Reflecting on School Shootings

The horrific violence at Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan, has forced many teachers and professors to reflect once again on the seemingly endless pattern of school shootings in the United States.

Northern Illinois University suffered its moment of infamy on Valentine’s Day 2008, when a former student entered a classroom in Cole Hall and opened fire on students in the auditorium. Five students were killed and twenty-one wounded in a five-minute rampage before the shooter committed suicide. Yet, NIU’s shooting quickly disappeared from the headlines, displaced by other on-campus shootings with more victims.

The Oxford High School shooting brought back a flood of memories of the shooting at NIU and its aftermath: sirens wailing, helicopters circling overhead, students and professors in lockdown, a cordoned off crime scene, dazed onlookers, candlelight vigils, and comfort dogs.

Vigil for victims of the school shooting at Oxford High School, 2021. Photo: The New York Times.

Sarah Lerner, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is grappling with similar memories this week. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is the site of a notorious mass shooting rampage in 2018, one of the most deadly school shootings in the history of the United States.

Lerner has published an opinion essay on “Will My Students Ever Know a World Without School Shootings?” in The New York Times, raising critical questions about firearms in American society and the ways in which they threaten public safety and education. She writes: “After 20 years of teaching, I’m unclear about how teachers are supposed to continue teaching when so much more is being asked of us, often without training or the proper resources. We are expected to be mental health counselors, social workers, psychologists, security guards and so much more for our students. Just look more closely at what happened at Oxford High School.”

High school teachers and college professors across the United States are confronted with increasing challenges in teaching and mentoring students who are dealing with a public safety crisis and a pandemic simultaneously.

Many History students at Northern Illinois University aspire to be high school teachers, community college instructors, or college professors. Many of them serve as teaching assistants at regional high schools in order to attain their teacher licenses. Tragically, these young historians are having to confront the specter of school shootings, even as they learn the art of teaching.

Lerner concludes that “There is only so much that teachers can do in acting as a line of defense for their students.”

Sarah Lerner’s opinion essay, “Will My Students Ever Know a World Without School Shootings?” is published in The New York Times.

This entry was posted in Atrocities, Education Policy, History of Violence, Humanities Education, Illinois History and Society, United States History and Society. Bookmark the permalink.

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