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Words don't describe the unthinkable. One can only guess at how individuals react based on their own experiences. I can only imagine how the events in Newtown are rippling through the worlds of education and the hearts of educators along with anyone in regular contact with children.
Our household has within it a retired school principal and retired school psychologist. Could we have been as brave as the principal and the psychologist at Sandy Hook Elementary School? If we had been there and survived (which they did not), could we have lived with the carnage that was around us and the memories that would linger forever? What words could we offer to the survivors to give strength for going forward?
Because of my life's experiences, empathy goes out to the Newtown superintendent of schools, Janet Robinson. I've known her professionally and believe her to be a strong person. What has happened calls for super-human strength. She is dealing now with a media frenzy demanding answers that no one has, while also trying to offer comfort to parents, staff and the surviving children. She is asked to speak for a community in territory where no one has experience.
She's dealing with that today, but there is the tomorrow to come. News reporters will fade away as the public's demand for instant answers moves on. The police will wrap up their ghastly task. However, Janet's parent body, her staff, and, most of all, the children of Newtown will still be there and will continue to be looking to her and her colleagues for solace and guidance. The emotional scars of this tragedy will survive for years. I urge her community to offer the understanding and support that she and her staff will need.
I fear for the "blame game" that surfaces after events like this. I can recall dealing with an incident earlier in my career as a superintendent. It involved high school students doing crazy things that were harmful to other students. This was being resolved in the news media's glare. I was visited by two delegations from respected organizations. The message from the first was, "How could you allow this to happen?" The second group carried the message "How can we help?" I had no answer for the first group. I used the help from the second group with great appreciation and to good benefit.
It is too easy to cast blame for something that has happened - particularly something this horrific. Every educator, every adult, every student who had contact with Adam Lanza in his short lifetime will be wondering if there was something they could have done to avoid what happened in Newton. There are no readily available answers for the killer's conduct or the actions or inactions of others who crossed his life. Casting blame adds unnecessary hurt to others.
As a nation we will, once again, try to look within ourselves for answers and ways of preventing such tragedies. Too many young lives are being lost. Schools will tighten security. They will hold more drills, increasing anxiety in children and adding to the anxiety of their parents. A better step would be to add more psychological support in all schools.
Most of all, I desire that we, as a nation, use our collective intelligence to find ways of stemming the tide of violence against ourselves and our children.
John A. Whritner is a former East Lyme superintendent of schools. Now retired, he lives in the Niantic section of that town.