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Pump Handle and Root Cause

Letter to the School Board

It is with great trepidation and great urgency that I write to you today. There has been a rumor floating around campus about an imminent attack from a third party intruder that wants to come in and disrupt the social community within the school. Unfortunately, those who are rumored to be planning the attack are students from our school. It is understandable if this piece of news caused us to be upset. However, before our emotions take the better of us, let us examine the problem in a more impartial manner and apply objective and well-developed intervention strategies.

It is therefore imperative to look back at the precedence of campus violence in order to have a deeper understanding of the phenomenon more popularly known as mass shootings. Although there are different manifestations and expressions of aggression and violent thoughts, it is best to prepare for mass shootings because this is the most lethal and difficult to control event. For example recall the horrible details of the Columbine shooting and the Virginia tech mass shooting. These two incidents of gun violence are practical case studies because these events are classic examples of mass shootings root cause. In other words, there are many commonalities between these two cases that will enable us to understand the root cause of the problem, and at the same time alert us to the urgent changes that has to be implemented in order to reduce the incidence of gun-related violence on our campus.

The first aspect that we need to look into is that Columbine shooting and the Virginia Tech shooting were accomplished through the work of ordinary looking students. They did not stand out and there was no indication of their capability of such violent crimes. This is a problematic feature of such issue because it will be very difficult for us to pinpoint the students that have the tendency and the propensity to commit such crimes. Secondly, it is impossible to narrow down the list of potential suspects. It is almost impossible to develop a profile that alerts school officials on what to look for. In all honesty, the ability to profile students is not the best approach because the school cannot afford even to remotely appear as if it polices its own students. Parents would pull out their children if they knew that this was the strategy we implemented. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to the parents and the students to provide a safe and secure environment for the faculty, staff, and students.

With regards to the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings the most glaring similarity was the presence of tormented young men. They were ostracized by their peers. In other words they were bullied. Klebold and Harris for the Columbine fiasco were victims of bullying and they developed a certain sense of helplessness as they came to the conclusion that no one can help them deal with their personal issues. They felt that no one was there to help them overcome the negative emotions that were generated by bullying.

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With regards to the Virginia Tech shooting the same social issues pervaded the campus. The shooter faced similar adversities as Klebold and Harris. Nevertheless, there was one major difference and that the shooter – a student named Seung-Hui Cho was an immigrant. In fact, he was not even born in the United States because his parents immigrated to the U.S. mainland when he was young.

Based on pertinent information gleaned from these two events, we can see several warning signs in the context of our own unique challenges. In our present situation we have several students that came from the minority groups. It has to be pointed out that there are a lot of Hispanic children in our school. Aside from the sharp rise in the number of students coming from immigrant parents, other types of social inequalities abound in the school. There are a significant number of children belonging to the upper-middle class strata of the social sphere. However, there are also a significant number of students that came from families suffering from abject poverty. As a result, there are numerous occurrences when poorer students and those who belonged to minority groups felt the sting of ostracism and bullying. Bullies find it hard to resist the students who belonged to the said social demographic. However, when their backs are against the wall and they feel that there is nothing else that they can do, this feeling of desperation and helplessness becomes the source of anger and violent reactions.

Pump-Handle Intervention

The concept of pump-handle was taken from the ingenious solution that a certain Dr. John Snow of England implemented when he decisively solved the cholera epidemic in the year of 1854 (Freeman, 2005). In the said critical event, Dr. Snow did not attempt to provide lectures or consultations with the members of the community in order to stop the quick pile up of dead bodies as the result of the epidemic. He simply went to the source of drinking water and removed the pump-handle of the well-head. As a result, the people in the community had no way to access the contaminated water. Dr. Snow did not stop with the removal of the pump-handle. He went on to determine the root cause of the problem. However, the implementation of the pump-handle intervention radically turned the tide and created enough breathing room to implement more complicated and yet longer-lasting solutions to the issues at hand. In the same manner, it is imperative to develop pump-handle type of intervention strategies for the imminent threat that our campus is facing.

The use of the pump-handle intervention framework allows us to significantly reduce the incidence of gun-related violence on the campus. In this regard, it is my opinion to install state-of-the art gun detection equipment. Students pass through a certain point on the campus wherein they are checked for concealed weapons. However, there are no security personnel who will physically check handbags and pockets to find out if someone is carrying concealed weapons.

Aside from the installation of sophisticated detection devices, it is also prudent to install closed-circuit TV cameras in key areas of the schools. Students must feel that there are no blind spots that they can use to bully children. Every type of bullying is visible through the use of these cameras. It also entails the presence of counselors and security personnel who are trained to detect bullying even if they are only able to access video footages of student interactions within the campus. The use of the cameras must go hand-in-hand with swift actions such as investigating reported bullying or the appearance of oppression.

The rapid response to acts of bullying or perceived acts of oppression serves two purposes. First, it sends a strong signal to the students and victims of bullying that this negative type of behavior will never be tolerated in school. Second, it sends a strong signal to the bullies that their actions will be reported and that they will be reprimanded for their behavior. They will also come to realize that there is no place for them to hide or to conceal their cowardly acts against other students.

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Root Cause Intervention

Root cause interventions are more complicated and addresses the deeper aspects of human behavior. In the creation of root cause interventions school administrators must realize that there are many students who did not acquire the necessary skills to cope with the pressures of life. Parents and teachers alike have the propensity to ignore the struggles of children who do not have the emotional intelligence needed to deal with certain difficulties. It is our duty and obligation to provide facilities and counseling opportunities for this type of students.

It must be made clear that we are oftentimes victims of our own success. When we look at the quality of education that we provide and the scholastic performance of the students, we tend to rest on our laurels and think to ourselves that we have performed a splendid job. However, the case of Klebold and Harris reminds us that these teenagers who went on to kill more than a dozen students were intelligent young boys. Therefore, if we simply rely on academic performance, then, we are in a sense delusional, as we made overt acts to pretend that everything is fine. I believed that the school administrators as Columbine and Virginia Tech had no inkling that Klebold and Harris or Seung-Hoi Cho were stockpiling weapons and making ready for a violent confrontation with students and teachers who felt ignored and failed them.

We must not only provide counseling services, but we develop an atmosphere that encourages the expression or sharing of burdens. The counselors’ office must employ an open door policy so that students will not hesitate to discuss their feelings and anxieties.

Finally, the school must invest in the creation of a new culture that inspires the cultivation of cooperation, empathy, and compassion for those who are weak and struggling due to problems related to emotional intelligence (Aronson, 2000). It should become a major part of the learning process at school. It is not enough to teach them about academic subjects, they should also learn the intangibles about life. They need to absorb meaningful lessons about creating a community with the campus that encourages positive behavior and frowns upon intolerance and other related issues. A successful implementation of this program will help students realize that there is no one left to hate.