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"Just keep whistling in the dark"

04/26/2007

Dear Vermont:

I've just returned from two and a half weeks vacation in the south. We had great weather, and all the flowering trees and shrubs were out, azalea, dogwood, wisteria, peach orchards, apple trees, everything. We took a two-hour cruise on the intracoastal waterway out of Tampa Bay and had a great time. And, yes, we're beginning to have some snowbird inclinations, like many others do as they get older and the severity and length of Vermont's winter stands in contrast to the balmy breezes and early gardening our relatives take advantage of in spring in Florida.
 

And then the Virginia Tech disaster broke over us all like a tsunami.

So what would be the most constructive response to this heartbreaking tragedy at Virginia Tech? Should we be thinking about stricter gun laws? That's obvious. No one should have guns. If no one has them, no one needs them. But taking guns away from law-abiding citizens without somehow also removing them from the possession of criminals and terrorists is no solution. Should we be turning all our public buildings into locked down fortresses? Then the massacres would be confined to the streets. One of the most important things we can do, finally, is to start paying attention to bullying, and to stop dismissing it as "just the way kids are."

Every single instance of explosive destruction by students in schools grows out of bullying that was either ignored or dismissed by school authorities. We also hear over and over again the other story that applies to Cho Seung-Hui. The one about sitting in the back of the room, hanging his head, not answering questions. When will we get the idea? The ones we aren't paying attention to are the ones who we desperately need to pay attention to! Schools are the nerve center of every adolescent's life and we simply must prioritize in the direction of finding out what's going right and what's going wrong for every child, rather than spending all our resources on unrealistic mass test scores that reflect nothing in the real world.

Of course, we can just keep on whistling in the dark, business as usual. Publicizing Cho Seung-Hui's "manifesto" isn't about glorifying a killer. It's about helping us identify who is at risk for coming apart at the seams like this. I wonder how many will be killed next time? As long as we pay no attention to what these poor desperate people are trying to tell us about isolation and the price we pay for bottom-line materialism run amok, I'm sure the numbers will keep rising.
 
Jim Dodds lives in Waitsfield.
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