despite the huge amount of money we allot to "mental health" very little of it goes to help those who are the most seriously unstable.

When it comes to the young who have committed most of the mass murders in our schools there is the usual elephant in the living room that no one wants to talk about: psychotropic drugs. In almost every case where a young person has committed mass murder they were either on or recently withdrawn from dangerous pharmaceuticals. (See my Letter of 8/5/12 on the Aurora Shooting). We know the possible side effects of these drugs often make children violent and hostile. Big Pharma is good at keeping the lid on this and when lawsuits get close to court they quickly make out of court settlements and include confidentiality requirements and hence keep what they know to be the dangerous facts of these drugs out of public view. Additionally because of medical confidentiality laws we are never told for sure what medications these young killers were taking. Why? Because it might stigmatize them or ruin their reputation? How are we supposed to solve the problem when critical information is kept hidden? (You can be sure that the Pharmaceutical industry fought hard for these confidentiality laws and spends lots more lobbying law-makers to keep them in place.) And the media refuse to do any digging because they want to use these tragedies to promote gun control. Parents however need to do their homework before putting a child on these meds. These drugs have serious adverse consequences and need to be used only in rare circumstance and then under strict supervision.

The second issue that needs a serious look is violence. All the school shooters were boys and boys tend to the more aggressive side than girls. Feeding young boys a steady diet of violent movies, TV shows and Video games is not innocuous. It has serious mind shaping and thought producing effects. Video games in particular simulate real life bloodshed and death. These are not the toy soldiers and G.I. Joe's I played with as a boy. For a young aggressive boy who is living in the violent video world why are we surprised when the difference between virtual violence and actual violence is wiped out?

One reason our Catholic schools have not had many violent incidents or shootings is because we have and demand a high level of parental involvement. This means that families know each other and tend to look out for each other and spot a problem more quickly. If we are going to solve the problem of the mass murder of our school children then parents will need to lead the way in finding solutions.

The Pharmaceutical Industry, Hollywood and Video game producers will do what ever it takes to deflect blame and deny being implicated in contributing to making killers out of our children. Parents need to likewise do whatever it takes to make our schools and our children safe again.

Love, Fr. John B.