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Sunday 20 May 2018

Wake: Part 2

Welcome back. No, not here (although you are always most welcome here, dear reader), welcome back to the discussion that should have ended.

I had a chat with one of my best friends just prior to sitting down to write, and we were talking about this post. I don't usually get much opportunity to discuss what I'm about to write, because I usually start writing as soon as I have a firm idea. In this instance, though, I was in the rare place of knowing that it was going to be written without having any idea of what it was going to say or how to cast the topic I want to discuss in terms of how we think about it, which is always my goal here in this place. Finding a way to find fresh perspective, especially when dealing with topics that have already been covered in the detail that this one - an extremely emotive topic - has been subjected to can be exceedingly difficult.

I did have some idea, not least because this is the second part of a collaborative effort with another writer.

I say this now only to set the scene for what's about to unfold. I'll come back to that discussion shortly, but first I want to talk about another discussion I had.

I recently made a new friend, Rose, a young blogger who, today, will graduate high school in the US. As you might imagine, some of our discussion has focused on recent events there and, as a result, Rose mooted the notion of collaborating, to see if juxtaposing the thoughts of both somebody deeply embedded in the backdrop against which events are playing out and somebody thinking about it from afar yielded something impactful. Intrigued, I accepted, with no idea of what I was going to say. 

Some of that changed when I first read Rose's offering and we discussed titles. I now knew some of what I wanted to talk about. Still, though, I didn't know what it was going to look like. That all changed, though, with a simple exchange between myself and one of my best friends, because it tells us so much about how we're thinking of this topic that it leapt off the screen at me.

I was talking about the cyclicality of the discussion, some of which I talked about in an earlier piece on the same topic, which I'll link at the bottom as usual. I recalled that wonderful quotation by my dear friend Phil Scott, who regaled us with a beautiful history of mathematics, and thought I must use that for my thumbnail quote.

I showed it to my friend, and her first response was 'another school shooting?' which is pretty telling, but not nearly as telling as what happened next. I explained what I was doing and that, as far as I was aware, there hadn't been a fresh incident. However, despite us both knowing that the notion that there had been one arose from a misunderstanding, we both suddenly felt the pressing need to go and check that there hadn't, in fact, been another school shooting and, moreover, both felt a palpable relief at not finding anything!

What does that tell us about the incidence of this sort of event and how we think about it? It was a gut-punch.

It wasn't the only such impact I felt in the course of this, though. Another came at reading Rose's piece, which is heartbreaking. If you haven't yet read that piece, this is an opportune moment to do so, and you can find it here.

It's hard to put into words what it's like to try, as a parent of grown-up children, to put yourself in the shoes of somebody whose children will never grow up. It isn't really any easier to put yourself in the shoes of a parent whose children are afraid of not growing up, let alone to put yourselves in the shoes of the young people carrying the fear. When you factor in the fact that the fear is very far from unfounded, it should knock the stuffing out of you.

I'm fond of saying, whenever the topic of school shootings comes up, that Sandy Hook should have ended the discussion. I even said in a previous outing that it did end the discussion, just not in the way it should have. It did send a clear message about where priorities lay, in that if that event didn't change the tenor of the discussion, then nothing would. That's what I thought when I wrote that piece, in the wake of Las Vegas. I may have been hasty in that conclusion, because a new factor has recently entered the fray, and it's changed the landscape in a fairly major way. I'll say no more about that here, not least because it's the topic of a future offering.

In reality, though, the discussion should have ended long before Sandy Hook, or Columbine, or any of the litany of such incidents I could cite. It should have ended back in 1764, when the first reliably confirmed event took place that July, in which ten people were killed in Pennsylvania, nine of them children.

Now, some pedantic keyboard warrior will point out that only the teacher was shot, and the children were killed with hand weapons, or that it was indigenous Americans who committed the atrocity, or some other reason that it shouldn't be brought up in this context, but there's one factor that is exactly the same in all respects, and that's why it needs to be brought up here.

Read this one statement, a tiny excerpt from Rose's simple yet powerful piece:
I learned that I'm not safe at school.

This should serve as a rude awakening to any parent, any educator, any human. This isn't merely fear, this statement. It's an expression of knowledge. The hypothesis that children are safe at school has been empirically tested and categorically falsified, and Rose, a student in the US until today, can state this as an empirically validated statement about reality as experienced by humans, with now numerous examples to cite where the falsifying observations were made. A quick scan of the Wikipedia page reveals a burgeoning list of real world observations demonstrating unequivocally that the notion that children are safe at school is false.

This is, to me, a shocking notion.

It speaks of a failure of the single most important principle underpinning any society that has the hubris to call itself civilised. No society can even pretend to civilisation if it isn't employing absolutely every means at its disposal to protect its most precious commodity; its children.

Now, I'm not suggesting for a second that it's possible to completely ensure safety, of course. This, though, represents a clear and ever-present danger to the safety of young people, our children, our future. No idea should be off the table if it has even the remotest possibility of having an impact on this, up to and including amending an amendment.

No right can trump a child's right to grow up unmolested by even the spectre of being killed in school. No right can trump bodily autonomy. If a society can't even get this right, it has no right to refer to itself as civilised.

A few weeks ago, I got involved in a little project in which we included a powerful speech from Alfonso Calderón, survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas attack. Again, just one line suffices here:

I understand what it's like to fear for your life.

Children and young people who've learned Rose's deepest lesson are being kept awake by that fear. Six further incidents have occurred in the wake of Parkland*. It really is time to wake up, and to do whatever is necessary to avoid having to attend another child's wake.

Edited to add this poignant tweet by a US high school student:

If you follow that hashtag, there are many more comments along these lines. This was the one that stood out to me.

*This number is actually now eight incidents. It was always intended that this piece be published today, 20th May, to coincide with Rose's graduation. It was actually written on the 17th and then, on the 18th, another incident occurred, this time at Santa Fe high school in Texas in which ten people were killed, with another incident at a graduation ceremony in Atlanta in which one was killed.

Further reading:

Cold, Dead Hands Gun control, rights and dead children

17 Shards A tribute to the victims and survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
Wake: Part 1 The first part of this collaboration.

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