In Math, we often study things known as “series” and “sequences.” A sequence is a list of numbers that can go on to infinity, with each number being defined by a given equation, often relating a term to terms before it, while a series is the sum of an infinite number of terms. One of the most famous sequences is the Fibonacci Sequence, which can model occurrences in nature, and is most famously known for modeling the number of rabbits alive after a given number of generations. I found myself thinking of sequences and series this past week, when I recalled a conversation from a few years ago. One of my students told us that they had been a student at Chardon, Ohio High School on February 27, 2012, the day that a student killed four classmates and wounded several others.
As the student told us (before my class started) about being in the school that day- about the gunfire that she assumed was noise from lockers being slammed shut, but which the teachers knew full well was from something much more sinister, some of her classmates looked forward with a blank, uncomprehending expression on their faces. I tried to explain what had happened by referring even farther back, to the first such school shooting that I remember, Columbine. But those students were too young to have any memory of Columbine, and such a reference did not help them understand what had happened in a school only a few miles from where they now lived. It is tragic that the sequence continued very late in the semester of that conversation, when a gunman entered a grammar school located only miles from where I grew up and killed twenty first graders and some of their teachers.
And still the sequence continues. This past week, several students were wounded, some seriously, in a school near Pittsburgh by a fellow student who ran through the school slashing people with a knife. I am left, as a mother, with two questions; how do I keep my child safe, when it is imperative that she leave home every day and venture out into the often scary world? And what can I do as a parent to make sure that she grows up into a child who will not bring such mayhem into that world?
I remember the first day that I dropped my daughter off at (well-researched) child care. I had been (mostly) at home with her until she was ten months old, and was really starting to feel like I had reached the limit of what I felt confident teaching her. I trusted that the people at her child care were much more knowledgeable about teaching young children than I was, and realized that she was better off with them for at least some of her days. I felt the same way when I first put her on a school bus a few years later- those bus drivers were probably better drivers than I was, and I felt more confident in her getting to school safely in their care, especially when the snow that visits our part of Ohio began to fall in earnest. And yet, I was fearful about letting her out into what I knew was a big, scary world. I would not dream of restricting her activity and not letting her attend school, but when I hear of such events as those that occurred on Wednesday, I want to hold her close and never let her out of my sight. Of course, that is not what she would choose.
Further, my heart aches for the parents of the teens who commit such violent acts. I read that the young man who slashed so many people with a knife was described as being “quiet” and “shy” and I realize that such a description could easily have been used to describe me when I was that age. What can I do as a parent to help my daughter learn to channel anger constructively, so she will never be tempted to destroy the lives of her classmates in such a violent manner?
I am afraid that I, like the people near Pittsburgh, am left only with questions, and no real answers. I just hope that the tragic sequence soon comes to an end.