• Kim Redigan

Reflection’s on the Oxford Shooting: Teacher Perspective


On November 30, 2021, a mass shooting occurred at Oxford High School. Four students were killed, and more students & a teacher were wounded. The on-going increase in school shooting events has led to detrimental repercussions for all of us. As part of our on-going work to understand both the roots and impact of violence, MPT requested Kim Redigan provide her reflection on the Oxford School shootings from the perspective of a teacher (below). We also shared MPT’s Intern Cassidy Versen’s reflection on this event from the perspective of a student.

“After the shooting in Oxford a few weeks ago, we slipped into the well-rehearsed ritual that has become part of the U.S. landscape. The preachers pray, the community lights candles, and the pundits pontificate.

Predictably, the call goes out militarize our schools by installing metal detectors and arming teachers. Responding to violence with more violence is the American way, after all. In the meantime, those of us who are teachers try to bind the psychic and spiritual wounds of our students while processing our own grief and rage.

While everyone has an answer, an opinion, a solution, we arrive at school dazed, mute, broken by the violence that has once again violated the sacred space that is the classroom. We have been through this so many times.

On the way to school, my stomach tightens as I steel myself for the day ahead. I know the drill. There will be the obligatory morning announcement commemorating the dead, the deployment of counselors for students who need grief support, the conversations that will take place in each of my classes. There will be the search for scapegoats that traumatized teens reach for to feel some semblance of control. There will be the excruciating effort to comprehend the unthinkable.

I have been a teacher for 28 years, and this never gets easier.

Of course, the proverbial elephant in the nation’s living room is the availability of guns and our country’s obsession with weapons. While we may weep and embrace and step into a thousand proposed solutions after each school shooting, we tiptoe around the truth that we are a country built on violence. A country that guards its guns with far more fervor than we guard our children.

Until the proliferation of arms and the demand for security and dominance that undergirds the gun culture is addressed, prayers, protocols, and public gatherings mean nothing. Change nothing. Promise nothing. Do nothing to honor the precious lives of children lost to gun violence.

We are living at a time when Education Week issues a School Shooting Tracker, a grim scorecard that enumerates school shootings. This shows how normative school shootings have become. There have been thirty-two school shootings in 2021, a year during which most schools were virtual for a good chunk of the time.

The easy access that our youth have to high-powered weaponry must be addressed, especially given what we know about adolescent brain development and impulse control. Yet, after each school shooting those who demand sane gun policies are vilified.

As teachers, we can increase our ALICE drills, offer more mental health services, and keep a closer eye on bullying, but we dare not discuss gun laws. This is like telling a group of diabetics they cannot talk about sugar or making it taboo for recovering alcoholics to discuss booze. We are addicted to gun violence in this country, and until we break the denial and come clean about who we are, we can expect to see more of the same.

It is hard to write this, but in many ways the violence we see in our schools is a projection of ourselves, an indictment of a nation in need of truth telling and deep healing.

If we have the maturity to look in the mirror, we may have to admit that the violence we are witnessing implicates a nation that has never come clean about its own history of genocide, white supremacy, and militarism. It is so much easier to turn our gaze to the youth in our midst than to look honestly at the adult decision makers in the room. Much more convenient to see these shootings as the aberrant actions of a few troubled teens than a symptom of something much more systemic. So, we settle for heartfelt prayer services and superficial solutions that allow us to maintain a violent status quo that is rotten to its core.

There are no easy answers here, but the availability of high-caliber guns seems like an obvious place to start while we do the harder work of naming and healing the deeper wounds that our young people carry. That we all carry.

I have no answers, but I do have questions. I admit that the longer I teach, the less I know. For the most part, I am left with a patchwork of musings, speculations, and intuitions that speak to the more existential aspects of school that may or may not be relevant to the violence we are witnessing.

I think often of Dostoevsky’s words that “the world will be saved by beauty,” and ask myself what that means in the context of school. The young man who killed his classmates two weeks ago, referred to the Sig Sauer 9mm handgun his parents had bought him as an early Christmas gift as his “new beauty.” His choice of words prompt reflection: Where do our young people find beauty? Does a society rooted in materialism and consumption create space for them to experience beauty, wonder, awe? How does the formation of their aesthetic sensibility take root in a country that glorifies violence?

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that, “We must go back to where we stand in awe before sheer being, facing the marvel of the moment.” Are we creating the kind of schools where our students can experience the marvel of the moment? The marvel of one another? The marvel of their own beautiful selves?

Increasingly, I have observed emotional lethargy, spiritual malaise, even despair in many of my students in the face of climate change, COVID, and a culture of cruelty. Theirs is a bleak and joyless worldview. While there has been an increased and welcomed emphasis on mental health, there has been little focus on cultivating wonder.

We need fewer punitive measures in our schools and more poetry, less time online and more time outside, less recitation and more meditation. This is not to say that a renewed sense of wonder would put an end to school shootings. Rather, it would help students recognize the ineffable beauty found in creation and one another. Most importantly, they would come to see the beauty in themselves. When we can embrace the beauty, it is easier to embrace the brokenness, and we are less inclined toward destruction and violence.

My heart is breaking for the loss of so many young lives. Sadly, unless something changes, more names will be added to the litany of those who went to school one morning and never returned home. Yes, I will pray and light candles and stand with my students, but I will also actively support legislation to reduce gun violence in our school, while wondering if our nation’s love affair with weapons will ever come to an end.”

__________

It is easy to see school shootings as numbers. These are not numbers, the four victims in the oxford shooting were Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17. Learn about the students who were taken far too soon go to https://www.npr.org/…/what-we-know-about-the-victims-of…

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