Fourth Time’s the Charm

Newport News School Was Warned 3 Times That 6-Year-Old Had a Gun, Lawyer Says,” The New York Times, Jan. 25, 2023.

Around 1 p.m. — about an hour before the shooting — another teacher reported that a student had come to the teacher crying, saying that the 6-year-old had shown him the gun at recess and threatened to shoot the student if the student told anyone, Ms. Toscano said.

“What did administrators do?” Ms. Toscano said at a news conference on Wednesday, where she announced plans to file the lawsuit. “Did administrators call the police? No. Did administrators lock down the school? No. Did administrators evacuate the building? No. Did they confront the student? No.”

Would anyone but an upper-level administrator summarily have been fired weeks ago? Yes.

8 thoughts on “Fourth Time’s the Charm

  1. I’d be interested to know why he or she didn’t do anything. Did they not believe it? Were they otherwise occupied? Simply too lazy to go check it out? Afraid they’d get shot? In any school my kids have attended, if a kid said, Johnny bit me, there’d be troops sent in.

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    • The American managerial class, which includes its school administrators, is accustomed to giving orders, making accusations, firing people at will, and always acting so as to to minimize the chances of either bad publicity for their organization, or a lawsuit. These are their obsessions, and those obsessions take precedence to such piddling details as “Front line workers are overworked and understaffed,” or “Our equipment doesn’t work,” or “We have credible reports of a child with a firearm in Room 6.”

      If you try, however respectfully and deferentially to point out that perhaps management has overlooked some serious operational matters requiring urgent rectification, it’s very likely you will get one of two responses: scathing, Olympian condescension (“how dare you waste my time with this”); or blaming the messenger and putting the burden of resolving the problem back on him or her.

      Faced with a front-line worker who raises a problem that requires judicious action on their part, an administrator’s first response is to find a way to evade responsibility and hope that the problem either magically resolves itself, or is resolved by some underling whose responsibility it is to make all problems disappear, so that the god-like administrator can focus on Real Problems, like The Budget (or Public Relations, which ultimately has a budget-related rationale). If a problem can’t be solved by firing someone or having a temper-tantrum, it’s unlikely to be resolved by a high-level administrator.

      You might wonder how this could possibly apply to the case of a child with a gun. It seems unbelievable, but it isn’t. First of all, the case is itself a little hard to believe. How did a six year old get a gun and hide it so well? Second, there are so many false alarms that one gets jaded. I was arrested on my campus after someone falsely accused me of having a gun and wanting to massacre everyone in a faculty meeting. It was a preposterous accusation, and I doubt that one in a hundred people believed it. But American life is so paranoid that there is a real tendency to miss real cases.

      The train that I ride every morning has an announcement: “New Jersey Transit asks you to remain alert and aware of your surroundings. Please report anything suspicious to the New Jersey Transit Police at….” The paradoxical result is to lull people into a state of complacency. When I lived in Palestine, my town came under attack by the Israeli military. This seems hard to believe, but though I suffer from insomnia, the sound of explosions from the attack lulled me to sleep. When people report everything indiscriminately (as they do), they lose their sense of what’s actually threatening. That’s also part of the explanation here.

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      • I’ve been reading The Human Stain by Philip Roth. It’s quite an insight into these things. Presumably the false accusation came about because of your ethnicity? Humanity is odd… that’ll be my final conclusion after a lifetime of observation, I think.

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        • I really ought to read more Philip Roth. I grew up in the suburbs of Newark, where he’s from, but I’ve only read one of his novels. Where’s my regional pride?

          I actually don’t know why the accusation was made, though ethnicity is a reasonable explanation, since I’ve been accused of the same thing over and over since I was seven: assault, terrorism, murder. Strictly speaking, I’m not supposed to know who made it, but I do. But this was in November 2017, just after the Las Vegas shooting (October 1), and just before the Parkland shooting (February 2018). People were jumpy, and were constantly being encouraged to report anything “suspicious.”

          I was teaching a logic class, and going on a somewhat ill-considered rant about certain university policies having to do with school shootings. The doors to the classrooms locked automatically, to keep would-be shooters out. I won’t belabor the logic, but I pointed out in some detail why the policy was bound to be ineffective. What if the shooter was inside the classroom already? Look around you, I said. What if the shooter is already here? What would a locked door do but keep the police out?

          Students notoriously re-interpret conditional statements as categorical ones. Thus “Imagine if I had a gun” becomes “I have a gun.” And “Suppose I were to take that gun to the faculty meeting” becomes “I intend to kill everyone in the faculty meeting,” etc. Likewise, “I am getting a poor grade in this class” becomes, “I should complain to my mom, who will call 911 and report the professor as a terrorist, and maybe then, despite being totally anonymous, I will get better marks.”

          So I think the ethnicity angle is there, but really sort of incidental. Anyway, I was arrested, but I am very difficult to interrogate, so they put me in a cell for awhile but eventually had to let me go.

          In general, my wives have been better (more terrifying) interrogators than the police officers I’ve dealt with. To be interrogated on suspicion of murder is nothing as compared to being interrogated because “I saw you look at the neighbor’s ass, I saw you, don’t deny it!” No constitutional protections can help you in the second case. Denials will not help you, and neither will taking refuge in silence. I would rather be in the back of the Lodi Police Station again, going head to head with Bobby Anzilotti.

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