Years before he murdered students and professors at Virginia Tech, Cho Seung-hui was diagnosed with “selective mutism” — he could talk but chose not to — in high school. His special education category was “emotionally disturbed.” He got 50 minutes a month of speech and language therapy, reports the Wall Street Journal. Teachers were told not to push him to talk.
(Cho) was largely excused from making oral presentations and answering teachers’ questions in class; oral participation was de-emphasized in his grading. Aided by such “accommodations,” or efforts to compensate for his disability, he achieved A’s and B’s in regular and Advanced Placement courses and was admitted to Virginia Tech.
Details of Mr. Cho’s experience in special education, which are only now coming to light, suggest that high schools may be paying too much attention to the academic advancement of bright but troubled students and not enough to their emotional disorders.
It’s hard to see what a school can do for someone as deeply disturbed as Cho. His silence, which started at a young age, wasn’t a question of not speaking English; he didn’t talk to his family at home either. His parents took him to doctors; in high school, they sent him to a counselor. If his parents couldn’t help him, why should we blame his teachers?
Update: In Time, a psychologist suggests that “cynical shyness” leads to rage and murder. I think “cynical shyness” is shyness that leads to rage and murder, as opposed to regular old shyness, which doesn’t.