It is 23 miles from Murrysville to Pittsburgh. Today, this morning, at Franklin High School in Murrysville, PA, twenty people were stabbed, in agony as their bodies were invaded by razor sharp steel, because, well, the truth is, we do not know why.
Violence in a high school is a constant threat. It tiptoes through the halls. It hovers in the lunchroom. It’s the background hum at every student assembly, every game, every walk across the parking lot, every bus ride.
As a teacher at my prior assignment, suburban Holly High School, a bit north of Detroit, I would walk with my colleagues to the lunchroom in the midst of a surging horde of adolescent hormones and burgeoning physiques. One day, we looked at each other and someone said,
“If these kids really wanted to take this place, there’s nothing we could do.”
We realized that with 140 adults vs. 1400 teenagers, it was the troops of Leonidas vs. the Persians. All we could do was rely on the inherent goodness of the vast majority of the kids. We’d go to lunch, talk about the latest inanities from our administrators, discuss the chances for the Tigers this year, and share pictures around from Spring Break trips. The bell would ring, we’d toss out our trash, pack up our stuff, and head back to class. Once again, we would put our trust in the basic warm-heartedness of young people.
I never had the day when a student lost his warm heart. But a teacher, just like me, had that day this morning at Franklin Regional High School.
You must understand that for some kids, their time in high school is akin to writhing around in a pile of ground glass.
I graduated from high school in 1976. Looking back forty years, I remember school as being an okay place, most of the time. Like most students, I played sports and had friends. I went to parties. I earned good grades. When I left high school, I knew I had moved on to much bigger and better things. I was right there in the bell of the bell curve of high school.
At one end of the bell curve, for a select few, high school was an extraordinary place; full of joy and madcap frivolity.
But at the other end of the curve, for a different few, high school was Hell. It was a Hell best described by Dante, in his middle ring of the Seventh Circle, as where one would be perpetually mauled by voracious wild dogs.
I didn’t realize how bad high school was for these kids until I became a teacher. Many of these kids entrusted me, in papers and essays, with their stories.
Their stories forced me to look back at my time as a high student. With that look, I suddenly realized what high school had been like for those few.
The utter alone-ness. The overwhelming sadness. The total marginalization.
Many of these children, their hearts shattered, are loved as fiercely by their parents as I love my son, as my parents love me. What is the anguish that would drive one to stab, to shoot, to kill?
I don’t understand the violence. I do not condone the violence. I wish I understood the heartbreak.
It is 23 miles from Murrysville to Pittsburgh. It is 43 miles from Holly High School to Detroit. It is only a heartbeat from Murrysville to Holly. Or to your local school.