Monday, April 23, 2007

Durkheimian Antidotes to School Shootings

A week after the Virginia Tech shootings, I want to commend columnist Clarence Page for the most sensible response I have read. The conclusion of his April 18 column was
"What our schools need is more people who can serve as antibodies, watching out for troubled students and offering them help."


Social institutions are like organisms. This is the fundamental metaphor of the great sociologist Emile Durkheim's vision of society. In the case of schools, teachers have to be on the lookout for troubled students. The English teachers were on the job at Virginia Tech. The ball was dropped at the next stage, and the law prevented Cho's parents from being notified – something I wrote about last week.

Page also notes that students do tell teachers about scary students. They are even more likely, though, to go to trustworthy outsiders who are in the same "cultural zip code" as the students. Page promoted the idea of adult volunteers in the schools to be the antibodies to violence, to be the response system to distress.

Each of us sometimes runs across people who are sending out warning signals. It is our duty to them to notify the authorities, and an even greater duty to the social whole.

1 comment:

sporcupine said...

I don't think it's just notifying: it's many forms of doing something.

For other students, just a little less troubled, the devotion Cho's writing professor showed could have made a difference: a suicide headed off, a depression treated, a life that makes a positive difference rather than one crippled by despair.

For other students, that kind of devotion does happen, and it's important.

Doing that much--with the best wisdom and gentleness one canmuster--is what makes great professors and administrators great people.

People can hold the same job titles and do a lot less. But I think that's a sadly lesser version of living out their vocations.