Newtown tragedy spurs reflection


Linda Madsen
Guest Columnist

The school shooting in Connecticut last Friday marked an incredible national tragedy. Columbine was nearly 14 years ago. Red Lake, right here in Minnesota, was almost seven years ago. Both are still fresh in the minds of every teacher, parent or community member who steps into a school building anywhere in America. Until last Friday, most of this year’s kindergarten students were not yet born when a shooting with more than three fatalities occurred in a U.S. school.

The incident Friday was the second worst K-12 school shooting in U.S. history in terms of fatalities. The nightmares of Columbine and Red Lake certainly resurfaced in my mind, and I’m sure nearly every other educator felt it as well. It is a scenario that every superintendent, principal, teacher and school staff member plan and prepare for, and each and every one of these people desperately hope that this training will never need to be put to actual use.

I could take this opportunity to talk about the safety and security needs of our own school district, but I won’t. I could also remind parents that your child is safer sitting in their school classroom than they are being anywhere else they could possibly be, and that includes at home. But this is not the time to belabor that fact.

We are sad. We mourn. We imagine the loss that these poor people feel, and we try our best to relate to their pain. But most of us cannot. We try to understand how this type of evil act can happen. This is a tragedy of the most terrible kind – not like uncontrollable events such as hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes, but something intentionally perpetrated by a person on other people.

Not a day goes by that I walk into a school building that somewhere in the back of my mind I don’t consider these kinds of dangers or possibilities. For all of us, the reality is that every time we do practically anything in this world, even something as routine as driving or riding in a car, we are at risk of something tragic happening. If we fully considered all of the possible dangers we face every day, none of us would ever bother to get up in the morning. It’s an impossible concept to fully contemplate. But it’s the world we live in.

I know that our schools are safe places. Could they be made safer? Sure. Will we try to implement drastic measures to prevent even the most remote disaster from occurring at our school? Even if that was possible and we had 10 times the funding we currently have, we know that we cannot limit our students’ education by short-changing the academic side to that degree. But will we continue to add reasonable measures and systems that help us be more safe and secure? Yes, absolutely and without question.

Right now, we all need to be cognizant of this terrible event and wish for better days ahead for everyone  involved, keeping them always in our thoughts and prayers. We need to hope that these types of incidents are fewer and farther between. And we need to remind our children that in this world of Internet news and 24-hour media, these events will always be magnified.

Yes, they are incredibly horrible and sad. But the entire world didn’t suddenly become a much more dangerous place on Friday. We just were reminded that there are dangers that we face every day.

We know that these events do seem more frequent and threatening because of the television and newspaper coverage. The media can give us a distorted perspective of reality, and we need to remember that. At the same time, for the students, parents and citizens of Newtown, Conn., this is so much worse than it can possibly seem to us. It’s a devastating event that will be remembered for many years, and the scars and sadness will run deep in that town for generations.

As educators, we will go to work tomorrow as we do every day, and we will instruct our students and try to help them and nurture them and continually assure them that the future for them is bright. And we will remind them that what happened in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012 is unlikely to happen here. And we will remind ourselves of the same thing.

And we will still be sad and horrified and frustrated and confused and uncertain. What I do know is we will continue to work together as a community to protect and care for our children.

Linda Madsen is superintendent of schools in ISD 831.