It is cold and snowy and also cold and also snowy outside, and I’m gonna go hang out with my son and read a book.
Before I forget
Hosea showed up to class this morning in a new mask, if in fact I’m actually allowed to use the word “mask” to describe a cut-up sock. Because he had a cut-up sock on his face. When I gave him a new mask from my stash and told him to put it on, he asked me why he needed it.
“Because you have a sock on your face, Hosea,” I said.
“No I don’t,” he said. (Remember, reflexively denying anything is a big part of whatever is wrong with this kid.)
“Yes, you do,” I said. “You are not wearing a sock on your face at school. Put the mask on.”
There then followed a ten-second stare down while I stood there holding the mask, at which point he said “Fine,” took it, and put it on. I don’t know what happened to the sock.
I was going to tell a whole story here about a bit of delivery nonsense involving UPS delivery of my son’s new phone– yeah, that’s a thing that’s happened now– but I no longer have the energy for the entire story so I’ll just tell the important parts: I had to redirect the phone to a UPS location because Verizon insisted on a signature and they weren’t going to be delivering while anyone was home. They did not give me a choice of locations, and directed me to their main distribution center, which is out past the airport, which you should understand to mean far away from everything. I got an email that said it was there and waiting for me.
When I got there yesterday, this sign was on the door:
You may note several possibly relevant pieces of information missing from the sign.
Despite that, the door opened as I was standing there trying to decide what to do and someone let me in, telling me she hoped she didn’t get in trouble for letting me in. She then told me that my package was still on a truck, despite the email that I’d gotten, and that it would be ready today. Okay, fine. Are you sure it’s not going to get redirected? No, it won’t be, but if it is, you’ll get an email.
I did not get an email. When I got there today, this had happened:
The story ends with me getting the phone, which was indeed at that location, behind the caution tape and the locked door, but … well, imagine trying to explain this to customer service robots over the phone. I was moments away from my nuclear method of reaching a human when stuck in customer service robot hell (start swearing and yelling racial epithets into the phone; believe me, these systems recognize profanity) when the door opened and half a dozen UPS employees poured out, all carrying various broken pieces of wood, and threw everything into a nearby dumpster, an act that provoked a surprising amount of rejoicing on their parts. Then the lady I’d spoken with yesterday recognized me, ushered me past the caution tape and past the locked door with the “don’t come in here” sign, gave me my package, and sent me on my way.
I swear everything in this post is true, and I dare you to make any of it make any fucking sense.
On adult responsibility
Before I get too far into the meat of this post, I want to say something that will, perhaps, not endear me to some of you. News media have gotten some abuse for using the photograph on the right of this person rather than his post-apprehension mug shot on the left, a supposedly humanizing touch that is never, ever granted to mass murderers when they are people of color.
I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but the picture on the right screams “school shooter” to me every bit as much as the picture on the left. That kid is visibly deeply fucked up; there is nothing at all behind his eyes, and the fact that he’s holding his hands in a posture of prayer, to me, just means that he’s coming from an environment where it’s incredibly unlikely that he’s actually going to get any help for whatever is wrong with him.
I got into a Twitter conversation the other day with someone, and in that conversation made the point that my ability to feel shared humanity with and compassion for terrible people had diminished significantly over the last five years. And the interesting thing about that tweet is that the one immediately before it is about a discovery that I had made about the family of a former student. I had found out a couple of years ago that this particular kid had been locked up for thirteen years (minimum) for armed robbery. Yesterday I discovered that his little brother, who I never had in class but I knew, has been convicted of murder and was sentenced to 75 years in prison.
My student, as it turns out, was also sentenced as an adult. This school shooter, 15 years old, is also going to be tried as an adult.
This kid who, either the day of or the day before the shooting, wrote “The voices won’t stop. Help me.” on a note, a note that led to him receiving no help of any kind. The kid whose parents bought him a semiautomatic handgun for Christmas four days before he used it to kill four people. The kid whose parents are such subhuman trash that upon finding out they were being charged as accessories to their son’s murders, went on the lam and attempted to flee the country.
Imagine that. Imagine that your child is charged with murder and your reaction is to leave him behind and run.
And as angry as I am with his parents, I’m even angrier with the school officials at Oxford High School. Their most important job is to keep their students safe. That responsibility extends to the shooter as well as the other students in the school. The very first thing that should have happened upon this not being discovered is this kid being brought to the attention of mental health professionals and social workers– the first fucking thing, even before notifying the parents. I’m seeing that his mother and father resisted removing him from school. That’s where the “protect everyone else” thing kicks in– yes, you are going to take your son to get some help, and if you refuse to do so, he is not entering this building again. I have not been in this exact situation before but I have been in some that are very close, and schools are absolutely within their rights to refuse to allow a child back on campus until a psych evaluation has taken place. And when a student combines hearing voices with violent imagery and an explicit request for help, it is absolutely criminal on the part of the parents and the administration of Oxford High School that he was allowed to remain on campus.
This is unforgivable. It is a dereliction of responsibility at the highest level and it led directly to four dead kids.
I don’t know what to do with a fifteen-year-old who murders. Part of me is screaming for vengeance the same way it might be had a fully capable adult performed the killings. Part of me is still trying to hold onto the scrap of me that can still see humanity in those who perform inhumane acts. And ultimately as the person who pulled the trigger, the greatest responsibility falls upon him. But the failure of every adult in this young man’s life cannot be passed over. The parents have been charged with involuntary manslaughter; bury them under the jail and let their names never be spoken again.
But it should not end there. Early reports in situations like this are always wrong in some way; it may turn out that my understanding of what happened is flawed in some critical way. But if the events unfolded according to the timeline I’m currently aware of, all of the adults who had a responsibility to keep this child and those around him safe should face consequences for their actions. All of them.
Unread Shelf: September 30, 2021
Uggghhhhh why are there soooooo manyyyyyyy
Seriously, there are four books on here that have been there since June. That’s not okay. Must read faster.
A story I don’t know that isn’t mine to tell
Many years ago I had this young man in my classes, we’ll call him Johnny, which isn’t his name. Johnny was in an all-boys’ class, the only one I’ve ever taught, and a group that, in general, drove me insane, because temperamentally I am not very well suited to teaching large groups of boys. I had him in 6th grade. He was a pretty good kid, as it went, but he was prone to getting dragged into shit if shit was nearby to get dragged into. I have described this type of student to parents before as a “kindling kid”– he’s not going to do anything on his own, but if there’s fire, he’ll burn.
Anyway, I was describing his behavior to his mother at parent teacher conferences once, and she was reacting quite a bit more strongly than I really felt like she ought to have, and at one point she looked at him and hissed something at him that I actually had to have her repeat to make sure I’d heard it correctly.
“Quarterbacks don’t act like this,” she’d said. And I was immediately of two minds; the first being of course they do, and the second being why are you laying that on your twelve-year-old right now? And let me get to the moral of the story before I tell the rest of it: parents, can we not set our kids up to peak in high school, please, and can we absolutely definitely not set them up so that if they aren’t the star QB they don’t feel like their lives are over before they’ve had a chance to start?
This is the part where I start making stuff up, by the way, because I really don’t have any evidence for any of what I’m about to say, but I’m going to say it anyway because it’s on my mind.
Anyway, this kid randomly popped into my head this weekend– I found a random little gift that he’d given me in the course of cleaning up, and it had his name on it, and this story came to mind. And I did a little bit of research. Johnny did play football in high school, but didn’t play quarterback, and frankly while he was on the team he doesn’t appear to have played much at all– I was able to look through the box scores of his senior year, because America’s obsession with high school football is genuinely creepy, and I couldn’t find any evidence that he’d contributed to the team in any meaningful way. I didn’t look at every game or anything like that, but it was pretty clear that, at the least, this kid wasn’t the star player.
And then I found a picture of him, from what would have been his sophomore year of college if he’d gone, posted by a local Painters and Allied Trades union. The tone of the caption is celebratory; they’re honoring their newest member. And I honestly can’t believe that they chose this picture to post, because the kid looks like his life is literally crumbling down around his eyes. Johnny grew up getting his head pumped full of stories about how he was going to be the star quarterback, and then he was going to go on to college and then probably the NFL and be a famous football player, and instead he’s 20 with no degree, no sports career, and joining the painter’s union.
This isn’t to say that I look down on these people; I don’t, and as a union member myself I consider the trades unions members to be brothers and sisters. I don’t look down on anybody who works for a living. But Johnny very clearly got raised to believe that there was one way his life was going to go, and it didn’t, and I know I’m reading a lot into it and I haven’t seen the kid in years but the look on his face in this picture is just fucking heartbreaking.
And maybe Labor Day isn’t the best day to post this, either. But fuck it, I’ve been thinking about him all weekend, and I hate it how quickly young kids are willing to cling to sports as what’s going to make them rich and famous when the truest thing I can say to any of them is no, it’s not. You’re not going to be in the NBA or the NFL or really anything else. You might play in high school, but I can count the number of college athletes I’ve taught over the years on one hand. This isn’t any more realistic as a life goal than “I’m going to win the lottery” is.
We’ve gotta stop doing this to our kids.