Wednesday, May 31, 2000

When school shootings were just pretend

All the school shootings these days (and doesn't there seem to be a new one in the news every day?) puts me in mind of an incident from my own school days. It was sophomore year in high school, English class, and a hotheaded student had picked a fight with the teacher right there in the middle of second period. The argument became heated. We all wished the kid would just shut up and sit down, but he didn't. Finally, he headed for the door--at which point the teacher whipped a gun out of his desk and shot him.

The student fell, lay still. Was he dead? What just happened? In fact, it was a little act put on to spur us into a writing assignment in which our ability to grasp details would be tested. The slain student got up, brushed himself off, and took his seat. So intent was the teacher on taking us all by surprise that he only tried this little scenario every other year, so that word of it among students would have faded by the time it happened again. We were surprised, alright. And a little thrilled. Certainly not traumatized.

But boy, you sure couldn't pull something like that today. The teacher would be fired faster than you could say "Columbine," and our class would have been crawling with therapists. Ditto the legendary incident in my junior high school in which a teacher and a student got into a fight that ended with the teacher hanging the kid by his ankles over a balcony. No one actually saw it, but everybody knew someone who had. But if it had happened today, everyone would know: The kid would have had an Uzi, and he would have taken out half the class.

Hard to mourn that schools are no longer safe for mild and mock violence. That English class murder was a little out-there even by 1975 standards. But so many of today's school shootings seem like they should have been just such a set-up--kid shoots teacher on the last day of school, then the teacher jumps up to warn the students not to play with guns. How dearly the students who've witnessed such violence must have wished it was all pretend. Sadly, it's not an act anymore. And nobody's getting back up.

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