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Youth Violence Opinion Essay Graphic Organizer

Before addressing any traumatic event with students of any age, however, you might read our advice on talking about sensitive issues in the news.

We have also created a forum where students can share their thoughts. Invite yours to post answers to the question, “What Is Your Reaction to the Deadly Shooting at a Florida High School?“

We will continue to update this post.


Understand What Happened and React to It

To learn more about the shooting on Feb. 14 and its aftermath, students might read the article “Florida School Shooting Death Toll Is at 17 and Could Rise” and answer these questions:

1. How many people were killed and injured in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.?

2. Who was the gunman? What weapons did he use? What has he been charged with?

3. What evidence do the police have that shows the attack was premeditated, or planned?

4. How does this school shooting compare with others in modern United States history?

5. What were the initial responses of parents and school officials to the attack?

6. How did students describe the scene inside the school?

7. After learning more about what happened, what are your reactions to this tragedy?

You can continue to follow the latest updates here, and your students can post their thoughts about what they read in answer to this related Student Opinion question: “What Is Your Reaction to the Deadly Shooting at a Florida High School?“


Recognize and Honor the Victims and Heroes

Have students read about the 14 children and 3 adults who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and think about the different ways they could be commemorated.

Students might create a collage or bulletin board profile of the victims, perhaps modeling them on a Times feature like the annual Lives They Lived or the Portraits of Grief series, which profiled those lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Amid this tragedy, there are also stories of great courage and benevolence. Encourage your students to look for “the helpers” — those that risked their own lives and safety to help others. What heroic acts have they read about?

What acts of service can students offer to recognize, honor and celebrate the victims? Brainstorm ways you may be able to offer condolences to the families or the community of Parkland, Fla., or do a related service learning project that grows out of students’ thoughts and feelings about these events, the victims’ lives, the needs of school communities, or actions they can take to prevent tragedies like this in the future.


School Shootings in Context

Invite students to study the graphic above. What does it say about school shootings in the United States? What does that make them think and feel? Why?

In the related article, Jugal K. Patel writes:

More than 40 “active shooter” episodes in schools have been recorded in the United States since 2000, according to F.B.I. and news reports. Two 15-year-old students were killed and 18 more people were injured last month in a school in rural Benton, Ky. The shootings have become common enough that many schools, including Stoneman Douglas High, run annual drills in which students practice huddling in classrooms behind locked doors.

With the Parkland shooting, three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern United States history have come in the last five months.

In fact, lockdown drills are now such a common feature of the school experience that a high school student who was one of the winners of our Editorial Contest last year wrote an essay, “Stopping Bullets With Locked Doors and Silence Is Already Pulling the Trigger.” In it she argues:

It has become very familiar for high-school students to practice the infamous level-three lockdown. In all cases, we all share the semi-nervous chuckle of “wow, maybe we get Swiss-cheesed today” and sit in a corner, stare at our phones and text our friends. Only very recently, after a vivid dream — more a nightmare — of a school shooting, did I realize that sitting in the dark and stopping bullets with locked doors and silence is the exact opposite of what one would want to do. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon the fact that the “people shot and killed in the Columbine library sat there for five minutes before the shooters entered and shot them.” My school is full of able-bodied kids, and surprisingly, a great chunk that has had experience with self-defense and even marksmen training. So why sit and wait?

Has your school been affected by gun violence? What measures do you have in place to prevent future violence, or to respond to threats? Ask students to investigate if they can’t answer that question, then discuss: Do you think your school and community are doing enough to prevent future shootings? If not, what else do you think they should do? What do you think individual students can do, if anything?


Are We Becoming Numb to School Shootings?

Thousands of readers have commented on the article about the Parkland shooting. One by Tom from Vermont sums up what he’s read:

The comments here seem so stark and brief. Understandably so, what is left to say? It is becoming so easy to see a headline like the one on this story and shrug. This is the new America. But is it? Something inside me still makes me think we have the resolve to turn this terrible tide.

On The Learning Network, we responded to a shooting in Benton, Ky. in January by posing the question, Are We Becoming ‘Numb’ to School Shootings? It was in reaction to an article headlined, “School Shooting in Kentucky Was Nation’s 11th of Year. It Was Jan. 23.” Seventy students answered, and the question is still open to comment if your students would like to weigh in.

Nathanie Doralus from Florida wrote:

As a student, I agree that we’ve become numb to the news of school shootings in the United States. My high school has already had two lockdowns this school year because of students bringing guns onto the campus. It happens so often that I think many feel powerless to stop them so the default is to either ignore them or solemnly shake your head in silence. In some ways, I think it’s an attempt to not live in constant fear while attending school and receiving an education because no one should have to. But in other ways, I think some won’t take it seriously until it hits close to home. If we were taking school shootings more seriously than before, then there wouldn’t have been eleven incidents already in the first month of this year. Very few people take active assailant drills at my school seriously. I think that is just an example of denial and how it’s hard to take something seriously unless it actually happens to you or someone you know. Schools can do more than just increasing their security measures and frequently enacting drills. They can also invest in the mental health and well-being of their students and provide the support some of them need in order to prevent these acts of violence.

And Jocelyn Savard from North Carolina shared this perspective:

In Boston, there are a series of billboards promoting gun violence awareness. One reads “Americans killed since the massacre at Sandy Hook” and has a live count of citizen owned gun deaths displayed. I remember walking around a few years ago and being startled at the number. When Sandy Hook happened and my mom told me, I cried for days. Just a few days ago when the notifications showed up on my phone about Kentucky, I barely blinked an eye. Of course, my heart plummeted and I could feel humanity’s downfall one step closer but there was no tears, at church this weekend there was no announcement, no prayer. As a country, we have normalized school shootings so much, made books and movies out of them, make offhand comments about how that guy ‘looks like a school shooter’, that we are rapidly becoming detached to the horror that we call our home.

Do your students agree with these teenagers that “we are rapidly becoming detached to the horror” of school shootings? Why or why not?

How has this latest attack affected them? What do they think we might do to keep from becoming “detached”?


The Role of Students: Cellphones and Social Media

Technology has allowed the public to witness mass shootings in new and terrifying ways. The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School used their cellphones and social media accounts in real time to share their experiences and spread messages of pain, anger and gratitude, as well as calls to action.

In “As Shots Ring Out, a Student Texts: ‘If I Don’t Make It, I Love You,’” Audra D.S. Burch and Patricia Mazzei write:

One student hit her record button while being led out of the school to safety by sheriff’s deputies. On her way, her cellphone’s shaking camera lens passed over several bodies sprawled on the floor.

In another cellphone video, several dozen gunshots were audible not far away. “Oh my God! Oh my God!” one student shouted.

Like many school districts, Broward County’s allows high school students to bring cellphones to school, so long as they don’t interfere with class work. On Wednesday, many students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School held onto their phones for dear life as a 19-year-old gunman, Nikolas Cruz, stalked the grounds and fatally shot 17 people. They used them to keep their terrified parents informed about what was happening. And they used them to keep a visual record of an awful crime.

Hiding in a sweltering storage room with about 40 other students, she typed out a text message to her mother, Stacy, for what she thought might be the last time.

“If I don’t make it,” she wrote, “I love you and I appreciate everything you did for me.”

Students also took to Twitter to post the texts they thought might be their last to their family and friends:

Ask your students:

Whare are your reactions to these firsthand accounts of the violence that took place in Parkland, Fla.?

How have these videos impacted the public conversation around guns and school safety? Why do you think they have had such a dramatic effect? Do you think the fact that your generation is so fluent in social media gives you a voice previous generations did not have? What might be the benefits and drawbacks of that if so?


The Role of Students: ”They Survived the School Shooting. Now They’re Calling for Action”

On Feb. 15, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School implored lawmakers to act to prevent future violence, calling the frequency of school shootings in the United States “unacceptable.”

“Ideas are great, ideas are wonderful and they help you get re-elected and everything, but what’s more important is actual action,” the student, David Hogg, said on CNN.

Mr. Hogg, whose younger sister lost two friends in the shooting, called on politicians to act.

“We’re children,” he said. “You guys are the adults.”

Since then, as The Times writes, “youthful voices have resonated where those of longtime politicians have largely fallen flat,” and many see in that a reason for hope.

As David Leonhardt writes:

...the movement to reduce gun violence seems to have a new energy, driven by students — who of course have provided much of the energy for previous political movements. Individual schools have already held or planned walkouts. A nationwide protest is scheduled for March 14, with help from organizers of the Women’s March. Teachers are also talking about mass protest, as Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick explains.

In “A ‘Mass Shooting Generation’ Cries Out for Change,” The Times points out that teenagers today have grown up with code-red drills, and they have a perspective many adults do not:

This is life for the children of the mass shooting generation. They were born into a world reshaped by the 1999 attack at Columbine High School in Colorado, and grew up practicing active shooter drills and huddling through lockdowns. They talked about threats and safety steps with their parents and teachers. With friends, they wondered darkly whether it could happen at their own school, and who might do it.

Now, this generation is almost grown up. And when a gunman killed 17 students this week at Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., the first response of many of their classmates was not to grieve in silence, but to speak out. Their urgent voices — in television interviews, on social media, even from inside a locked school office as they hid from the gunman — are now rising in the national debate over gun violence in the aftermath of yet another school shooting.

While many politicians after the shooting were focused on mental health and safety, some vocal students at Stoneman Douglas High showed no reluctance in drawing attention to gun control.

They called out politicians over Twitter, with one student telling Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.” Shortly after the shooting, Cameron Kasky, a junior at the school, and a few friends started a “Never Again” campaign on Facebook that shared stories and perspectives from other students who survived the rampage.

What do your students think about these activist teenagers and their messages? What messages or ideas resonate with them the most?

Can their generation effect real change on gun violence? How? What examples are they reading or hearing about — or witnessing themselves — that seem to be having an impact? What are their own personal opinions about what should be done, how and why? What can each of us do as individuals, and what can people their age do together?

As many have pointed out, it was widespread student activism during the era of the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam that helped “change history.” And as we learned from the students who participated in our recent News Diet Challenge, teenagers can feel overwhelmed by the news unless they can find a way to act on what they read.

To learn more, invite them to read “Emma González Leads a Student Outcry on Guns: ‘This Is the Way I Have to Grieve’” and watch the related videos, including the one below:

They can also read an Op-Ed in The Times by a freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In “Don’t Let My Classmates’ Deaths Be in Vain,” Christine Yared writes:

We can’t let innocent people’s deaths be in vain. We need to work together beyond political parties to make sure this never happens again. We need tougher gun laws.

If a person is not old enough to be able to rent a car or buy a beer, then he should not be able to legally purchase a weapon of mass destruction. This could have been prevented. If the killer had been properly treated for his mental illness, maybe this would not have happened. If there were proper background checks, then those who should not have guns would not have them.

We need to vote for those who are for stricter laws and kick out those who won’t take action. We need to expose the truth about gun violence and the corruption around guns. Please.

Invite your class to respond to the Student Opinion question we have posted: Can High School Students Make a Real Impact on the Problem of Gun Violence in the United States?

And if they are interested in more ideas for taking action beyond those these young people have already suggested, our lesson plan Ideas for Student Civic Action in a Time of Social Uncertainty might offer ideas.


The AR-15 and Gun Control

The New York Times reports that the gunman who killed 17 people and injured others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School used an AR-15 assault rifle. This style of rifle was also used in the attacks in Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; Las Vegas; and Sutherland Springs, Tex., among others.

Students might watch the video above, then discuss: What are some of the reasons that the AR-15, and other weapons like it, have become so common in mass shootings? How does it compare with other types of guns?

In recent years the regulation of the sale of this style of rifle has come to the forefront of the national gun debate. In a 2017 appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court, relatives of victims in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School argued:

The companies that manufactured and sold the military-style assault rifle used by the gunman should be held responsible for the 2012 attack.

A lawsuit filed by the relatives said that the AR-15-style Bushmaster used to carry out the shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people, including 20 first graders, was specifically marketed as a weapon of war, with slogans and product placement in video games invoking the violence of combat. The lawsuit claims that such promotions were a deliberate effort to make the weapon attractive to young men, like Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old gunman.

At the same time, “the National Rifle Association has taken to calling the AR-15 ‘America’s rifle’” and “gun owners say that the AR-15 is used for hunting, sport shooting and self-defense.”

Ask students: Do you think AR-15-style rifles should be more strictly regulated in the United States? Why or why not?

Do you think any other measures should be taken to restrict access to guns? If so, what? If not, what else can be done to prevent more mass shootings like this one?

Students might read how others responded to these questions after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and add their voices to the conversation by commenting here since that post is now closed.

Or, take a look at the forum on guns we posted during the 2016 election as part of our Civil Conversation Challenge for teenagers. We invited students to have productive, respectful conversations on several issues dividing Americans, and more than 700 responses came in to the questions we posed about gun rights, the Second Amendment and more.

Update: The Times has now published a piece that summarizes political responses: “Right and Left React to the Gun Control Debate After the Florida Shooting.”


Only in the United States?

In “How to Reduce Shootings,” the columnist Nicholas Kristof writes:

Inevitably, predictably, fatefully, another mass shooting breaks our hearts. This time, it was a school shooting in Florida on Wednesday that left at least 17 dead at the hands of 19-year-old gunman and his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

But what is perhaps most heartbreaking of all is that they shouldn’t be shocking. People all over the world become furious and try to harm others, but only in the United States do we suffer such mass shootings so regularly; only in the United States do we lose one person every 15 minutes to gun violence.

He writes that we should “learn lessons from these tragedies, so that there can be fewer of them. In particular, I suggest that we try a new approach to reducing gun violence — a public health strategy.”

Invite your students to take a look at the graphics from a visual essay he did in November after the church shooting in Texas. What do they see? What questions do the charts raise? To what extent do they agree with Mr. Kristof’s conclusions?



What do authorities know so far about the shooter? What is not yet known?

In “Nikolas Cruz, Florida Shooting Suspect, Was Expelled From School,” Matthew Haag and Serge F. Kovaleski write:

The man suspected of opening fire inside a Florida high school on Wednesday, killing at least 17 people, is a former student who had been expelled for disciplinary reasons, the authorities said.

… In the hours after the shooting, people who knew Mr. Cruz described him as a “troubled kid” who enjoyed showing off his firearms, bragging about killing animals and whose mother would resort to calling the police to have them come to their home to try to talk some sense into him. At a school with about 3,000 students, Mr. Cruz stayed to himself and had few friends but struck fear in some students with erratic behavior and an affinity for violence.

… In the interview with the Miami news station, the student said Mr. Cruz was a junior at Stoneman Douglas High School when he was expelled last year. He said that students would joke that if anyone were to open fire inside the school, it would be Mr. Cruz. Because of that, students feared him and mostly stayed away from him, the student said.

“A lot of people were saying that it would be him,” the student told WFOR-TV. “They would say he would be the one to shoot up the school. Everyone predicted it.”

In “Nikolas Cruz’s Lifetime of Trouble: Family Loss, Flashes of Rage,” The Times writes that he has been “causing trouble as long as anyone here could remember.”

Do you think this attack could have been prevented? If so, how? If not, why not?

What might school administrators, teachers and students be able to learn from this attack to prevent others like it from happening? How could they respond to students who may be showing signs of trouble in school, on social media or at home?

What — if anything — should students do if they encounter others who display erratic behavior or inclinations toward violence?


Related Learning Network Resources

Resources: Talking and Teaching About the Shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Resources for Teaching and Learning About the Las Vegas Shooting

Campus Catastrophe: Resources for Teaching About the Shootings at Virginia Tech

Film Club | ‘Haunted by Columbine’

Watershed: Teaching About Gun Control After Newtown

Continue reading the main story

In the spring, I sat in meetings with my peers who work in serious youth violence and we discussed what could be done to prevent more killings over the summer. We were all still dealing with heightened emotions after the murder of Myron “MDot” Yarde and there was a sense of frustration and hopelessness. The general consensus was that it was about to be a “hot” summer and we all knew the potential of violence was high.

So, considering our concerns were being voiced – much like they are before every school holiday – and considering we are starting to understand the patterns of serious youth violence, why aren’t more preventative strategies being put into place? Have we as a society stopped caring about our children and young people, or has teenage murder and knife crime become so normal that we no longer notice when a child dies?

In August alone we have failed Andre Aderemi, Lance Scott Walker, Andrew Oteng-Owusu and Leoandro “Showkey” Osemeke, the last of whom had been at Myron’s funeral in April. And whether we accept it or not, we have also failed those who perpetrated these crimes, because if these now murderers have not had previous involvement in statutory agencies or the criminal justice system, I would be extremely surprised.

The current punishment-focused intervention is not working

We have also seen many stories in the news that would have us believe that knife crime is solely a London issue and is predominately a problem for black communities, but this is wrong. Knife crime affects us all and according to Home Office statistics, the UK’s hot spots for knife crime include Cleveland (first place) and Durham (third place). But regardless of where or who the victims and perpetrators are, this is becoming an epidemic.

So the obvious question is, what can we do? There is no easy answer and we can no longer place blame on one particular person or agency. This is about us as a society coming together and being focused in our solution, part of which is to fully acknowledge violence as a public health issue and treat it as such because the current punishment-focused intervention is not working.

Dr Gary Slutkin from the Chicago based organisation Cure Violence treats violence as a “contagious health issue”, using trained outreach practitioners to detect and interrupt conflict in the community. In the UK, Scotland, which previously had some of the highest levels of knife crime, now states on its government website that “crime is at a 41-year low and the number of homicides and crimes of handling an offensive weapon are at their lowest level since records began”.

Scotland makes similar interventions to Cure Violence. Its Violence Reduction Unit aims to reduce violent crime and behaviour by working with partner agencies to achieve long-term societal and attitudinal change. It also focuses on enforcement, to contain and manage individuals who carry weapons or who are involved in violent behaviour. The unit aims to explore best practices and develop sustainable, innovative solutions to the deep-rooted problem of violence. England and Wales have some amazing projects scattered around that tackle youth-related knife crime but there is yet to be a strong, fully funded strategy in place focused on prevention and cause, rather than the symptoms.

Why Myron Yarde’s death affects us all

A psychotherapist once posed this question to me: “If I am seeing a child in a therapy session and the child kicks me, do you think the child would be more or less likely to kick me again?” He explained that the child was more likely to kick him again. His next question was, “so if a child is stabbed, is the child more or less likely to carry a knife?” His answer again was the child would be more likely to carry a knife. This is important because on the court reports of many of the young men I work with who have been convicted of murder, it often says something along the lines of “has previously been stabbed so should have known better”.

Yes it can be argued that young people who have been stabbed or violently attacked have a higher tendency to be violent – although this is more common for those children who have experienced complex trauma from a very young age, whose trauma is often ignored, untreated and more than likely mislabelled as ADHD.

To have a brief understanding of trauma is to know that a traumatised young person, perhaps one suffering from PTSD for example, will try to work through their trauma through re-enactment to master their emotions. The re-enactment could play out in the young person now carrying a knife for two reasons: because he believes he will be a victim again and on some level is still the victim trying to get to grips with his reality; because he wants to be the victimiser and move away from the position of victim.

This is a complex issue, one that too many of us have begun to shy away from, but as this summer shows, it cannot be ignored. We must work together to find and implement the solutions, and fast.

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