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A Student Left Behind

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I promised to write about the released test questions this week, but like for everyone around here, banal concerns have been washed away in the swirling wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy.

We all made it through our week somehow, alternating between voyeuristic horror and self-preserving denial according to our natures and how psychically linked we were to Blacksburg. TJ, the high tech high where I teach, was awash in maroon and orange and the awareness that so many of our own were close to the epicenter.

The same sense of family that humanized New Yorkers after 9-11 has drawn strangers together in the aftermath of this calendar-marking day. While sharing the experience communally, each individual is struck by different aspects of it. I can't stop thinking about the man who survived the Holocaust to die at the hands of a deranged college student.

For us educators, every school shooting is another cautionary tale. Remember that kid who used to write weird journals, one thinks. Or, what about the kid in fourth period now... I felt a chill the morning I picked up the newspaper to see the face of the shooter, followed by a jolt of self-recrimination as the dozens upon dozens of faces of anonymous Asian boys I pass in hallways every day sprang unbidden to my mind.

Another unsettling thought: "Because Cho did well in school, his mother did not seem very determined to get treatment for him," a great-aunt of the long isolated boy recalls, quoted in Washington Post report this Saturday. The front page piece catalogs "warning signs" next to a middle school yearbook photo of a kid who looks like a million other gangly eighth graders.

Was it only his mother's responsibility to get that treatment? "Because he did well in school." Well enough on every test he took to move through his years of elementary and secondary education without calling much attention to himself. Well enough to get into a top engineering school. Well enough to advance, all along the way, because his problems were emotional and not academic.

In what may be the ultimate wake up call for a society obsessed with testing kids for mastery of basic skills, at some undetermined point a deviant, desperate child was left behind. And no one cared until it came to this. Somehow, it feels like we failed the most high-stakes test of all.

8 Comments

Even here in south Louisiana our hearts and minds have been with the victims of VT. This week our local newspaper published pictures of all the victims, and I was glad to put faces and names to those who died at the hands of the deranged student. Hopefully, in the future the laws will protect the lives of innocent victims before the rights of one individual who needed help. I look forward to reading your weekly blog!

Emmet, I agree with your post, I just wonder why you had to say "as the dozens upon dozens of faces of anonymous *ASIAN* boys I pass in hallways every day sprang unbidden to my mind." Why must his race be called out? Certainly whites have committed far more school shootings. Was his being Asian any more central to what he did than his being bullyed, the likelihood of mental illness, his outsider status, etc.?

I worry that, as after 9/11, people will now generalize and indict a whole ethnic group on the actions of one deranged individual. There is already evidence of that occurring around the nation. Certainly white people were never condemned as a race after Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (I'm not saying that you were condemning Asians, but that others will). Teachers should be searching the faces of ALL their students who display troubling signs now, not just the Asian ones.

And as I'm sure readers will wonder: I'm white.

We've been advocating that all teachers be given the basics of juvenile mental health as part of their training. Mental health workers learn how to identify potential violence and may have better ability to prevent it esp in a situation like a VT. Teachers are expected to somehow accomplish this same feat without ever been taught how. If you want to see something scary, look at this article about the three students at highest risk of extreme violence and note how the VT shooter matches the warnings precisely.
Here's the link, http://www.youthchg.com/hottopic.html. If we could ever take our eyes off high-stakes testing and other irrelevancies long enough to figure out there may be much more important priorities for schools, perhaps there could be lives saved. Thanks for your words that reiterate that right now our priorities are all scrambled.

Beautifully written, Emmet. Your last paragraph will stay with me for a long time. Indeed, this emotionally tortured child left behind a wave of anguish and pain all his own.

Emmet, your post put into words exactly my own thoughts. Noticing and caring is what we should all be about, but it's easy during the day to simply not notice. And I think your point about how easy it is especially to not notice people who are not like us on the outside is perceptive. We too often are content it seems to let them float by on the periphery of our daily concerns.

I am a teacher in a high school attached to Hunan University in China. We hope to find a sister school to communicate more and exchange more to widen our horizon on an international edcational base.I wonder if you can help me to get your school in touch wiht us. Thank you a lot.

I am a teacher in a high school attached to Hunan University in China. We hope to find a sister school to communicate more and exchange more to widen our horizon on an international edcational base.I wonder if you can help me to get your school in touch wiht us. Thank you a lot.

I found this article after sitting for my NBPTS examination. I am a Media Specialist at a high school with five Academy Schools. I'm the lucky one because prior to taking on this quest, I opened the school, I lived the prompts. I know I'm crazy enough and for real it IS the journey! Now on to presenting for a national conference and a masters degree in Educational Leadership...Let the games begin!

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  • Debbie Siegel: I found this article after sitting for my NBPTS examination. read more
  • Dill: I am a teacher in a high school attached read more
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  • TomK: Emmet, your post put into words exactly my own thoughts. read more
  • Valerie Winter: Beautifully written, Emmet. Your last paragraph will stay with me read more

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