[Milton-L] Postscript

Carol Barton cbartonphd at earthlink.net
Thu Apr 19 08:55:33 EDT 2007

Having received some rather nasty (private) posts in response to what were very sincere expressions of grief, condolence, and concern, I would like to thank all of you who (again, both privately and publicly) responded in a manner that indicated that you understood them for what they were. I was horrified by this incident, as I would have been, had it occurred anywhere--but it was particularly overwhelming to me because I have lived and am still living in the general geographic area whence many of the VT students hail, and I have taught in small-town colleges in rural areas like the one in which they lost their lives. I may even have had some of them in my classes. Not long ago, we lived in terror of the Washington, DC sniper. Now this.

At no point did I advocate excluding anyone who was merely troubled or sad or even angry about the state of the world from being able to get an education (or a job): I said that students who had exhibited *aberrant* behavior (that is, strikingly abnormal, as this young man at Blacksburg did, and as several of the students I have encountered in my own classrooms have) should be denied admission unless psychological/psychiatric evaluation determined them to be no danger to themselves, or to others--and be given whatever treatment was appropriate, if it didn't. I have too often seen the evil effects of overzealousness in this regard to want to invite the kinds of abuses to which such a mandate lends itself: for example, a bipolar coworker who had experienced some difficulty, obtaining the right mix and dosage of medications, but had never once behaved in a manner that anyone would consider antisocial or threatening, was witch-hunted out of his job just after his second child was born by a paranoid director who was convinced that, at any minute, he was going to "go postal." I have been too busy to say so, but for that reason, I very much liked Jim Rovira's proposition, that, if three professors expressed concern about a student's behavior as potentially dangerous to the welfare of others, the student would--as the Blacksburg shooter had been in the past--be referred for involuntary psychiatric evaluation. That would preclude abuses related more to the faculty member's dislike of the student than to any real and present danger he or she may represent.

I have had over the course of my education a number of professors who did not live up to my "nostalgic ideals"--but many more who did. My point (not very well conveyed, perhaps) was that there were disturbed students when I was an undergraduate, too--but I don't recall a single incident, anywhere, where a student shot a faculty member, or massacred classrooms full of his peers. I (perhaps naively) would attribute that to the esteem in which we held the professoriate. "The ivy covered halls" that most of the people of my generation considered ourselves fortunate to occupy were full of angry young men and women--this was the era of the Vietnam War--but no one claimed the right to exercise that anger and frustration, or take out our disgust with the ways of the world, by slaughtering others: Charles Manson was a pariah, not a role-model . . . and the Texas mass murder was a horror, not one of any number of regularly-occurring events. On the other hand, we still had heroes. And we didn't have constant exposure to slash-'em-up movies and antisocial rappers and a steady diet of anti-heroes who support the proposition that evil and selfishness and cruelty are something to be valorized, either. 

According to NPR, ten more schools were locked down yesterday as a result of "copycat" threats. Something is seriously wrong with this picture. 

Anyone who has every been lonely or depressed or fearful knows that isolation just heightens the problem. This boy spent many hours alone preparing for his "big day"--enough to send a whole portfolio of photos and narrative and video to NBC news before he fired the first bullet. Had those in position to help him taken his maladjusted behavior seriously enough to respond more meaningfully than they apparently did, they might have been able to prevent this tragedy. Students and teachers have a right to feel safe on their campuses and in their classrooms--and we have the obligation to do whatever we can to ensure that they are able to do so.

My apologies for the long post. The "we" in my title was "we," all of us--the human race--not "we" the professoriate, as one or more of the respondents seem to have thought. The victims could have been any of us--and could BE any of us in the future, if something isn't done to prevent it--and soon.

The viciousness of some of the responses the message engendered surprised and saddened me, but they also called for some clarification of my motives, I think.

Carol Barton

More information about the Milton-L mailing list