By Brett Youtsey
In the wake of another school shooting, the same cyclical gun debate begins. With two sides in constant disagreement, there is a general acceptance that there will always be people intent on harming others. The gun control debate is an argument over how to mitigate harms caused by these people.
Because of this acceptance, the public does not dwell on social influences behind school shooters and labels the issue under the umbrella term of mental health. Whether it be bullying, a broken home or a violent personality, an individual explanation is enough to appear conclusive. Personal issues are certainly a factor behind shooters, but they have always existed among everyone.
The explosion of school shootings is a modern and overwhelmingly male phenomena that goes beyond simple mental health. Society is placing an unfair burden on boys to adapt to wildly different expectations. Boys today are stuck in no man’s land between the masculine tropes in popular culture and the non-aggressive mandates in education. For young men who center their identities around masculine tropes, they are finding themselves increasingly alienated.
Whether true or not, millions of parents believe masculine traits are inherent. They raise their boys in an environments where playing war, wrestling and hunting is acceptable behavior, even encouraged. Central figures these boys’ lives typically include military figures from Alexander the Great to George Washington. The urge to follow masculine tropes is overwhelming. In my own childhood a stick that looked like a sword or gun was the most valuable possession in the world.
From the first day of school, boys quickly learn that any aggressive behavior, no matter how trivial, is unacceptable. The teachers throw the coveted sticks over the playground fence, wrestling matches are broken up and a boy’s last solace, a finger gun, is met with detention.
What kind of strange world are we making for boys? A world where they can watch movies and play games glorifying war, but cannot even so much as mention a gun in class.
For many boys school becomes a prison, and if they have no outlets for rowdiness at home, it becomes a prison they cannot escape. The result is fertile grounds for deep seated animosity.
Modern education classifies traditional masculinity as violent and antisocial but offers few examples of alternatives. Every year there are less and less male role models in the classroom. According to the organization, MenTeach, 16 to 18 percent of elementary and middle school teachers are men. The Association of American Educators has reported men have declined from the majority to 42 percent of high school teachers over a few decades.
A teacher serves as an educator and an example of adult behavior. Because of the deficit in male teachers, boys are less likely to receive mentoring in healthy masculinity and identify roles for themselves in society. How are boys expected to fundamentally change their nature, if they cannot turn to teachers who can relate?
In world where boys feel they do not belong, they disengage. They drop out, ignore college and look for alternatives to pursue their masculinity. This antisocial behavior takes many forms. The dozens of school shooters are a small fragment of the young men resentful with the modern world.
No matter how many guns are taken or how many teachers are armed, the conditions that create school shooters will continue to intensify. If we want to avoid further tragedies, we need address the role of masculinity in modern society.