Making Sense of the Senseless

by Fletcher Carr, Head of the Upper School

france+flagAs I drove home from school on Friday afternoon, the news reader on a local FM station announced that there had been a shooting in Paris. My first thought was that there had been an incident in Paris, Arkansas. Then I heard the additional details about the French president, the soccer match, restaurant shootings, and an ongoing hostage situation at a concert venue. That evening, in the autumn air of Bald Knob, more news began to trickle–and then flood—in; body counts rose, details clarified, and as always following any atrocity, a set of too-familiar emotions cycled through me: shock, fear, anger, sadness, revulsion, frustration.

Over the weekend, as I watched and read commentary that simultaneously untangled and re-tangled the events, I thought back to the same early responses to September 11 and recalled how many of the initial declarations had been grounded in faulty information and understandable hysteria. I also reflected on the students I had sat with in my writing class on 9/11 and about our conversations as the events unfolded. The conversations were not deep, but they were meaningful in that they were happening. More than anything, we talked about the terror behind terrorism and what the perpetrators were trying to achieve. And most importantly, we talked about how we thought it might impact our feelings and our lives.

And as the conversation evolved over the days following our nation’s own tragedy 14 years ago, the dialogue seemed to boil down to the question of response. After hearing the stories and seeing the results of this attack, students wrestled with how they should respond. Some wanted to respond with violence against violence; others looked at what they saw as the futility of violence in response to violence. And now, almost a decade and a half later, we are facing just that same question.

Grant Lichtman, a dynamic and forward-looking American educator and author of the blog, The Future of K-12 Education, posed this question beautifully in a post on Saturday, writing, “In the aftermath of Paris, people of good will are wrestling with perhaps the existential question of our time: can we fight our way to peace, or does the solution lie in following those greatest teachers of our time—Gandhi and King—who argued that we can never “drive out darkness with darkness in kind, but only with light”?”

As we struggle with this newest iteration of geopolitical and ideological violence, I know that I don’t have a ready answer. But I hope that the offer of conversation, among families or within the classes and daily routines of the Episcopal Collegiate Upper School, can begin to help students place this horrific event in context and begin to shape their own responses to the questions, at all levels, raised by this event.

And even if the conversation is halting and unsettled, which it likely will be, the recognition that we all currently share the same anger, fears, and uncertainty can mean everything as the young people in our community work to process and make a semblance of sense of the senseless.

Note: Common Sense Media, a media watchdog agency dedicated to children (toddlers to teens) published the following guide over the weekend to help parents talk with their children about news stories such as this one:

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