Today marks the four-month anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that took 17 lives.
The topic was on everyone’s minds for several days afterward. I had a few people ask me my opinion on why these teens are attacking classmates with firearms. I was pretty noncommittal at the time.
Sometimes I feel like Treebeard from “Lord of the Rings” when he tells the hobbit, “We never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.” Some things need lengthy contemplating.
On Wednesday I was at the sheriff’s office when the topic of school shooting came up again, I did offer a brief take: attention span.
Every school shooting is going to be different. Every gunman (or gun child) is going to have unique life experiences that lead to a tragic end. But like that Leo DiCaprio movie “Inception,” can we go back far enough to find an idea or circumstance that got into a kid’s mind at an early age and grew?
Turn the TV to CNN or ESPN or the nightly news. Rather than simply watching what is happening in the footage given by the camera, these stations load up the screen with info on the left, right, top and bottom.
Video games are the same way. A player can have the main action in front, but a mini map in the upper left corner, weapons information in the upper right or lower right. There are pop-up menus to access. There are so many changes a player can make as audibles in Madden football that it’s like watching Peyton Manning flailing his arms around at the line of scrimmage.
Some people are born with attention deficit disorder, and others learn to become this way to cope with the flood of simultaneous information.
What does this have to do with the price of eggs in China?
I think this can go hand-in-hand with another issue: instant gratification. Along with losing interest in things quickly, we want things right now. Such as, it takes all of one minute to heat a Pop Tart in the toaster, but people will throw them in the microwave for 10 seconds because they are too impatient to wait on the toaster — even though it would taste better.
I remember doing things as a kid like collecting the cardboard tops from cereal boxes. Collect so many, and then mail them in for a prize. The whole process of collecting, mailing and waiting could take several weeks. That took patience.
And yes, I did have attention deficit disorder as a kid — although no one called it that back then (they just said Jeff day-dreams or Jeff goofs off). Adults would tell me that having to wait “builds character,” which seemed like the dumbest idea I’d ever heard in my life at the time. But is there something to it?
“Nothing good comes easy,” goes the old saying. Or as retired Surry Central track coach Rex Mitchell used to say, “If it were easy, everyone would be good.”
People wonder why Gibson guitars is in financial trouble. Tell a kid that it will take 100 hours of practice to become decent and 1,000 hours to become good, and most kids will run for the hills.
Where is he going with all this? What does any of this have to do with school shootings?
I’m getting there.
We are creating a society where we lack patience. It’s also a disposable society that tosses something aside if it stops working rather than trying to fix it so it can work again.
So we have kids being inundated with information at an early age — some of which they are too young and underdeveloped to understand. Everything is about the present.
If a child is struggling — whether it is in class from a learning disability or socially in making friends — it is the end of the world because the world is now, now, now.
When I had struggles in high school, I had older cousins who could tell me to relax and remember that this is just four years out of decades of life. One told me that for some people, high school is the pinnacle of their lives, their best four years. For others, high school is the worst four years, so all you have to do is survive and see that things get better.
That gave me hope to persevere and try to have some patience (never my strong suit).
Telling kids today to be strong for four years seems to be like telling them to hold their breath as they swim underwater all the way across Lake Norman. They just can’t imagine making it that far.
So what’s the solution? Like the first question, it’s not an easy one to answer and takes a long time to consider.
But, there are some positive “Inception” concepts that could be instilled in kids.
First, bring back recess. Give all kids time to unplug and play once a day. And make sure that the kids do something physical. If some of them don’t like sports, let them do something else on the side — but not just sit in a circle giggling like some girls did in my grade school. Exercise is as important to the mind as it is to the body.
Second, vocational training at an early age. When I was in school, I never took a shop class because I was worried I wouldn’t fit in. Everyone should have some hands-on work — if for no other reason than so you can assemble your own Ikea furniture one day.
But seriously, everyone should know simple tools and how to make some small repairs around the home. And again this is a physical activity that gets the body moving and keeps the mind unplugged from a flood of data on electronic gadgets.
Also, this can develop creativity and artistry. And when projects are finished, the children can have a sense of accomplishment and a boost to self-confidence.
And, if they like doing that sort of stuff when they are 10 or 12, then when they get up to high school they can join in more advanced work like North Surry’s Project Lead the Way.
Let’s try putting more focus on bettering the young child than on gunning down the troubled teen with armed teachers and guards.
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.