Don’t ask kids to befriend violent classmates
Parkland shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz at Broward County jail. Photo: Miguel Guttierez/AFP/Getty Images
It’s up to adults to protect kids from violent classmates, writes Isabelle Robinson, who survived the massacre at Douglas High School, in an eloquent New York Times commentary. She knew the future Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, and she’s tired of reading that maybe his classmates could have prevented the shooting by being nicer to him.
When she was in seventh-grade, he hit her with an apple in the school cafeteria. She cried. He smirked.
A cafeteria aide rushed over to ask me if I was O.K. I don’t remember if Mr. Cruz was confronted over his actions, but in my 12-year-old naïveté, I trusted that the adults around me would take care of the situation.
A year later, when she became a peer counselor, she was assigned to tutor Cruz.
Despite my discomfort, I sat down with him, alone. I was forced to endure his cursing me out and ogling my chest until the hourlong session ended. When I was done, I felt a surge of pride for having organized his binder and helped him with his homework.
Now she’s angry that she was left alone with someone with a “history of rage and brutality.”
As a former peer counselor and current teacher’s assistant, I strongly believe in and have seen the benefits of reaching out to those who need kindness most. But students should not be expected to cure the ills of our genuinely troubled classmates, or even our friends, because we first and foremost go to school to learn. . . . It is not the obligation of children to befriend classmates who have demonstrated aggressive, unpredictable or violent tendencies. It is the responsibility of the school administration and guidance department to seek out those students and get them the help that they need, even if it is extremely specialized attention that cannot be provided at the same institution.
When I was young, I was nice to outcasts. My mother raised me that way. I hated being the best and only friend of some girl that nobody else liked — that I didn’t really like — but eventually I realized I could do it without becoming an outcast myself. It was an empowering revelation.
But there’s a big difference from being nice to a socially awkward kid and associating with an angry, violent kid. Any reasonable parent would say of the latter, “Stay away.”