I have been told by people who apparently know about these things, that I have no place in a classroom because I do not care about children.
This came as a surprise to me since I have been teaching for a dozen years now and cannot recall any time when either my students or their parents have accused me of being anti-child. To the contrary, I would hope that people have the idea by this time that I put my students first.
Logic, however, goes by the wayside when you step on the toes of fanatics who believe that if you do not see things exactly the way they do you are the embodiment of evil.
That happened to me after the October 2006 incident at Memorial Middle School in Joplin in which seventh grader Thomas White entered the building with an assault rifle, fired a shot into the ceiling and then pointed the weapon directly at his principal Steve Gilbreth.
Had the weapon not jammed, Thomas White would have become a murderer, one of those people whose names stand out in our memories because, thankfully, they are still rare. Instead, he was arrested and his case became a cause célèbre in this area for the next few years.
One national group, Justice for Juveniles, which opposes any effort to try a juvenile as an adult, zeroed in on me after I encouraged that strong steps be taken against anyone who takes a gun into a school.
The spin from Thomas White’s supporters is that he had been bullied at Memorial and teachers and school officials were not willing to do anything about it.
When I pointed out that Thomas White was the one who brought the gun into the school, I was called “heartless” and told that someone like me “has no place in the classroom.”
Eventually, the controversy died down when White was sentenced to 10 years in prison and put into a program for juveniles until he turns 18.
And then the Joplin Globe brought it all back again with a top of page one article Friday. The occasion was a court hearing to determine if White should remain in the program past his 18th birthday. Both sides agree this should be the case.
But once again, the Globe kept the focus on Thomas White and his family. White’s mother, Norma White, told the Globe how her son was thriving in the atmosphere at the facility.
“He just took off there,” she said. “He didn’t any longer have the social pressure of being abused that he had here- what other kids were doing to him at school.” She said that while Thomas was a student at Memorial Middle School, the bullying of other students made him hate school so much that he repeatedly asked his parents to pull him out and home school him She said she regrets not having taken his pleas seriously enough at the time.
“That’s where I failed him,” she said.
And while I certainly hope that Thomas White is able to salvage his life and it appears he has taken steps to do so, it is disheartening that the Joplin Globe has once again turned the teenager into a victim and has perpetuated the story that he was bullied and no one did anything about it.
Shortly after the incident, the Globe and Justice for Juveniles began promoting this story about the uncaring teachers and administrators at Memorial. I took issue with that in numerous posts. While I would never say that there are not teachers who ignore bullying, I can tell you that those teachers are few and far between. It is something we take seriously and we have all had training to know the signs.
What no one ever mentions is that students do not do much bullying when teachers are in close proximity, so I just accepted the premise that the bullying occurred but teachers never knew about it. I also accepted Norma White’s explanation that her son did not complain to teachers or administrators because he did not think they would do anything.
Since then, new evidence has come to light.
I have talked with students who attended Memorial at that time. If Thomas White was being bullied, they were totally unaware of it. White kept to himself and students didn’t bother him, according to those with whom I talked.
As you can imagine, this is something that the students talked about for a long time after the incident. One fortuitous jammed weapon is all that stood between them and a possible Columbine. Just as the teachers and administrators did at Memorial, and all through the Joplin R-8 School District, the students carefully reviewed any dealings they had with Thomas White. Not only did they not recall any bullying, but for the most part they simply do not recall ever interacting with him.
At worst, these students were guilty of not extending a helping hand to a lonely student.
Yet, thanks to media that made no effort to uncover the truth, and a biased child advocacy group that has no ability to see any other position than its own, the students who attended Memorial Middle School in October 2006, their teachers, and administrators, have been labeled as cold and uncaring and blamed for driving a poor, misguided 13-year-old into the acts that have led to his imprisonment.
Perhaps that assuages Norma White’s conscience. Her claim that she failed her son by not homeschooling him is a cheap way of tossing the blame to the system that supposedly failed Thomas and not shining the spotlight where it rightly belongs- on a dysfunctional home where a 13-year-old was provided access to an illegal assault weapon (his father was a felon who was not allowed to own weapons) and where apparently the lessons of right and wrong fell on deaf ears…or may never have been delivered.
And even if Thomas Gregory White had been bullied, and that does not appear to be the case, since when does that justify bringing a gun to school?
So please spare me the moaning and gnashing of teeth over a fate that Thomas White brought on himself. If my lack of sympathy means that I don’t care about children, I am willing to live with that.
My sympathies lie with the innocent children who would never think about bringing weapons to school.
They are the ones who could use an advocate.