Services for Schools, Educators, and Families



My cousins’ school in western Connecticut is in the news. The younger generation has grown and moved on, but their mother—a teacher and counselor, author of a book on grief—lives in town, a few blocks from the school. I haven’t heard from any of them, but their feelings are their own, and their community’s, business right now.

Madness and violence in our land are nothing new; the “first” American novel, Charles Brockden Brown’s 1799 Wieland, was an exploration of mass murder. Historically we associate so many place names with the word “massacre” that we should be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves.

Yesterday’s events unfolded way too quickly, too slowly, as the “facts” trickled out. I found myself glued to my computer screen, writhing in the cognitive dissonance of the news from Connecticut against the backdrop of news—mostly good—dribbling in from college admission offices; we’d even been having a pep rally at about the time the terrible acts were occurring.

There is no such thing as a triumph on a day like yesterday, but there were aspects of the day that I shall always hold onto in something like a positive light.

First, the anchors of the NBC news affiliate in Hartford that became my internet source were extraordinary. Called upon to do the worst thing in journalism—to stay at the desk as horrors unfold—whoever they were, an older white guy and a younger African American woman, managed to convey patience, compassion, sorrow, and wisdom; humanity at its best. Occasionally struggling with their own composure, they kept us informed and calm for long hours that I hope never to remember in detail. They deserve whatever television journalism’s highest award is, knowing that neither of them would ever, ever have wanted it. And I don’t even know their names.

Second, although we don’t know anything about the shooter or his motivations, yesterday morning the Harvard Crimson completed a three-part series on that school’s mental health services. Whatever its editorial value for the Harvard community, the series is above all a compelling exploration of the issues facing many young adults and the kinds of help they need. (Part I here; Part II here; Part III here.)

Finally, my president. No one should ever have to rise to such an occasion, but in his afternoon statement he did just that. “Our hearts are broken today.” Amen.

Anything I might feel like adding here on gun control would just be extra hot air. But if the worry is that “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns,” then I think an argument can be made that this would be a fair trade-off if it meant restricting gun access for the angry, the paranoid, and the mentally ill—the kinds of individuals who so regularly perpetrate mass killings—or for that matter, shoot themselves or their loved ones—in our country. Most of these people aren’t outlaws, right up to the moment when their acts shatter not just the laws of the land but the laws of humanity and all of its deities. Better still, let’s care for these people before their demons erupt.

As educators we feel the horror of school shootings with an added keenness, a sharp blade twisting in our souls as we project our speculative selves into those hallways and classrooms, trapped into imagining our own colleagues and students in such awful moments. And so we also wish we could project our sympathy, condolence, respect, and sorrow in some way if it might provide even a mite of solace to those who have been directly affected by this tragedy.

Our hearts go out, indeed.

ADDENDUM, MONDAY EVENING: Words from my cousin’s Facebook page today; she was a lead facilitator at an open support workshop at the Newtown town hall on Sunday afternoon, having put out the call to other counselors in the area:

“Woke at 5 to blazing lights in the Church parking lot next door. Media trucks all over – still. Yesterday’s Parent Connection session was powerful for me. Thank you to all of the mental health clinicians who came – especially all of you from SCSU. I was in awe and seeing you meant so much to me. As said, often we in the mental health field forget to take care of ourselves. Seeing all of you became grounding for me. Thank you, thank you!

“Each griever will grieve to one’s own time and way. We must be patient and allow for the process to unfold over the days, weeks, months, and yes, years.

“For me, Obama’s speech said all the right things. I loved his passion about how we try to take care and protect our kids, but…Newtown is a cohesive town. We will grow closer but we do need to know you are there to support us in this time of sadness.

“Some people have asked about the media…for me, they have been so respectful.”