Seventeen people are dead in Parkland, Florida. Four days ago, on Valentine’s Day, a kid took an AR-15 rifle to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and massacred 14 kids and 3 teachers.
I wrote something 17 years ago, on March 9, 2001, that has haunted me every time I’ve heard of a school shooting. It’s been sitting in my computer since long before the technology existed for me to share it with anyone but my husband and a few friends. I never submitted it to any publication simply because I didn’t think anyone would care. And I was probably right.
Whether or not Nikolas Cruz really felt invisible doesn’t matter at all. What I know is that he WAS invisible. His mother died in November and 4 people showed up at her funeral – including Nikolas and his brother. THAT’S invisible. The police, his classmates, his neighbors and probably many others knew he was “strange” and most definitely troubled … but they would rather not see him than confront the depth of the problems he had.
I have no solutions, of course … but I do have a blog and a Facebook page now and at least I can share what I was thinking in 2001 after two kids died at the hands of Andy Williams:
THE INVISIBLE KIDS: ANDY, O.J., and ME
Bette Moore – March 9, 2001
Two more kids are dead in Santee, California and the reaction has begun. For the first time, however, I’m reading some opinions that seem to be getting to the core of the problem. On Thursday, March 8, 2001 S. Renee Mitchell and Froma Harrop wrote commentaries in The Oregonian. They don’t focus on media violence, gun control, or kids who go bad. Rather, they are beginning to look beneath the surface.
Unlike some of the other recent high school shooters, Andy Williams was what might be labeled as one of the “invisible” kids. Invisible to adults because we are afraid of how our comfortable lives might change if we choose to see him. And “invisible” to other kids because they don’t like seeing themselves in his eyes. So they simply don’t look – and throw stones so the mirror will break.
Most – if not all – of us can remember both throwing stones – and having stones thrown at us when we were young. We didn’t like being teased, so we would find somebody younger or weaker to tease to regain our sense of power. Since we are all experienced, we are all “experts” on how kids should learn to handle teasing.
As I was reading Ms. Mitchell’s commentary, I was reminded of the day I came home from a day of teaching 4th and 5th graders, turned on the news, and saw a white Bronco in a “low-speed chase” heading south on the 405 freeway. As I watched the story unfold over the next few weeks, I kept remembering something I had read in the health textbook in my classroom. Health for Life, published by Scott, Foresman (1987), was still in use and parts of it were included in our district curriculum. Chapter One is entitled “Understanding Yourself.” Section titles include “How Can You Improve the Way You See Yourself,” “How Can You Deal With Uncomfortable Feelings,” and “How Can You Deal With Problems.” The suggestions are all appropriate and the illustrations portray a host of great looking, multi-ethnic kids exuding bushels of self-esteem.
Chapter Two is called “Your Body and How It Grows.” As it explains basic muscle and bone growth, it focuses upon individual growth patterns and how they are influenced by hormones. Although the readers are 9- and 10-year-olds, very little, if any reference is made to Chapter One in terms of how children may feel if their bodies are not developing at the same rate or in the same proportions as their friends.
At the end of every chapter is a success story called “Health Focus.” Chapter One ends with the story of Debbie Green, an Olympic athlete who is “several inches shorter than most of her teammates.” At first she hated volleyball, but her dad “dragged her to play the game with adults at a nearby gym.” The moral of that story was that Debbie “developed a good self image by working to succeed at a game she found difficult.” Nice story. Nice ending. Tough Kid.
Chapter two ends with another success story. This one is about a little boy who suffered from rickets as a child. He had to wear braces on his legs for several years. His classmates teased him – but he didn’t let their remarks stop him from doing what he wanted to do: Play Football. So Little Ornthall James Simpson developed a thick skin, a thick upper lip, and ignored the ridicule. There is no mention of the adults in his life. Rickets? Children teasing with impunity? The story ends with the proclamation that O.J. “went on to become one of the greatest running backs in the history of professional football”!
Discussion questions follow the story:
- “What did O.J. Simpson overcome to become a great football player?”
- “What do you think would be the hardest part of overcoming a physical disability?”
Since Nicole’s death I have wondered about O.J.’s elementary teachers. Are they still around? Do they remember the teasing? Did they counsel that little boy to just take it so they wouldn’t have to confront the bullies or their parents?
I also wonder about Nicole’s family. Do they know the editors at Scott, Foresman used Simpson as a role model for kids trying to overcome disabilities? Were they impressed with him in 1987 when the book was published and adopted by the state of California? Was Nicole?
There’s a lot that I wonder about now that I’m not teaching every day and I have time to wonder. What do other people do with the anger they have to stuff because when we were young we had to just “tough it out” when we were teased?
I know that I hate to be teased. Even now I feel like either raging or crying when it happens to me. I’ve had a couple of discussions with my husband about it – and now we have a little plan worked out. If one of his clever remarks strikes a chord of discomfort, I just have to tell him and he will always apologize. Maybe I’m more sensitive than I should be – but in a relationship, that is never the point. I was teased as a kid – hated it – and don’t have to tolerate it now.
The difference, however, between OJ – or Andy – and me is that I can only remember being teased at school twice in my life. Once in the fourth grade because of my name – and once in the seventh grade because of my hair. Two days. Two remarks. Forty years ago. I still don’t like my name – or my hair. But I grew up, and I’ve managed to cope. If, however, I ever let myself experience the feelings I had back then . . . I still have to choke down some emotion. I still feel sorry for that little 9-year-old girl on the swing who had to laugh when the boys made silly comparisons between her initials and bodily functions. And when I was 13 and envied the girls with long, straight hair – I hated the permanent that set me up for a stupid nickname. But, unlike Andy, I had parents who were always there for me and I had lots of good friends. I didn’t have to live with a physical disability that scares other children because deep down they know it could happen to them as well. So I was one of the lucky ones. Andy, OJ, and their victims were not.
March 9, 2001