Question of the Week

October 9, 2006


For the past couple weeks, the news has been filled with health and safety issues that directly affect teens. For teachers, it can be hard to know where to start ... and where to stop. The news outlets (newspaper, radio, TV, Internet ...) have new angles, new stories, and new interviews every day.

There are stories that make it nationwide, and then there are the details that fill the communities and local news sources that were affected most directly. One aspect of the Internet is that "local" news is available to people on every continent with the click of a button...

"Fifteen-year-old Eric Hainstock spent an hour in anger management class at Weston High School on Wednesday, two days before he was charged with murdering the school principal. The gunfire that killed Principal John Klang early Friday seemed to echo through the rolling hills of rural Cazenovia [Wisconsin] as residents absorbed the shock of the slaying and the first-degree murder charges. Some said they were repelled by reports that Hainstock -- being held in the Sauk County Jail in Baraboo -- told investigators he just wanted someone to listen to his complaints about being tormented by classmates ... Hainstock had told a friend a few days earlier that Klang would not 'make it through homecoming,' referring to festivities planned for the school's homecoming weekend, according to a criminal complaint filed in Sauk County Circuit Court.

Hainstock was dealing with anger issues.
He wanted someone at the school to listen to him.
He told a friend that the principal "would not 'make it through homecoming.'"

What could have been done to prevent the tragic death of Principal John Klang? Different people have different ideas about how to answer that question.

"Wisconsin state Rep. Frank Lasee, Green Bay, said he would introduce a measure in the state legislature early next year that would give teachers and other school employees the option of carrying concealed guns after they have received extensive weapons training. ... 'I don't suggest [arming teachers] is the only answer or the silver bullet to solve all our school violence problems,' Lasee said. 'But it's part of the puzzle of making our schools a safer place for our children.'

While arming teachers is one proposal, many think that the solution is not found by bringing more guns into the schools.

"The Green Bay mayor has announced a scholarship in the name of a high-school student who tipped off authorities about an alleged bomb plot. The scholarship is named for Matt Atkinson. He's the senior at East High School in Green Bay who alerted school officials to a recent plan to attack the school with guns and bombs. Mayor Jim Schmitt says he's gotten a commitment of 25-hundred dollars from school alumni and Bellevue businessman Tim Besaw. But he says the money is secondary ... and the real point is to honor people like Matt who Schmitt says did the right thing. Teens William Cornell, Shawn Sturtz and Bradley Netwal face charges including conspiracy to commit first-degree intentional homicide ... and conspiracy to commit damage to property by explosives in the alleged plot."

This tragedy was prevented, and the student who stopped it is a hero. Why is his story less well known? Why do tragedies like Columbine consume people (and the press) for years, while tragedies that are prevented have heroes that fade away -- or never even make it to the national spotlight.

In the weeks after Columbine:
"April 30, 1999 (CNN) -- One-third of the teen-agers who responded to a recent CNN/Time poll said that they think an incident similar to the shooting in Littleton, Colorado, is likely to occur in their own schools and more than half the respondents said that the Littleton massacre has given ideas to troubled students in their own schools to try something similar. ..."

School shootings have filled the news this month. Some fear this will give troubled teens (and adults) ideas to try something similar. Some fear the publicity will lead to copycat crimes -- either in the near future, or in the years to come...

"Fascinated by the Columbine bloodbath, a 13-year-old boy in a dark green trenchcoat and mask carried an assault rifle into his school Monday [October 9, 2006], pointed it at students and fired a shot into a ceiling before the weapon jammed, authorities said. No one was hurt. 'Please don't make me do this,' he was quoted as telling administrators before police arrested him and thwarted what they called a 'well thought-out plan' to terrorize his school. Police said a note in the student's backpack indicated he had planted an explosive in the school, but no bombs were found. ... The student was wearing a trench coat -- like the student gunmen at Columbine -- and had a T-shirt over his head with eye holes cut out, Farmer said. Farmer said that along with note indicating an explosive was placed in the school, the boy's backpack held military manuals, instructions on assembling an improvised explosive device and detailed drawings of the school."

A thirteen-year-old boy now (October 2006) could not have been more than five or six-years-old when Columbine occurred.

Questions of the Week:
What can students do to help make their own schools safer? What can teachers and other school staff do? How much do you (as a student) want your teachers discussing with you the tragedies in other schools? How does media coverage play a role in how students see school shootings? What is good about the media (newspaper, TV, radio, Internet) coverage? How do you think future school shootings (and/ or future situations where plots against schools are stopped before they even begin) should be reported and covered in the news?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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