“You be careful, there’s all kind of meanness out there,” was an oft-repeated admonishment from a woman who used to watch me and my brother while my parents were working. She has been gone for more than 20 years. I think her words are still valid and she would be shocked at what kind of meanness is out there now.
I was working in Forsyth County in April 1999. I remember when the news broke that two high school students had gone on a shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado. They killed 12 of their classmates and a coach. The two shooters also died. It was horrible.
There have been hundreds of attempts to repeat the events of Columbine. Some were accomplished, others were not. We now know the names of places like Sandy Hook Elementary and Virginia Tech because of the horror that happened there. We now add the town of Parkland, Fla., to that growing list.
The words “active shooter” are now a part of our vocabulary. Hearing of an active shooter at a school has become all too common. We are surprised, but no longer astonished when we hear of school shootings.
When I was in school, it was common for boys to have a shotgun or a rifle on a gun rack in the back window of their pickup truck. A young fellow might get in a little deer hunting before heading off to school. It was not unheard of for a fellow to show a teacher or principal his new firearm in the school parking lot.
There was an occasional prank that was, for the most part, harmless. They usually involved things like carefully placed water balloons or turning up the volume on the intercom system.
Students would occasionally get caught trying to slip out at lunch to get some fast food. The late Curtis Segars, who was principal of Gainesville High School a generation ago, once spotted some students who were returning from an unauthorized excursion. After they returned to class, he jacked up their car and took their wheels to the office, where they had to come and confess to their actions. They never tried that again.
Of course, that type of action today would end up as an unfavorable story on the evening TV news.
I have used this illustration before, but it bears repeating. In the 1960s, television stations would often run an announcement before their late news, “It’s 11 o’clock: Do you know where your children are?”
Today, we have parents who are in near-constant contact with their children’s smartphones, but do they really know where they are and what they are doing. Do they know who their friends are? Do they know what they are looking at on the internet? Do they maintain a dialogue with their kids about things that happen at school that might bear watching?
I traveled recently with a teen and a cellphone. The child was constantly on the phone looking at something. There was little conversation, just the constant tapping of the phone screen.
I’m not naive enough to think that we will ever go back to the era of Ward and June Cleaver, but it may be time to at least occasionally sit down at the table and have a meal together. A friend of mine has his kids turn off their phones and put them in a box when they get home. His kids seem well-adjusted and all ended up with college scholarships.
We need to shed our “live and let live” attitude and follow the notion that if we see something, we should say something. I have heard story after story of how students were leery of the alleged shooter in Florida and made predictions that he would be the one who would shoot up their school. It was a joke that became all too real.
It is 11 o’clock in America and we should know where our children are.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page.