Dark Night

My sons attended a midnight showing of the latest “Batman” movie on opening night (I know. I know. Yet another example torn from the pages of the “Bad Parenting 101 Handbook.”) So yesterday I couldn’t help but read everything I could about what happened early Friday morning in Aurora, Colorado. It was an awful echo of what took place on that God-awful April day at Columbine High School in 1999.

After Columbine became a household word, author James Garbarino, a professor who specializes in understanding violent children, spoke to the faculty and staff at UCC about what he had learned while performing a “psycholgocial autopsy” of Dylan Klebold, one of the two Columbine killers.

Dr. Garbarino offered us 10 pieces of advice:

1. recognize the power we have as adults in a school community
2. be willing to go “radical” if the situation demands it
3. embrace research
4. take an “ecological” perspective on adolescent development
5. believe in community and its influence
6. understand the accumulated risks and assets of each student
7. operate in the “zone of proximate development”
8. accept kids regardless of their temperament
9. move from sentiment to compassion
10. meet the spiritual needs of students.

Of all the pieces of wisdom Garbarino offered, perhaps the most difficult to implement is the tenth truth. How can we meet the spiritual needs of our students, especially in a secular, pluralistic environment?

Untreated mental illness is a plague of our times (Think Virginia Tech.), and America’s lax gun laws are a prescription for disaster. (Please tell me why I have a fundament right to possess an AK 47.) But if schools have always been about helping their students grow in mind, body, and soul, then we should probably spend some more time thinking about why that third goal is so incredibly perplexing.


5 thoughts on “Dark Night

  1. Thanks for writing this eloquent reflection on a deeply disturbing event.

    While I certainly agree with everything that James Garbarino has to say about how we should conduct ourselves around the adolescents we work with (and also your observation about the absurdity of a “constitutional right to bear arms”), I do challenge the connection you appear to draw between “untreated mental illness” and “the spiritual needs of students”.

    To my eyes, that appears to suggest that a vigorous spiritual life is somehow an antidote for the full range of mental disorders that plague our society. I’m sure it wasn’t your intention, but to me that in turn raises the spectres of possession by demons and exorcism. As well, we know that throughout history — and perhaps more so now than ever — deeply disturbed people have often been highly active in organizations that society conventionally considered to be “spiritual”, and may actually have used their beliefs as the rationale for anti-social acts of an extreme nature.

    By all means, let’s increase our awareness of both mental illness and young people’s spiritual needs, but let’s also be cautious about connecting one priority with the other.

  2. Another good piece. They say that we have always been a violent nation. What does that mean? How did we start that way? Is it getting worse? Why? And have you seen the video games and movies that are so full of violence? I know, I know, these do not really affect young folks, but isn’t that belittling the role and influence of the imagination?

    I recall being in Euopre during one or two of these incidents and the Europeans just do not understand our gun culture. They have incidents too, of course, but not as often and horrific as ours.

    And after I have figured all this out, I will try to figure out the hugely disproportionate role which ahtletics play in our colleges and universities. I suspect it’s just big business, captialism, etc.

    And how do we take care of the soul when so many do not believe we have souls or that God exists?

    You made me think.

  3. Well put Jim, and thank you.

    I have friends in Aurora, CO who have hugged their kids a little closer a couple of nights now. If this place ever gets so bad that we truly become desensitized to tragedy then stop the world, because I’ll want to be getting off.

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