Another Open Letter to Students Walking Out: This Wednesday, March Forth [Opinion]

An open letter to students about to participate in a nationwide school walkout is making its way around social media. The open letter, published on the website of radio station KTSA, was reportedly written by retired school teacher David Blair, according to KTSA author Jack Riccardi. The letter implored children not to participate in the walkout, but rather to make friends with lonely children he claimed were “likely” the next school shooters.

“Whoever this man is, his open letter to students thinking about walking out of school as a protest touched a nerve on our show,” Riccardi wrote.

So, this is my contrasting open letter to those same kids.

Look, I agree with the sentiment that kids could and should be nicer to each other. I think that inviting a lonely kid to eat with you is a great thing. Many kids sitting alone are likely shy or new to the district and would love to be included.

Absolutely, reach out.

However, it’s incredibly presumptuous of Mr. Blair to assume that every child sitting alone wants to be included in social activities. First of all, some kids just like their quiet time and are not very social. Secondly, there are emotional disabilities, mental disorders and physical conditions of the brain that cause people to be incredibly overwhelmed and overstimulated by social interactions. Sitting with others could cause much greater anxiety than merely sitting alone. The author implies that everyone wants to be part of the crowd, and it’s just not true.

According to Mr. Riccardi’s transcription of the open letter, Mr. Blair wrote, “If status is important to you, don’t you think it’s important to him also?”

This is a fallacious statement.

I’m not entirely sure why the author assumes that all children are concerned about their social status. Maybe it’s just semantics, but one this is certain: There are plenty of kids (both social and antisocial) who are entirely unconcerned about status.

Plus, some children are so emotionally disabled, they exhibit no actual signs of caring about social standards. A presentation by the Mississippi Department of Education explained that some students literally have no concerns about their own patterns of behavior that deviate significantly from acceptable standards.

The open letter published by KTSA oversimplifies a very complex situation that sometimes encompasses sensory processing, self-awareness, social awareness, communication comprehension, brain mechanics and brain chemistry.

Over and over, Mr. Blair reportedly wrote, “He could likely be our next shooter.”

No. It’s not likely. It’s actually entirely unlikely. Basic common awareness of statistics says that the vast majority of lonely kids never become school shooters. The vast majority of children with cognitive, emotional, and mental disabilities and social disorders never end up school shooters or any kind of shooters. Time to Change reported that actually substance abuse is a better indicator of a likelihood to commit violence in general.

Next, Mr. Blair reportedly wrote about children who act up in class.

“Do you know why he causes so much trouble? He initiates disruption because that’s the only thing he does that gets him attention, and even bad attention is better than the no attention he receives from you and your classmates.”

While that seems to be a go-to deduction to explain bad classroom behavior, the generalization isn’t even reflected as a cause of the majority of classroom behavioral issues. Actually, most children who consistently disrupt class are not doing it for the attention. And this fallacy is at the heart of why so many emotionally impaired children actually disrupt class.

In the second volume of Choices, Mary Beth Hewitt explains that the integration of students with emotional disabilities has caused a number of myths about the etiology of these disabilities and the level of control these children have over their behavior. The article was published on the teachers’ resource website Behavior Advisor.

“Many people believe that they could control their ‘problem’ through the use of sheer will power. Since students with emotional disabilities frequently do not appear physically different, it was difficult for many to view them as requiring the same level of specialized care as those students with visible handicapping conditions,” Hewitt wrote. “The preparation for their integration was not given the same level of attention as it was for other disabled populations.”

Teens, ask yourselves how much you’ve been taught about the symptoms and needs of children with an FASD or ODD? Were you even told what these are? Do you know what RAD is? Does the author of the open letter published by KTSA? Obviously, you were educated about autism. You know a bit about food allergies. You have a basic understanding Down syndrome. And you fully appreciate the difficulties and consequences of a physical disability, right? But the fact that you probably weren’t explained the symptoms and secondary conditions that can arise from an FASD, ODD, and RAD shows that Ms. Hewitt was spot on.

On top of FASD, ODD and RAD, which can be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors, some children fall into the category of Seriously Emotionally Disabled, according to the presentation by the Mississippi Department of Education.

I’m surprised that the person who penned that open letter failed to consider these disabilities.

Assuming that Mr. Blair is a retired school teacher, he must have seen the term Seriously Emotionally Disabled in at least a few IEPs or 504s over the years. Some symptoms of a child who is Seriously Emotionally Disabled may include difficulties controlling anger, failing to show remorse, refusing to speak, overacting, an inability to react and act appropriately, speaking in disorganized ways, difficulty keeping friends, being uncomfortable socializing with peers to the point of incapacitating feelings of anxiety, and persistent, irrational fears.

Look kids, the author of that open letter was wrong. Plus, in some instances, he set you up to fail. No part of that open letter equipped you with the tools to protect both you and a child with an invisible disability in the event that you do manage to make a connection.

According to Mr. Riccardi’s transcription, Mr. Blair says, “You are the answer. Your greeting, your smile, your gentle human touch is the only thing that can change the world of a desperate classmate who may be contemplating something as horrendous as a school shooting.”

You guys, that’s an inappropriate load for him to expect you to carry.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think you can make a difference in someone’s life if you kindly attempt to include someone who sits alone. But if they don’t want to sit with you, it doesn’t mean they’re going to end up a school shooter. Mr. Blair further stigmatizes the shy kid, the disabled kid, or the new kid by repeatedly saying they are “likely” the next shooter! There is no logic there.

He dove right in telling each of you to make friends with the kids that sit alone at lunch. Yet, he didn’t warn you that your human touch might startle a peer who has sensory processing issues. He neglected to warn you that your unexpected, warm greeting may trigger anxiety in a child unable to recognize social cues. You have a responsibility to be kind, to not be mean, and to never bully, but your smile will not stop a school shooter. That’s a complete fallacy.

An fMRI or a neurobehavioral specialist might stop a school shooter. Increasing the availability of psychiatric beds and residential treatment centers funded by the state or federal governments might stop a school shooter. A prompt prescription for an accurate psychiatric medication based on a GeneSight screening test instead of a best guess might stop a school shooter.

Plus, since when do adults tell kids to be friends with someone, just so that they don’t get shot up?

We’re supposed to help you guys develop honest relationships. We’re supposed to be teaching you kids that it’s OK to have personal boundaries.

Furthermore, the author of that open letter is doing a huge disservice to children who struggle enough as it is by portraying antisocial or emotionally impaired student as “likely” mass murderers. The stats show he’s wrong. The implications he made just add to the misunderstandings and terrible stigma surrounding people with FASD, ODD, RAD, and serious emotional disabilities.

Plus, he deflects responsibility from where it ought to rest. You are children. It is our job, as adults, to keep you safe. Each of you. Including the child sitting in the corner of the lunch room alone. And let’s face it, adults habitually fail to keep him safe too.

Look, I’ll be frank. I have never thought that gun control is the answer. Mostly, I still don’t. But adults are wrong frequently. Don’t let us tell you otherwise.

Maybe you are marching to make guns illegal, maybe you are marching for gun reform, maybe you are marching for metal detectors and added security. Don’t let anyone tell you that your march is not worthwhile. At the very least, you will gain a greater understanding of civil disobedience, which can be an incredibly useful tool as you mature. At best, you might be entirely spot on in your view and you may get what you want.

The National School Walkout is planned for this Wednesday, March 14 at 10 a.m. local time, according to CNN. This world is almost yours. In a few more years, you may be voting. And before you know it, perhaps raising your own children.

So, I say: If you want to walk out, march forth.