Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech

When are we going to learn?

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and acts like a duck....then its a duck.

I have been watching the drama unfolding at Virginia Tech. in the wake of the disaster that occurred there on Monday. The pundits and arm chair quarterbacks have been weighing in on their opinions and asking "how could this have happened?" and "how could this have been prevented?". My thoughts on the matter might be simplistic, but I think I can answer those questions.

How could this have happened?

The real question should be "when was this going to happen?". The description of the shooter by all those that interacted with him is consistent. He was a loner. He had written violent plays and essays posted on and in English class. He reportedly had classmates, who after reading his work in English class, prophetically joke that would someday shoot up the school. High school classmates said that he would not respond to pleasantries and if he did it would be with a distant, far off glare. He would not make eye contact when speaking and would often mumble. He was described by his English advisor as "seriously disturbed" and her attempts to get him help through the counseling department failed. She even notified the police who said that there was nothing they could do.

How could this have been prevented?

Early intervention.

This kind of illness doesn't develop over night. It hasn't been reported, but I would bet you dollars for donuts that this man had adjustment problems dating back to preschool. He probably made no real connections, had no real friends in elementary school. He may have even been a bed wetter or tortured animals. These are all classic signs of serial killers and mass murderers. Emigrating from Korea at a young age, looking different from other kids in his suburban Washington home didn't help.

Who are the experts when it comes to assessing children's behavior?


Teachers can tell you which kids will do well later in life and which kids will end up in jail. Teachers know who the bullies are, who the shy kids are and they know who are the class clowns. Teachers look our children in the eye everyday and see their inner-workings. They see how our children interact with the world on a daily basis.

His teachers must have known there was something different about this kid, but what could they do? Teachers have to kowtow to parents (who spend less time awake with their children than the teachers do Monday through Friday) and to principals and school boards who are unsympathetic to their concerns. If a teacher tells a parent that they have observed behaviors that are abnormal, then usually the parents become resentful and view the information as an indictment of their parenting.

We put enough burden on our overworked teachers, but there should be a system in place where our teachers can identify children with potential problems and have serious, comprehensive follow-up.

There was no way to prevent a mentally unstable man, fully armed, unafraid to die from doing what he did, but we need to pay more attention to our children and other peoples children. I am not advocating witch-hunts and refilling the state hospitals and mental institutions with people who have mild or even moderate mental illness. I do think we need to identify children at a young age who show anti-social tendencies and be sure that they are properly assessed and treated.

I am uncomfortable with labels. I have worked for the past eighteen years in the field of mental health and seen the damage that labeling someone at a young age can do. I have had clients who are carrying around diagnoses for decades after they have exhibited any symptomology. Labels have discouraged employers from hiring them, the community from embracing them and perpetuated the alienation that drives them further from inclusion.

In the case of this shooter, 32 lives could have been saved by giving this man a label and a chance of being treated for his illness.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and acts like a duck.... then its a duck.


plez... said...

you hit the proverbial nail on the head: there was nothing the people at Va. Tech could've done... he was on his course to disaster the day he set foot on the campus. He'd slipped through every crack imaginable.

My only concern is when is the next "duck" gonna crack?

Quack! Quack!

Mushy said...

...and if it does, who has the first right to shoot the duck?

It is like you say and I think it's the parents of today's fault for not pointing it out and doing something about him early on.

We let our kids shut themselves away from us and live independent lives. They don't eat family meals, but either in front of the TV on in between texting, gaming, computing, or listening to mp3s in their rooms.

If parents make their kids talk and interact, then they will know about issues and problems their kids have inside. Parents can save more than one life if they would just be parents and not just house mates.

David Sullivan said...

Plez: Its inevitable that this will happen again soon. Unfortunately.

Mushy: I couldn't agree with you more about parenting and its role in this and most of societies ills.

My kids are only 2 and 4, but I will know where they are, who they are with and what they are thinking at all times until they move out of my house. Many parents today let their kids push them around and guilt them into letting them have their way. I grew up Irish Catholic, so am therefore impervious to guilt. In a way I feel sorry for my kids because they won't be able to get away with the shit their friends get away with because I've seen it and done it all. They might not like it now, but when they are putting me in the ground I think they'll thank me.

Mushy said...

Good for your kids, David! They won't appreciate it until they are grown...but they will one day, and...they'll pass it on.

Debbe M said...

Nice Job David!!!!!
I have been following your blogg for a couple of weeks and I am very impressed woth your insight.
As you know I am a 6th grade teacher and I couldn't agree more with your evaluation of both parents, teachers and their roll in raising our children.
As I read your blogg, I can't help but see that maybe just maybe we have broken the norm with our kids.
I have had several students that I know are headed for problems (mostly the lack of personal responsibility) with being able to cope with life... and as you know I don't keep quiet.... and parents are not at all willing to see this let alone participate in a solotion. As you and I both know kids today and in our time are a product of their parenting... Keep up your writing I like it, and I hope your parental security continues through the hard times... because It does pay off.

Auntie Scotch said...

Sorry for the late reply, I just now found your blog. I applaud your efforts in even approaching this subject, I doublely applaud it because it is so well put.

For years, for mostly personal reasons, I have been a huge supporter of gun control. That said, I will not take a political stance from this massacre. Not because I do not want to or wish I could, but the truth is it is not gun laws that were the major failure here.

It bothers me that the teachers who came forward only days after the massacre with stories of intuition about Cho are regarded as heros. They should have done more, if people were not listening to them, make them listen! They saw this coming, and although I do not blame from the bottom of my heart for what happened that awful day, we should not be celebrating them.