Thursday evening I read Barbara J. King’s “What Is the Psychic Toll of Gun Violence?” in which the author admits her relative insulation, as a white, middle-class woman, from all but the most distant ramifications of violence. While sharing King’s concerns about recent acts of violence in national headlines, I considered that I, too, had avoided direct or even somewhat-distanced experiences with violence.
Yesterday, a tenth-grade student at my school brutally lost his life. His attackers claimed it before he had even reached the bus stop.
After an energetic first week in the classroom discussing the need for difference in our world—difference in race, religion, personality, and worldview—a conversation that celebrated the singular advantages of our uniquely diverse school, this tragedy brings home one of the numbing complexities of that diverse world, which is the violence that can follow a hopeful child from one part of it to another.
That I did not know this student—likely I smiled at him in the hallway or thanked him for a held door—surely lessens the degree of hurt and violation: my pain exists in an entirely different orbit from that of his aunt, uncle, and cousin, and of his first family, desperate enough to relinquish him to relatives in the presumable safety of a U.S. suburb.
But violence enacted on a child in my community, from my school—on the life of a person all of us had invested in, whether directly or through our commitment to the student body at large—this is a palpable violation, a loss that hurts.
It assaults our sole pride—our students, whose strong, enterprising, Horatio-Alger-esque life stories inspire us to find newer and better ways to teach them, to provide the knowledge they need for their happy endings.
Murder is not the ending any adult imagines for a child she has made this promise to; how do we explain this to ourselves and to our students? How does this story fit in to the promising narratives we weave about our robustly diverse and increasingly-connected world? I have so much faith in my students to find the answer, yet at the moment I am at a loss.