Combatting Voicelessness

If you had asked me who Adam Lanza was in high school, my response would have been who? Maybe you then would have described the kid with the briefcase or the student in the technology club. After a long pause, I would have said, oh that kid. I never thought this student in my grade at Newtown High School would go on to commit the second worse mass shooting in American history. But even then, Lanza was only a faint image in our hallways at Newtown High School, like every other student, as I rushed to my AP History class or thought about the next activity in my student planner.

Newtown High School followed the archetypal high school: everyone was separated by his or her groups of friends. All you had to do was look at the cafeteria, every day, we sat with the same people who had similar interests at lunch. Our tables never changed. Most of the time we even brought the same food to lunch. During my time at Newtown High School, school felt like a daily programmed repetition, like someone had turned an off and on button each morning. Our school was and still is predominately Caucasian. The estimated family income in 2009 was $109,767. This is the profile of Newtown High School.

Had anyone outside of Lanza’s immediate family been aware of the severity of his mental condition, perhaps there would have been more severe intervention. In class at Emory, we discussed the concept of voicelessness. The term primarily encompasses children and those faced with mental and physical disorders. They are dubbed with such a term as they cannot truly advocate for themselves and lack the ability to shape their own lives. As such, the law examines them differently –for example, we would find an individual who was psychopathic less culpable for a crime than one who demonstrates sanity. The question remains: how can we better intervene when students lack soundness of mind? Was there anything that to prevent this behavior while Lanza, a student who was voiceless and challenged with many evils, went through the Newtown school system? I never even noticed Lanza in the hallway while we both attended Newtown High School.

Lanza has certain characteristics that fit with the profile of a typical high school shooter though. White male students have a higher probability for violence in schools.  In his article, “Targeted Violence:  A Review of Six School Shootings and Implications for School Counselors”, Nathan Kirkman, affirms the theory noting, “the typical perpetrator of a school shooting involving multiple victims is a Caucasian teenage male” and “the majority of school shooting perpetrators possessed an average or above average ability in academics.” The article noted that most of the of the shooters were underachievers, but had meticulous planning that went into their violent attacks. Students also lacked social skills and experienced social rejection. The most consistent feature among students was that they all had access to firearms.

In short, perpetrators are white, detail-orientated, aloof from their communities, and can acquire a gun. This is the typical profile of a school shooter, yet, how many high school students in the country does this describe? Perhaps this could have been anyone in high school, but I hope in the future we can work to identify those who seem voiceless in our school systems. Instead of just walking down the hallways, maybe there is a way to help these students who face greater evils than we understand and as a result are voiceless.

Newtown High SchoolA Memorial at Newtown High School 

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