school shootings & Why School?

February 15, 2010

I emailed students this weekend and my subject line read “school shooting” — I wrote in my email that I had hoped never to have to send an email with that subject line. UAHuntsville joins the list of universities who have experienced sudden and fatal violence — this time, the shooter was a biology faculty member whose appeal to overturn tenure denial was also denied.

I’ve lost my balance with every school shooting, but this time, I’m not sure there’s anything solid under my feet. Part of that shakiness has to do with another school shooting just a week prior — a ninth-grade student at Discovery Middle School in Madison AL shot and killed another ninth-grader. The crime was supposed to have been gang related.

I found myself making this surreal statement: At least the shootings were targeted and not random bullet sprees. But in what kind of world does that statement make any kind of sense? In our world. Where we practice school as holding cell and perpetuate teaching as a lower-level skill. So I’m reading Mike Rose’s Why School? And here’s something from his preface:

We live in an anxious age and seek our grounding, our assurances in ways that don’t satisfy our longing — that, in fact, makes things worse. We’ve lost hope in the public sphere and grab at private solutions, which undercut the sharing of obligation and risk and keep us scrambling for individual advantage. We’ve narrowed the purpose of schooling to economic competitiveness, our kids becoming economic indicators. We’ve reduced our definition of human development and achievement — that miraculous growth of intelligence, sensibility, and the discovery of the world — to a test score. Though we pride ourselves as a nation of opportunity and a second chance, our social policies can be terribly ungenerous. We rush to embrace the new — in work, in goods, in the language we use to describe our problems — yet long for tradition, for craft, for the touch of earth, wood, another hand.