Please, Don't Promote Survivor Shame

Please be careful not to promote survivor shame. I understand people want to find solutions to stop the gun violence against children in schools. But I’m concerned about a message circulating about a teacher’s strategy to help identify isolated or struggling children involving input from other children, seating charts, and affirmation. Yes, it is kind. And yes, it would be wonderful if teachers could do it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with intentional supports of social and emotional growth in children, that’s good practice. I am concerned that the narrative is promoting an unintentional sentiment, ‘If only we were more sensitive, maybe this would not have happened.’ Perhaps. But consider what this message sounds like to the victims.

Listen to the children at Stoneman Douglas High School when they tell you they do not want to be blamed for what happened because maybe they were not friendly or inclusive enough of the shooter when he was in school. It sounds like kids were very frightened of him then and found it hard to get close. Please be careful not to add grief guilt, please don’t blame the victims.

Read this excerpt from an impassioned Stoneman Douglas student, Emma Gonzalez,

"There is one tweet I would like to call attention to. So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities again and again. We did, time and time again. Since he was in middle school, it was no surprise to anyone who knew him to hear that he was the shooter. Those talking about how we should not have ostracized him, you didn't know this kid. OK, we did. We know that they are claiming mental health issues, and I am not a psychologist, but we need to pay attention to the fact that this was not just a mental health issue. He would not have harmed that many students with a knife.

And how about we stop blaming the victims for something that was the student's fault,..."              -Emma Gonzalez

Every teacher knows which children are struggling and which children are isolated. If you can't figure that out you are in the wrong profession. This latest shooter was like the others, he had highly complicated emotional issues and he frightened the children going to school alongside him. The shooter needed intensive intervention, likely for years, and it was the responsibility of adults to act. It sounds like many adults tried. And many did fail. 

Of course, we want to teach our children to be kind, inclusive, helpful, and respectful of others. And who are we to say the victims were not? They sound like thoughtful kids. Be careful of the hearts of the surviving children, and there are so many of them, and do not promote ‘if only’ thinking. Seating chart strategies, like the one I am referring to in this piece, can be part of a comprehensive approach to good social and emotional support of all children in school. Children need to know adults will do the work of securing mental health support and behavioral interventions for any children who need it. Otherwise, I don’t think children can ever feel safe at school.