Speaking about the Unspeakable

There was a time, before Columbine, when school shootings were unimaginable; the very definition of an evil so unspeakable as to be in our minds essentially impossible.

I have never forgotten the seriousness with which my fourth grade teacher,

Mrs. Jackson, defined “evil”. An educator nearing the end of her career, Mrs. Jackson captivated my imagination with the detail, nuance, and emotion with which she conveyed tales of how her family survived the Great Depression. She often had substantive conversations with us about topics connected to character and values. With all she shared, it was her definition of “evil” that most shaped my world views. In response to our class’ use of the term “evil” as slang, dramatizing minor, annoying behaviors, Mrs. Jackson sat us down for one of her serious chats. “Evil,” she said, “would be a terrorist entering a school and shooting children.” The image horrified; representing what we could not imagine as even conceivable. I never again used the word “evil” viagra or cialis for anything short of the mass murder of defenseless Purchase cialis overnight delivery people.

Then came Columbine. The inconceivable occurred; only at the hands of troubled youth, not terrorists. And this Friday, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

After Columbine, as a relatively new educator and new mother, I was painfully unprepared for the fear of my students and their parents. Hearing students speak about where they would hide if armed attackers entered our school, I recognized the need for reassuring conversation, yet I had no idea what to say. I hastily directed teachers, similarly unprepared, to speak to their students about the tragic event. Sending teachers into a panic and understandably angering our school’s guidance counselor, who recognized how ill-equipped we all were, I was swayed to reverse my directive. We would say nothing. It was the best we had at the time. It wasn’t enough.

This monday will be different. Never prepared to speak of the unspeakable, sadly, we have more experience. Since the days and weeks after September 11, 2001 school psychologists have rallied with a plethora of resources to help. Compilations of resources guiding parents and educators include: Resources for Talking To Children About Traumatic Compiled by Michael Fisher of Digigogy and Resources for Talking to Children About Traumatic Events Compiled by Edutopia.

Our school’s educational leadership will spend much time this weekend planning ways of supporting viagra pills buy our children physically and emotionally. In preparation for our children’s return to school, our faculty will meet at 7:30 AM monday morning. We will support one another in finding ways of shepherding our children through the difficult no prescription viagra emotions we anticipate. We will be in close communication with our on-site security and our security consultants, who quickly on Friday patrolled the perimeter of our campus and stood in close supervision of teachers and students playing outside during recess. We will be in contact with our local police department; who rushed to our school on Friday after news of the shooting to patrol, on high alert. The officer who arrived, visibly emotional, shared that it was his privilege to be able to be present with us and his hope that there was also police presence at his own children’s school.We will be guided by the wisdom of our school psychologist concerning age-appropriate conversations. We will be supported by our school rabbi who will listen to our pain and provide us with prayers to express the deep emotion we experience. We will grieve. We will express gratitude for the privilege of being alive. We will do our best to strengthen one another so that we may be fully present for our students.

As quickly as we can, we will return our students to comforting routines. Soon, on the surface, school will look as it always has. Students, parents, and teachers will again be concerned about academic challenge, social difficulty, and the range of normal upsets and tribulations that are part and parcel of growing up and of life in schools. And yet; the unimaginable has occurred and the scars will remain. We’ll study our emergency plans more carefully; consider more thoughtfully how to explain lock down drills to our students; and deliberate on what we as schools and as society can do to keep our children safe. I can’t anticipate what our conversations as a school and as a nation will bring. We will do what we can to bring comfort, knowing that we live in a world in which the unimaginable has occurred. We’ll do what we can to find the words to speak about the unspeakable.

Reposted from Sharing our Blessings (sharingourblessings.wordpress.com) by Shira Leibowitz (@shiraleibowitz)





  1. Faige said:

    Worried about Monday. How much have my kindergarteners seen or heard? What have they been told. The unthinkable, unimaginable has intruded in their young lives in ways that are too hard for them to understand and explain. Will take one day at a time, one question at a time. Will be there for them with hugs, smiles and hopefully reassurance that the adults in their lives will take care of them.

    December 16, 2012
    • sleibowitz said:

      Hi Faige,
      I imagine we’ll all be taking one day at a time, one question at a time, doing the best we possibly can to address the un-addressable. It’s helpful to know we have each other for support.

      December 16, 2012
  2. I wish people would stop writing as though school shootings did not happen before Columbine. They have been a distressingly regular occurrence over the years. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_shooting

    I lived near Ottawa and knew people at St. Pius X in 1975, and the incident there caused a loud argument in our own family and left an indelible mark on me.

    December 16, 2012
    • Hi Stephen,

      I don’t doubt you that school shootings happened before Columbine. That being said, they were unimaginable to me and to the community I served at the time. They were also unimaginable to my fourth grade teacher, Mrs Jackson, and to our class, at least it seemed so to me. She spoke with such passion that the conversation remains potent for me even today. That was about the time of the St. Pius X incident to which you refer, and of which I admittedly had no knowledge. Perhaps Mrs Jackson did, and was quietly reflecting on those events as she spoke with us. Perhaps not. Regardless,children at the time were likely more sheltered than is possible today given the scope of media coverage and social media coverage.

      I had no intent to share a historical perspective on school shootings, but only my experience as a principal seeking to guide teachers and students in my school. It is my humble hope that my reflections may be of some small assistance to others. And, I remain grateful to the many educators sharing over the weekend our heartfelt efforts to support our students. If the history of school shootings provides guidance and insight for some, then it is worthy to share. If St. Pius left an indelible mark on you, as Columbine did on me, then certainly it is part of a history you bring to your work and relationships. I value that and appreciate the insights you have to share. Thanks for correcting an inadvertent insensitivity on my part. I do appreciate that.

      December 16, 2012
  3. […] There was a time, before Columbine, when school shootings were unimaginable; the very definition of an evil so unspeakable as to be in our minds essentially impossible. I have never forgotten the seriousness with which my  fourth grade teacher, Mrs.  […]

    December 16, 2012

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