Sandy Hook Started a Conversation, Now What?


We are teachers and problem solvers. We are learners. What can we learn from this, we ask. We think ahead, look for the lesson in every situation, find solutions. We do this every single day in our classrooms. When lessons fall flat or when we can’t reach our students, we demand to know why so when the next class comes in, 6 minutes later, we make the immediate fix. It’s the way we survive; the way we feel we can control something.

Whatdo we have in our bag of teacher tricks for the horror of those classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.?

By now we’ve all been inundated with excellent, age-appropriate tips, lessons and advice for how to manage and discuss the school shooting with our students. It’s never enough but the teaching community is generous, smart and incredibly wise to offer us all so many excellent resources. As a parent, I’ve received numerous thoughtful responses and much advice from our local elementary and high school district superintendents.

What I’m missing are the pro-active lessons about how to prevent such horrors. We have safety plans and escape routes. Our local police department is well trained, as were the law enforcement officials in Newtown. I wanted more, something more specific, more personal, something that says: danger ahead! Pay attention to this!

What I found, however, was a national conversation that potentially stigmatizes a vulnerable group that is not statistically more likely to be violent. In the wake of this horror, where the issue of mental illness in general and Asperger's syndrome in particular blew up, I believe we must educate ourselves so we are in possession of the facts.

We must come up with ways to discuss differences. We can’t shy away from this. We should lead the education call of duty here. In our private time, we can advocate for other solutions (gun control, etc.) but as teachers, on duty, our open discussion is something we can do, today, that will contribute to sanity, clear thinking and ethical pedagogy.

I am eager to learn. It feels like something I can do today. It is an action that will be part of my teacher tool kit that I carry with me every day, hoping to educate and protect my beloved students, every last one of them.

 Cytrynbaum is executive director of the Chicago Innocence Project and teaches a city-wide investigative journalism course. 


Some of the best professional

Submitted by Maria Delaney on 3 January 2013 - 7:32pm.

Some of the best professional learning resources online - Preventing gendered violence, Teaching Boys videos including workshop activities

But shouldn't we have a

Submitted by RRoberts on 31 December 2012 - 6:54pm.

But shouldn't we have a discussion about mental illness? We have let a very tiny number of people change our whole lifestyles. Should there not be a discussion about how we can identify those who are a danger and how we can prevent them from committing such acts?

You say you can advocate for gun control: Sop you think it is okay to take away rights from 60 million people but yet you want to protect those who are truly a danger to society and to themselves.

This is not to say you lock up every person with mental illness, but given the progress we have made in diagnosing illnesses, is it to much to ask that we look to diagnose those who might be a danger? I have heard that the Sandy Hook shooter was angry because his mother was about to "commit" him. Would that not be a great place to start a dialogue about why he had not been committed before? 26 innocent people would still be alive today if he had been!

I Agree

Submitted by d on 11 January 2013 - 2:40pm.

I Agree

I agree with RRoberts. We are

Submitted by John Just on 3 January 2013 - 10:19am.

I agree with RRoberts. We are far behind other modern countries on the treatment of mental illness and preventative medicine in general. There needs to be awareness brought to this issue and make the decision for parents and family members, before they bring harm to themselves or others, an easier one.

It is awful what happened in Netown, CT and Aurora, CO but it you add up all the little murder-suicides of families across the country that are a result advanced mental illness the numbers of these two mass murders pale in comparison. We must address this very complex issue that comes at a high cost, many of our mentally ill end of up in jails only after harming some one.

To me, we are having the wrong dialog about guns and bullying; we should be talking about comprehensive reform of the mental health system in this country.

Reform for mental health

Submitted by Trudi James on 11 February 2013 - 1:41pm.

Reform for mental health care, yes, but not by locking up everyone we don't feel comfortable around. I don't think more prisons are the answer to curb violence in our culture.

Free access to mental health services could be helpful. There are many people who know they are having difficulty "maintaining", or "fitting in". But there are more barriers to help then offerings. We stigmatize those who attempt to get help on their own. Even having "received counseling" on one's record - job, school, insurance - can close doors to opportunities. I knew a man who functioned very well in society, most of the time. He was very nice as a friend/work associate, very good at his job at a large Silicon Valley company, able to live on his own and balance his own budget. But sometimes he would feel out of sorts: sad, vulnerable, confused, overwhelmed, to the extent that he couldn't do his job, or feel safe on his own at home. He would voluntarily check himself into a facility for a few days and get whatever talk therapy, drug therapy, environment therapy he needed until he could go back home. Then he would come back to work and be the wonderful, productive, citizen that most people knew exclusively. We were all fortunate in this case that he had access to help that would not rob him of his freedom, that he had friends who could be accepting and supportive, that he had a work place that allowed him to come back when he could, and go away when he needed to. This case is very rare in my experience.

There was a murder recently in my community that was committed by a person who knew he was not always mentally stable. He knew he needed help. Our system took him from forced lock-up, to dumped on the street, with no transitional support. If he had been allowed to stay in the facility he was released/dumped from, perhaps another citizen on her way to work would still be alive.

I don't think it was necessary to have locked up Adam Lanza against his or his mother's will, but we, as a society/community could certainly have provided more help and support for dealing with their differences and difficulties. Perhaps if seeking help was not culturally something to avoid at all costs, perhaps if getting assistance was not a choice between loosing personal freedom and surviving though social neglect, perhaps then there would be fewer desperate outbursts for us to mourn too late.