April 16, 2007

(Updated below) 

On so many levels, what’s happened in Virginia is a tragedy. And with such tragedies, there is an instant – knee jerk, even – response by otherwise smart, but not so wise people, as to to how to prevent these things from happening again.

Unfortunately, psychopaths will be pyschopaths. If someone wants to kill people, they’ll find a way. Guns, knives, sharpened bamboo sticks, they’ll find a way.

There are a couple of things that strike me as a teacher.

The first is how stupidly easy it is to spot these people when they’re our students. The other is what I’d do were I presented with a psychopath in my school.

Predictability. We’ve all had them; a student who we just know no good will come of. You just see pure evil in their eyes. Sometimes you can quantify it, and convince administration to bounce them somewhere else, so that at the very least, they don’t corrupt your current crop of kiddies. At the worst, no one believes you (other than your teaching colleagues) and you have to find a vcery personal way to cope with the little cretin.

For me, an mano-a-mano talk, and a “don’t fuck with me or my class, and you’ll be fine” denoument usually works. But when push comes to shove, and nothing else works, I keep bouncing him (it’s a him 90% of the time) to the office. I do have a bad attitude, after all.

What kinds of kids are these? Well one, I remember, was a black kid who everyone thought was just misunderstood. Finally, after much cajoling, I got our guidance/resource teacher to talk to him. She (the resource teacher) was a youngish, pretty gal, who lasted five minutes, before he was punted to a system school. With devilish grin, he asked her if she’d ever had a “chocolate milkshake”. She knew exactly what he had meant. He was gone the next day.

You can recognize these kids easily. It’s a sad situation when the best thing you can do is send them away, so that they don’t damage your immediate surroundings. We must be able to do something preventative. We must have some other program or situation or plan to deal with these kinds of kids.

But no, it’s our job as a teacher to deal with them. I don’t know about you all, but they’ve neither trained me enough, nor pay me enough to do that job. Call it mission creep.

I actually keep a list of the names of such students. I fully expect to see their names in the news at some point. I’m not lookingg forward to that.

The second thing that comes to mind from this, and previous such events, is what I’d do if faced with a gun wielding gunman. Or what I’d counsel my students to do.

The official line is play passive when faced with a threatening, armed person. Do what you’re told to do, don’t bring attention to yourself. If you follow orders, you’ll be fine.

Sadly, experience now shows that this will not be the case. What I want to tell my kids is this: when faced with someone with a gun, fight back. Charge the assailant, throw things, make noise, and mob the bad guy. Bring him down, hold him down.

It’s what I want to tell my students (grades 8 and 9), but sadly I cannot. I expect in my email tomorrow morning a missive from the big heads downtown reminding us about lockdown procedures. Sit tight. Wait for help to come.

Not bloody likely. I’m fighting for my life.

And in the meantime, in Calgary, police have arrested a junior high student from St. Gregory School for uttering “Colombine like threats”. He was turned in by his parents. Sadly, he was also released back into their custody, on bail. Whatever that means for a 14 year old.


Matthew Good is a Vancouver based singer songwriter. Although I’m not a big fan of his music, he runs a fairly level headed little blog, commenting on human rights issues, the “wars on terror”, and suchlike. He makes a good point in this post: 32 is a tragic number, but so is 176.  That’s how many civilian Iraqis were murdered last Saturday in Bagdad.

Where’s the hue and cry, the (inter)national media, the tearful tributes, the idiot new hounds waxing poetic?

No where. And yesterday, a middle class, popular, and rather smart white kid in my class brings up the same point. I had to quell a class rebellion as they just about lynched him.

Open-mindedness, people.  Open-mindednes.


  1. Found this on my incoming links. Don’t worry, I’m not a fan of my music either.

    That last bit about your class was disconcerting.

  2. What do you think six weeks past the event?

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