School shootings should renew emphasis on 3 Rs

Posted: Sunday, March 11, 2001

Surely it is time for our society to return to the basics, for adults to teach children an old-fashioned set of "three Rs" -- respect, responsibility and reason.

In the wake of last week's school shooting at Santana High School in Santee, Calif., Americans are once again wringing our hands, wondering where we went wrong.

Could the tragedy have been avoided? When should a threat of violence be taken seriously? Why didn't someone do something about the threats of 15-year-old Charles Andrew Williams, the freshman arrested in the Santana shootings? Do we know what to do if we hear such threats? How many of us have threatened violence, in fear, anger or ignorance, with no intention of following through with our words? How often do we joke about something in an attempt to conceal the truth?

In this case, it appears Santana High School did everything right: an anonymous system for students to report threats; special training for the principal; an anti-bullying program; a sheriff's deputy on campus part time; campus supervisors who roamed the grounds full time; and extra phones, radios and speakers to quickly spread word of any trouble.

Still, it wasn't enough.

Or, was it enough of the wrong thing?

No matter how many safeguards are in place and no matter how many guns are locked up, violence in our society -- including our schools -- will continue until we change our attitude toward one another. Until we learn and practice the three Rs of respect, responsibility and reason.

Respect: It seems too simple to say we must be kind to one another, but surely respect and kindness go hand in hand. Children must see the adults in their lives model the value of treating others as they want to be treated. The accused shooter in the Santana incident was said to be the brunt of much unkind name-calling: nerd, dork, freak. Part of the lesson of respect is that our words matter, and we need to choose them carefully. Name-calling does hurt.

Responsibility: In a perfect world, we would all treat others as we want to be treated. This isn't that perfect world. Which means, there will always be those who do the wrong thing. Adults must show children that just because others behave poorly does not give them permission to act in a like manner. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our individual actions, regardless of our circumstances.

Reason: Children must be taught their actions have consequences and to think through what the consequences of their behavior might be. We can't play back what we've done in order to get another outcome.

Children will learn these three Rs when they see them lived out in the lives of their parents, teachers, community leaders and other adults with whom they have contact.

These are lessons, however, that must be practiced -- children will know immediately if they are just so much talk. Adults must consider if there is a communication gap with young people because adults say one thing, but do another. Actions still speak louder than words.

The Santana shooting left two students dead and 13 people injured. The emotional scars it inflicted are too vast to determine. Perhaps, however, it will be the catalyst for real change in our attitudes toward one another. Without respect, responsibility and reason, we are not a civilized society -- no matter how much money or how many high-tech gadgets we have.

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