Teaching Adam Lanza

Nutana Collegiate in Saskatoon specializes in dealing with students who haven’t been successful in other high schools. During my last six years at Nutana I wasted Saskatchewan tax payers’ money buying about $200 in computer games.

There was group of male students who were computer gamers. They were mostly social misfits. In their previous high schools they had been mocked and shunned. At Nutana, this kind of thing didn’t happen.

They also were gamers – for hours on end they would be at their computers in their bedrooms playing games over the internet. The games were mostly first person “shooters” or war based games like Star Craft where you joined with a group to battle others.

I asked several of these young men if they would enjoy playing computer games in the lab at noon – it was empty at this time of day. They thought this was an excellent idea. I made them actually buy the games – no pirating in the lab. Hence, the expenditures of tax payers’ money.

For six years I’d head up to the computer lab at noon. There would be five to twelve young men who’d attend – they were usually waiting at the door. For the next 50 minutes they would play each other in violence based games.

These guys were so socially isolated that there were immediately problems. If you are in your bedroom and you call someone else on the internet a “f*cking idiot” there won’t be many consequences. If you say the same thing when they’re in the same room, there are consequences.

They very quickly learned they had to communicate in a way that didn’t provoke hostility. If they started yelling at each other and threatening violence, I didn’t shut down the computers. Instead I’d make them join hands in a circle and sing the Barney friendship song: “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family…” My theory was that they had to get in touch with their six year old.

The guys thought I was crazy, but they wanted to get back to the computers, so they sang the song.

They quickly decided to try to get along. Somebody new would make a fuss and they were all on him. “Don’t do that! Mr. B will make us sing Barney!”

We did have one major blow up where they wouldn’t solve the conflict. I brought in the Guidance Counsellor and they had to work with her before I’d let them back into the lab. This was uncomfortable for them, but they talked with her nonetheless.

They developed friendships. They’d hang out together in and out of school. Things didn’t always go swimmingly, but they’d work it out.

I also became important in their lives. They dropped around to say hello and talk about things important and trivial. Four out of five didn’t have a father – I became a significant older man to them.

It was probably the best thing I did as a teacher.

Did anyone talk to Adam Lanza when he was in highschool? Was there a teacher who took them time to talk to Adam?

I’ve known lots of Adams over the years. It wouldn’t be fair to report every one of them to the police because only 1 out of 100,000 Adams will be significantly violent to others. They are far more likely to do violence to themselves by committing suicide.

For these kinds of young men, it is even harder to live in a community where there is no Nutana. Mass shootings typically occur in small cities or suburbs where there is only one high school.

In my career I tried to be as professional as possible, whether in the classroom or library. I took the content and skills I was teaching very seriously. But over and over I was constantly astounded when I was reminded that relationships were the key to education and life.

You have to have somebody to talk to – maybe even a friend. It might have made all the difference to Adam Lanza and the other young men who wreck violence on others.

Schools need to make this happen.

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