By BRITTANY WALDER
The ten year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre on April 20 and the two year anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting on April 17 should be a time of reflection on these terrible events and a solemn reminder of the influence they had on American culture.
Since the shooting at Columbine on April 20, 1999, in which 15 people were killed, including the two gunmen, and 23 others were injured, security in public schools has increased dramatically. There are measures taken to monitor who comes into the building, as well as trained security guards on school grounds and increased cooperation between schools and the police.
School staff members have also increased their tactics when evaluating the potential for a student to act in a violent manner. Social workers are often present on campus, as well as other counselors and specialists in dealing with antisocial behaviors. Teachers are trained to identify warning signs. Students often isolate those who appear to reject “normal” standards of behavior.
It would appear that with all of these precautions being instated that the risk factor for a school shooting should be rendered obsolete—but it’s not.
The same goes for the effects of September 11, 2001. For all of our advanced methods of preventing an attack, it seems that many still get through, and many otherwise innocent people are barred from going on with their lives in peace because of the militant nature of prevention.
The primary dilemma lies in the fact that officials cannot keep the public safe without inconveniencing that public to some degree. So would it be more logical to eliminate invasive preventative methods in order to avoid causing public distress? Or in the grand scheme of things, are the lessons that we have learned from Columbine and similar instances enough to realize that sacrifices have to be made to preserve the sanctity of life?
Every traumatic event that has ever rocked the security of the American people’s peace of mind has had a rippling effect in the country’s culture. In the twenty-first century, hitchhiking is a guaranteed means of not getting a ride. As a culture, we have come to see the dangerous consequences of allowing a complete stranger to render us so vulnerable. Good hearts are too often taken advantage of, and we often have a terrible time deciding where to draw the line between good will and self-preservation.
Conversations are no longer sparked frequently and with those with whom one is not already intimately acquainted. In a social context, community spirit has altogether died. Americans have become increasingly antisocial and suspicious of that which is alien. Perhaps that’s a good thing.
Perhaps it’s not.
There is a fine line between genius and madness. It’s a line so fine that it is ridiculously difficult to separate the two. Imagine placing Stephen King, Chuck Palahnuik, Anne Rice, or even beloved children’s author J.K. Rowling under psychological evaluation for the products of their creativity. It appears unlikely that any of them would pass with flying colors.
In a high school setting, there lies a delicate equilibrium that must be maintained when broaching the topic. High school students are fragile, with personalities composed of insubstantial glass. Their identities are being formed, and they’re exploring new realms of thought as well as tumbling head first into new experiences and realizations. The world for them is intricate and foreign. They’re prone to overreact at the drop of an iPod and cry Armageddon over things that in retrospect seem trivial.
How can a professional identify whether or not a teenager has serious mental dysfunctions or if he or she is, simply put, being a teenager? In that respect, what items are on the check-list that determine this distinction, and how is it that these counselors and therapists seem to keep reeling in the wrong kids while ones who really need help are still passing through the system?
Of course, there is really only so much that can be done. Without psychic powers or telekinesis, the most we can do is look out for one another and ourselves and be aware of what is going on in our environment. The effects that Columbine and Virginia Tech had on our world were devastating; yet it seems that in times of crisis, people are brought closer together. Changes are made—some for the worse, some for the better.
It’s easy to label our behavior as paranoia, particularly with the backlash that happened against the goth culture, role playing games, video games, and writing, but in all actuality, Americans have become a little more pragmatic. We’ve seen our idealistic world crumble as the candles were lit in memory of those who were lost—and ever since that fateful day in April 1999, American lives have never been the same.