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Why School Shootings Are Unpreventable

It's hard to believe that since Sandy Hook there have been more than 140 school shootings ("Thresholds of Violence," The New Yorker, Oct. 12). Experts have tried to explain the reasons, in the hope that the knowledge could prevent future tragedies.

But as events have shown, there is no way of identifying students who will act out in violent ways.  As Malcolm Gladwell correctly noted: "The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts.  It's worse. It's that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts." In other words, the potential for slaughter today exists in otherwise seemingly normal young men.

There are many theories why that is true. For example, young men today have become more desensitized to violence than their counterparts decades ago.  Or school shootings are done only by young men because of their testosterone. But the truth is that we have no surefire way of making schools sanctuaries where learning can take place.  It's one thing if shooters were outsiders who tried to enter campuses.  But if students themselves are the very same ones who are capable of murder, it's a different story.

I know the arguments made for arming classroom teachers.  But I question whether doing so would make a difference. I don't believe it's possible to simultaneously play the role of teacher and police.  One of the other is going to suffer.  Moreover, fortifying campuses with fences topped by razor wire and patrolled by armed security guards have so far not provided the assumed protection.  That's why I remain pessimistic. 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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