It’s hard to find words that are in any way meaningful after the mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y. This racist attack on an African American community that resulted in the deaths of 10 people follows so many other mass shootings with racist or hateful intent. In 2015, nine Black worshipers were shot at a church in Charleston, S.C. In 2018, 11 Jewish worshipers were killed in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., and in 2019, 23 people, many Latino, were killed in a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, that also was racially motivated. Given that the Buffalo shooter left behind a racist manifesto, there is no doubt of his motives and his ideological influences, in particular the “Great Replacement Theory.” This was once a fringe, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that has somehow metastasized into mainstream political discussions.
I feel for our students as they face a world with such hate and irrationality. How do we help students process these events? How do we prepare them to live in a place in which these tragedies happen with regularity? I am not even mentioning other mass shootings that are not racially related. News reports on Monday pointed out that, this past weekend alone, 65 people were shot and 17 killed in eight American cities.
The sophistication of white nationalist propaganda on social media allows some to be radicalized without ever attending a KKK meeting or an in-person meeting with another white supremacist. I highly recommend reading Bring the War Home by Kathleen Belew, which documents the emergence and growth of white nationalist violence. Her work also notes how the internet has been used by white supremacists to organize and spread their message.
It should not be surprising that this would happen in an era in which political debates are turning increasingly uncivil. After listening to and reading various news reports in the days after the shooting, I find the degree of division in this nation remarkable and see how the political bias of various opinion-oriented news sources affects reporting. We are seeing that these ideological debates have an unhealthy impact on American education. Forty-two states have enacted or have introduced laws limiting academic freedom and the discussion of racism, sexism, and identity issues. I firmly believe in school choice and listening to parents, but I also believe that evidence-based education is essential to creating civic-minded leaders.
At Colorado Academy, our commitment to developing kind and courageous learners and leaders means we must engage in difficult conversations in age-appropriate ways. We most definitely help students process and understand by being available to discuss events and by supplying resources for families to have conversations at home. Too much is at stake for our children to not be aware and recognize that disagreement and opposing viewpoints should ever end in a mass shooting.