Every time there is a mass shooting, we react with shock and vow to have a serious conversation about how they can be prevented. But time passes and the pain fades, and we never have that conversation.
But the shooting in Newton, Conn., Friday was so monstrous that perhaps we will finally have that conversation. Authorities said 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then went to Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 25 more people, including 20 children, before taking his own life. It was the second-worst school shooting in American history if sheer numbers alone are considered – 33 died at Virginia Tech in 2007. But considering the age of the victims, this outrage might deserve the “worst ever” label.
There are two things we need to talk about – the availability of guns and the failures of our mental health systems.
“We shall show mercy,” Winston Churchill said from the depths of his country’s agonies in World War II, “but we shall not ask for it.” That’s the epitome of the just, noble warrior, isn’t it? Don’t whine if you lose, be gracious when you win. We cheat our young people if we merely teach them how to play the game without showing them how to win and how to lose.
That makes a recent basketball game last week in Indiana a teachable moment. The girls of Bloomington South High School beat – the word hardly seems adequate – the girls of Arlington High School by the score of 107-2. That’s not a blowout; it’s annihilation. This was not a demoralizing experience for the losing team; it was abject humiliation. The game’s ending was a mercy.
Couldn’t mercy have been shown sooner than that?
Most observers of government activity are comfortable dissecting policy positions, and they love to argue about the philosophies that led to the positions. But they tend to forget about the third component of the political triad – the style of the politician. Politics is all about personality – all those giant egos clashing in the desperate need for public approval, all that give and take in pursuit of compromise. So to fully understand how government works, we must understand how the politician approaches it.
Tim Swarens, Indianapolis Star opinion editor, illustrates the point in a column disputing Richard Mourdock’s claim that he lost his U.S. Senate race because of the “liberal media.” Mourdock’s problem “was not that he was a staunch conservative” but that his arrogance and lack of discipline alienated many voters.
The impulse to downplay individual achievement must be catching. Two speakers at Indiana State University graduation ceremonies recently both echoed President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” admonition to those he deemed a little too proud of themselves.
Craig McKee, a U.S. District Court magistrate and a 1979 ISU alumnus, talked about Neil Armstrong’s acknowledgement that his achievement of walking on the moon involved relying on “a network of others” to enrich his individual success. The educated person “understands that individual success is not up to him or her only.”
And student speaker Brad Hobbes of Indianapolis reminded fellow graduates that family, friends, faculty and staff “have many times given you a shoulder to lean on, a hug when you’ve done well and possibly a kick in the butt when you need it most.”
Because they can dispense with many of the rules and regulations regular public schools must cope with, charter schools offer the promise of a better education to our children, especially the ones who would otherwise be stuck in poorly performing schools. But they are an experiment, and, as we’ve said numerous times here, that means their actual performance must be monitored, and those in charge of the monitoring must be willing to make changes if some schools aren’t living up to expectations.
A report on that actual performance in Indiana has been delivered now, and it looks good. A six-year study by Stanford University tracked 15,297 charter school students at 64 schools from grades 3 through 8. It found that students in charter schools outperformed peers in traditional public schools in both math and reading.