Communicating to prevent school tragedies

This past Wednesday, a student at Jokela High School in Finland shot and killed seven students and the principal before also killing himself. Though school shootings may seem to be a primarily American affair, they are not infrequent abroad: Since 1996, there have been 114 deaths as a result of school shootings in the United States, 49 in European countries, eight in Yemen, three in Argentina, and three in Canada.

In the United States, school shootings are often catalysts for debate about gun control. However, the frequency of gun-related violence in schools in other countries — each with different gun control policies — is evidence that the problem is universal, and likely psychological.

Concern about political correctness — not separating or calling attention to kids who display emotional instability and violent tendencies — hinders communication between peers and authority figures, as well as different departments in schools. It’s apparent that what is crucial is knocking down the walls that inhibit connection and communication between departments like psychological services and educators; not that students be flagged and tagged, but rather that warning signs are heeded and, perhaps, interventions staged.

Most student-cum-student-shooters leave trails of clues in their wake. Cho Seung-Hui, the student who killed 33 including himself at Virginia Tech, wrote many graphic, violent screenplays for class that concerned professors and students alike; the 18-year-old gunman at Jokela High School made multiple videos depicting violence, calling for revolutions, and using the songs that played on the Columbine shooters’ website.

We believe that it is the responsibility of schools to care for and watch the mental and emotional health of students; we also believe that students should be mindful of content passing through their contemporaries’ most prominent form of connection and socialization, the Internet.

We don’t want vigilantes dominating universities, but we do want communicators.