New Voices Are Shifting the Dialogue on School Shootings

I’ve been wondering about how or whether to respond to the most recent school shooting, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Initially, I didn’t think ivoh had a new perspective to add to the conversation. Sometimes it is best to silently observe and allow a story to unfold.

And it did. Against the backdrop of a sadly familiar tableau – a terrorized school, scared children, inconsolable parents–emerged the raw and unfiltered and unexpected voices of young people demanding change. Something about this response feels like an inflection point. The high schoolers from Parkland, while not necessarily delivering a new message, are distinctly different messengers. Not yet voting age and without competing interests and ulterior motives, it is hard to dismiss their words as “politics as usual,” and retreat to our ideological corners–as we tend to do with controversial, difficult issues. Instead we see the students as they are: young people, full of potential and possibility, who want to grow up safe and protected.

When people find their voice and become their own narrators, they gain agency which can catalyze all of us to contribute to and change the story. This may very well shift the public dialogue and potential outcome on an issue that has been stuck in the same cycle for too long.

Another, different narrator: a father who lost his son 25 years ago in a school shooting has grown weary of being asked how he feels each time there is another one, as he recounts in the New York Times (“I feel awful, of course.”). Concerned that the media can follow a standard script for covering these horrific incidents (“The fleeing victims, the hugging weepers, the shrouded corpses, the departing ambulance.”), he is rethinking his own response to these tragedies, looking for a way to pierce the veil of psychic numbing that paralyzes us. He has hard questions for the media, its role in promoting violent content, and for us, the audience, and our willingness to consume it without question or insisting on accountability.

The messenger and the messages. When these begin changing in the context of a recycled, stale national dialogue about any divisive issue, there is opportunity and the possibility of change. I am hopeful.

Being in the orbit of these violent events is disturbing for everyone, including journalists covering the story. The Dart Center has resources dedicated to Self-Care and Peer Support for journalists.

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