OP-ED: Living with the 24-Hour News Cycle



All of southeast Michigan was shocked at the recent news of the fatal stabbing of a young teenager in Warren’s Fitzgerald High School. Likely the result of heightened emotions due to a possible love triangle, the tragedy highlights just how vulnerable our schools are to acts of violence.

Amid the cries of sympathy and sadness are those who are asking where the metal detectors were, and what did the school not do that led to this terrible moment. Although tensions and emotions are high and will remain high for quite some time in Warren, the sad truth is that the school is not responsible for this tragedy.

Decades of mostly-conservative governance in Michigan has resulted in an unrelenting attack on public schools and teachers. This vilification has made people think that our public schools are responsible for the general deterioration of civility in our society, along with the economy, violence, and anything else the critics can heap upon them.

Regardless of what critics and pundits would have you think, our schools reflect society. They do not drive it, influence it to any large degree, nor have the ability to change it. Schools react to the world around them rather than being the driving force behind it.

And that simple fact escapes most people, because they want a convenient means to place blame, and no one is more vulnerable to unwarranted attacks and blame than our schools.

You can place metal detectors at every door of every school, have dozens of patrolling security guards in the hallway, and surveillance cameras nearly everywhere, and the students will still find a way to commit heinous acts if they are so inclined. We may make their task more difficult with all these measures, but only a fool would believe that we can anticipate, let alone stop, every senseless act of violence committed in schools.

Even maximum-security prisons cannot prevent acts of violence, so how can we expect our schools with their limited budgets to do so? Prison guards are accustomed to seeing weapons of nearly every design and material, so metal detectors in our high schools will do very little to stop a determined person.

Our schools are filled with children. While it easy to think of high schoolers as adults, and some are, most are still emotionally undeveloped and will continue to be until their mid-20s. Until then, the majority of our students still lack some degree of self-control.

Am I excusing students who commit acts of violence? Of course not, but despite years of conflict resolution, peer mediation, and other programs designed to head-off problems, even though fewer in number, there will still be acts of violence in our schools.

If you look at the media outlets today, and the stories that constitute the headlines, acts of violence take center stage, and often within moments of it occurring. Those of us in the world of media are all familiar with the old adage with regard to the news, “If it bleeds, it leads; if it thinks, it stinks.”

And you know this to be true. So when children grow up in a world in which acts of violence are reported first and foremost above other news stories, and surrounded with devices that deliver that news instantaneously, should we be surprised that violent acts are committed in our schools?

Statistically, our kids are still far safer in school than they are at home or in the neighborhood, but the news outlets, ever anxious to outdo one another, will actively search for negative news, and broadcast it 24 hours a day for weeks on end.

Our schools do not drive society, they simply reflect it.