After Sandy Hook, what can we do?

There’s little we can do to prevent another school massacre, writes Megan McArdle. Confiscating 300 million semi-automatic weapons now in private hands is unconstitutional and politically impossible. So is locking up mentally ill people who haven’t hurt anyone and probably never will. So is banning the media from naming killers.

My guess is that we’re going to get a law anyway, and my hope is that it will consist of small measures that might have some tiny actual effect, like restrictions on magazine capacity.  I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.

But I doubt we’re going to tell people to gang rush mass shooters, because that would involve admitting that there is no mental health service or “reasonable gun control” which is going to prevent all of these attacks.  Which is to say, admitting that we have no box big enough to completely contain evil.

The odds that any school will be attacked are very, very small. The money elementary schools spend on armed guards or police officers is money that can’t be spent on a reading specialist to get struggling students on track, a music teacher to motivate kids, a counselor to work with kids years before they became angry loners, etc.

At the elementary school where I tutor, one of the first grade teachers had locked her door on Wednesday. I knocked and a kid let me in to pick up my tutee. My other first grader ran up to me as I was leaving, smiled and “shot” me three times with his finger. He smiled again and ran off to join the recess crowd. I have no idea what that meant. Probably nothing. Earlier, he’d pretended he was an airplane as we walked along. He’s a little boy.

The lesson of Sandy Hook for education reformers is to honor the heroism of teachers and administrators and “tone down any rhetoric that implies that a typical teacher isn’t committed to doing right by her or his students,” writes Mike Petrilli, the father of two young boys.

That’s not to say we should relax our efforts to identify and remove ineffective teachers from the classroom; just as there’s the occasional bad cop, there’s the occasional bad teacher. Like the police force, the teaching force is much stronger without them. But neither should we ignore indications from the field that many teachers, including great teachers, have been feeling unappreciated, villainized, and blamed.

“Let us commit to bringing America’s heroic teachers and school leaders along with us on the path to reform, not to view them as the targets of reform—or of our scorn.”

How do you know who’s dangerous?

On Community College SpotlightHow do you know who’s dangerous? It’s difficult to predict when a troubled student is a danger to classmates, writes a community college dean.

Also, destroying the for-profit colleges and universities would be a “disaster” for the lower-income, higher-risk students who need the scheduling flexibility these colleges provide, argues Donald Graham, whose Washington Post Company owns Kaplan University, a major for-profit educator.

School shooters are crazy

The Columbine killers and most other school shooters are severely mentally ill, concludes psychologist Peter Langman in Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters.

Released just before the 10th anniversary of Columbine, the book is all too timely as Germans try to figure out why 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer murdered 15 people, including nine students and three teachers at his former school, before killing himself.  An unsuccessful student from an affluent family, Kretschmer had been treated at a psychiatric clinic for depression. Allegedly, the teen bragged about his plans on a chat room the night before the attack:

“I’m sick of this shitty life, always the same — everyone laughing at me, nobody sees my potential,” it said. “I’m serious Bernd — I got guns here, and I’m gonna head over to my old school tomorrow and have myself a good ole barbecue.”

Langman describes Columbine killer Eric Harris, 18, as a rage-filled, egotistical, conscience-less psychopath.  After reading the journals of Dylan Klebold, 17, Langman diagnoses him as “psychotic, suffering from paranoia, delusions and disorganized thinking.”

. . . Like Klebold, four other psychotic shooters profiled by Langman “were suicidally depressed and full of rage at the inexplicable unfairness of life,” writes the 49-year-old psychologist. “In addition, they were not living in reality. They all believed that people or monsters conspired to do them harm … They were confused and desperate and lost in the mazes of their minds.”

The most prevalent misconception about school shootings, Langman contends, is that they are perpetrated by loners or outcasts striking out against classmates who bullied them. In reality, most shooters were teased no more or no less than their peers, most had friends, and most of the victims were targeted at random.

How do you tell the kid who’s dangerous from the kid who’s just fantasizing? Look for “attack-related behavior,” says Langman. But it may be seen only in hindsight.