By Melissa Harmeyer
The tragic shootings at Sandy Hook not only made me grieve for the loss of life but also confirmed one of my worst fears: Occurrences like this seem to be becoming the new normal for our youth in America.
I work in Chicago Public Schools as a high school teacher. However I was born and raised in Iowa and graduated from Xavier High School and the University of Iowa. I spend countless hours each year explaining to my students that everywhere is not like the inner-city high school they attend. Fights aren’t normal. Screaming obscenities is not how everyone solves problems. Phones stolen daily doesn’t happen at every school in the nation. They don’t believe me, and I’m starting to see why.
I found out about the Sandy Hook shootings during my seventh period class that day. I didn’t say anything to my students at the time; I honestly didn’t know what to say. The Monday after, we didn’t discuss it. Quite frankly, few cared. This wasn’t teenage apathy, but rather students who were used to being confronted with this type of violence and tragedy all too often.
I have many students whose family members or friends have died from violence. Many have family members who have committed serious acts of violence and are serving time. More than one former student is in jail for murder. This is their normal. Sandy Hook was not surprising or devastating to many of them. And that to me was the saddest part.
It’s easy to blame the urban area my students come from for their point of view. But what about the many children elsewhere who are becoming more and more exposed to this type of violence due to Sandy Hook and Aurora and Virginia Tech and so on? Is this going to become our youth’s new normal?
Additionally, as much as I grieve for the children who died in the Sandy Hook shootings, what about those who survived? How will this act of violence affect them in the future?
Many people believe that children exposed to violence are more prone to commit acts of violence themselves. How will places like Cedar Rapids keep events like this from affecting their youth and prevent them from believing that these acts are the new normal?
I don’t have an answer. I hope someone does.
Melissa Harmeyer, formerly of Cedar Rapids, teaches in the Chicago Public Schools system. Comments; melissaharmeyer