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.