Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech Shooting: some thoughts

When these tragedies occur, I go numb. Maybe my neurotransmitters spasm and flood my brain with endorphins because I cannot feel a thing. I can think, though.

I am disgusted with the post-game quarterbacking about the school's non-decision to shut down the campus after the first shooting. No one knew that this was a bloodbath in the making. No one knew or coulda known or shoulda known that the killer in the first incident was about to go on a rampage.

Second sight, precognition--they exist on TV, but in real life, not so much. And while killings on college campuses are not a regular thing, they do happen. As the cops and the administration keeps repeating, they made the best decision they could with the information they had. To insist otherwise is to either create hyperbole in order to sell commercial time...or to find someone to blame in a blameless situation. We're brilliant at doing that in America, and our news media is so very, very helpful.

When I saw the report that the shooter was an English lit major, I thought, "aha." Not that all or most English lit majors are nuts or all or most English departments make you crazy, but having experienced several--well, my "aha" made sense, at least to me.

When I was teaching Freshman Comp at Sac State, I had my students keep, as was the pedagogical trend at the time, Journals. These were places where they would write their personal responses to the work they were reading and the essays they were writing. It was meant to be a way of Keeping The Student Engaged In The Process. It was also a way to make sure students were keeping up with the work. I would collect the Journals every once in a while and go through them in the most cursory fashion.

I wasn't put off by the student whose response to an essay he'd read on dating was a soliloquoy on the woes of having a too-small penis. I was scared shitless by the student who wrote at length on his fears that he was in fact the reincarnation of the mad mind of Edgar Allen Poe. I took that one to my department head, who--well, I'm not sure what the disposition was.

One of the things you learn as a teacher of writing and lit is not to allow your students to go too far into themselves. Writing courses aren't therapy and the teachers are not psychotherapists. Encouraging someone whose mental state you don't know to mess in their minds is just plain dangerous. You--and they--have no idea what might come crawling out.

I stopped assigning personal writing in Journals after that semester at Sac State. It seemed the wiser course.


  1. I feel awful for the parents of the perpetrator. Not only have they lost their son, but that loss is tainted by his actions.

  2. I am pretty disgusted with the Monday morning quarterbacking as well. That type of carnage just isn't something that people can typically cope with on a purely rational level. Plus, are the powers that be supposed to be mind readers? I mean really...

    Those poor families.

  3. Oh... I laughed out loud at the bit about the journals at Sac State. Some people, well... "aha" does seem like the most appropriate response, doesn't it?


So--whaddaya think?