C.W. Gusewelle

School violence tests our psyche

Updated: 2013-11-03T17:56:34Z


The Kansas City Star

Young men and women who choose careers as teachers do so intending to serve. They are not volunteering for hazardous duty — not knowingly, at any rate.

My wife, in her first years after graduation, taught school at a time of challenge and transition — the early period of racial integration in our city’s public schools. I have always admired her for her commitment to that.

She speaks of the experience warmly. But the climate of life in those days was very different from the present.

In reflecting on my own school experience, I can remember nothing of violence or danger.

Yes, there were arguments, even an occasional fracas. But if disagreements escalated into after-school fights, the combatants took off their rings to prevent disfiguring injury.

There were no guns, no knives. It was simply a gentler, safer time to be a youngster.

My only really unhappy period was in third grade, where the teacher, during lessons in penmanship, rapped my left hand daily with a wooden ruler, hoping — futilely, as it turned out — to prevent my being a southpaw.

Each morning I dreaded going to that class. And finally I confessed to my parents the reason for my discomfort.

They handled the matter quite reasonably, in a conversation with the school principal. And immediately the corporal discipline ended.

During all the years that followed — during the remainder of elementary school and on through high school and college — I benefited from exposure to teachers and professors who, though demanding, were encouraging and in many cases inspiring.

I remember them with gratitude. To some of them I owe debts that can never be paid.

I cannot help laying those personal recollections against three of the headlines of recent weeks in this newspaper and others:

• Hickman Mills mom arrested, accused of beating her boy’s teacher

• Nevada boy who killed teacher got weapon at home

• Boy, 14, is charged as adult in killing of a teacher near Boston

The teacher in Danvers, Mass., a 24-year-old recent college graduate, described by her colleagues and grief-smitten students as unfailingly gentle and supportive, was killed with a box cutter in a school restroom, her body dumped in nearby woods.

The victim in Nevada was a 45-year-old male teacher, slain as he tried to end a shooting spree by a seventh-grader who had already wounded another student.

So what in heaven’s name is the matter? Are youngsters today that different?

Has the culture of this once-civilized nation gone terribly off the track?

For more of C.W. Gusewelle, go to gusewelle.kansascity.com.

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