It’s happened again.
Nobody truly believed it wouldn’t, but that doesn’t blunt the soul-crushing reality.
Ten people have lost their lives.
Ten families are shattered.
The sanctity of another school violated.
An entire community reeling.
In the aftermath of another senseless mass murder, millions of Americans are wondering how to escape the lethal denial of politicians and the National Rifle Association.There will be talk of gun control. There should be. There will be talk of mental health. There should be. But, neither of those is sufficient. While we talk about sensible measures to limit the ability of individuals to carry out mass murder, while we talk about fully funding mental health programs and de-stigmatizing mental illness, we need to begin a serious, sincere, and thorough conversation analyzing the intersection of white supremacy and toxic masculinity, as that is the common thread tying these events together.
Of the 95 mass shootings between 1982 to 2017 92 of them were carried out by men; 56 of those 92 were white men (16 were black, 7 were Latino and 7 were Asian). Those who study these acts of violence have been telling us that there is something about the way we conceptualize masculinity, specifically white masculinity, that is behind this epidemic. That the perception of power and privilege being threatened is a key ingredient. These people have been met with scorn and, ironically, threats of violence.
In 2017, Collen Clemens, a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, was featured on Tucker Carlon’s show after tweeting “Toxic masculinity is killing everybody.” She received threats from men all over the world.
After Alek Minassian drove a van down a busy Toronto street killing 10 people, the term “incel” entered our lexicon. Incel is shorthand for “involuntary celibate.” Incel’s are men who blame women for their own inability to connect with hetero-sexual women. They claim that women are fools who are only interested in a specific i.e., muscular, jockish, “bad boys,” and because of this they deserve to be targeted, harassed, assaulted, and even killed.
What we are learning about Dimitrios Pagourtzis’ motives make him another sad addition to this horrifying list. Pagourtizis was reportedly upset about being publically turned down by a classmate after four months of his “aggressive advances.”
The pattern is clear. As educators, it is imperative that we not only acknowledge this pattern, but that we equip young people to interrupt this cycle. Our schools are ground zero, and our students are already taking the lead. It is time for us to match their bravery by creating the space for students to tackle issues of race and masculinity. Now is not the time to shy away from analyzing power and naming privilege. It is not partisan to look at trends and ask “what is going on here?” Here are three important steps every classroom teacher can take to begin this crucial dialogue.
1. Introduce the ideas of misogyny, patriarchy, toxic masculinity, whiteness, and white supremacy.
“Sometimes you just need to talk about something-—not to get sympathy or help, but just to kill its power by allowing the truth of things to hit the air.~ Karen Salmansohn. I remember the first time I realized I had the vocabulary to name the forces exerting extreme influence on my life. It remains one of the most liberating aspects of my education. I also remember wishing I would have had these tools much earlier. It is never too early to equip students with a vocabulary for accurately naming the world. There is a tremendous power that comes with naming the world, and we do a disservice to young people by keeping this knowledge from them.
2. Talk about power.
I think this is the piece that so often gets left out. We can expose students to the most brilliant think piece or the most astute analysis, but without an understanding of power it is all simply an intellectual exercise. It is an understanding of power that gives whiteness the proper context. It is an understanding of power that allows one to understand how masculinity can become toxic. And it is an understanding of power that provides the answers to why these acts of violence continue to happen. If we are going to do right by our students, our schools, our communities, and our world we must facilitate an understanding of power.
3. Encourage and facilitate debate and dialogue.
Students don’t learn because we tell them something. Students learn because they reflected, internalized information, and have produced knowledge. Our jobs are to expose young people to a myriad of ideas and then to let them make meaning of those ideas. Find texts that present intriguing and alternate ways of making sense of the world and young people will do the heavy lifting.
While we work for the short-term common sense decisions, like gun control and fully funding mental health programs, schools must be places that challenge the dysfunctional worldviews that undergird these senseless acts of violence.