Aurora Is Not About Blame.

Via Tracy Wisneski
on Jul 21, 2012
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“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

~ Aristotle

Everyone is shell-shocked over the tragedy in Colorado and now the blame and speculation is running rampant.

There have already been a few Christian hate-mongers who’ve claimed that atheism is to blame, which is especially odd when you consider that the gunman (I’d rather not use his name) was a practicing Christian. Then, others want to blame gun laws—as if this genius couldn’t have killed all these people by other means. On the flip side of that, some are claiming that we should all be packing because the fear of retaliation would have deterred the shooter. Still, others have proposed that stricter punishment and harsher jails are the best deterrent.

I think they are all missing the point entirely.

I’ve worked in and around schools my whole life and I have always specialized in “at-risk youth.” Even when I was a child myself, I tutored classmates who had been misunderstood and often cast aside by teachers. As a teacher and a parent, I’ve witnessed school personnel bullying and even encouraging bullying in order to pressure students to conform.

Since my earliest years, I’ve noticed that (most) everyone wants to feel love, acceptance and achievement. I also understand that we need direct instruction and guidance for the most important life skills we’ll ever use: social and emotional skills. Yet, they are never taught or recognized until after they’ve gone awry, and even then, it takes far too long for people to get help, much of which is ineffective. As with anything, it is best to be proactive rather than reactive.

We are a reactive, punishment-based society. That is not to say that punishment does not have a place in modifying behavior, but it is not effective as a primary source of learning. In fact, punishment in the absence of true learning and positive reinforcement does not lead to desired behaviors and often yields undesirable consequences. Again, I am not arguing against punishment, but I will attest to the fact that punishment should never be the primary focus of teaching. I remember participating in a workshop many years ago when the trainer asked an entire faculty of teachers to define discipline. Not one of us defined it as teaching, yet that is the first definition.

So, what should we be teaching?

Our country has moved toward an emphasis in math and science at the expense of arts and humanities. In my humble opinion, that is a huge mistake. Math and science could easily teach people how to kill, but only arts and humanities have a hope of teaching them why they shouldn’t. You cannot punish or coerce people to empathize; you can only persuade and inspire them.

Furthermore, we continue to push and reward those who excel above all others in academics and sports with little regard for the fact that relationships and empathy and love matter far more than competition.

There are a few things that I strongly believe we should do:

1. Give arts and humanities the importance that they deserve.

Even those who excel in science and math subjects need them desperately. We all do. They transcend barriers, teach empathy and value individuality while helping us understand that we are interdependent.

2. Individualize education.

We’re no longer prisoners to teaching in rows with chalk on a blackboard. People are individuals and they will learn and grow best when we teach them as such. We have technology that makes it possible; it’s time to use it.

3. Directly teach social and emotional skills.

Our children need direct training in the most important life skills they’ll ever use and frankly, many teachers and administrators need that training also.

4. Stop reacting and begin truly investing in our future.

We spend far more on reacting to our failed attempts at raising our youth than we do on actually raising them. Even if you’re not concerned with the ethical implications, perhaps you will understand that we’re just wasting far more resources by reacting.

I very strongly believe that the suggestions above would greatly help our society as a whole. We need them to raise a more peaceful, cooperative world. Whether anyone likes it or not, we are all in this together.

Last, but not least, we need to recognize that life is precious and our time with each other is precious. Tragedies are a part of our tenuous balance. I don’t think we should lock up our children or look high and low for blame. I think that we should be reminded to be thankful for our blessings, hug our loved ones, strengthen our communities and move forward proactively.

Forever hopeful,



Editor: Brianna Bemel


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About Tracy Wisneski

Tracy Wisneski is a woman, a mother, a wife, a friend and a teacher. Though she’s worked most of her life, she still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. She loves too deeply for her own good, but wouldn’t have it any other way. You can reach Tracy via email: [email protected]


26 Responses to “Aurora Is Not About Blame.”

  1. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Appalled and shocked. Part of my family is from Aurora, Colorado … except graduate student/neoprofessional housing can't be considered "Aurora" proper …

  2. __MikeG__ says:

    I agree that the humanities should be core field of study along with math and science. And yes we are overly emphasizing punishment over proactive problem solving.

    The anti-science tone of this article is problematic.

    Let's define our terms. Math is the study of numbers. Science is an evidence based, peer reviewed method of discovery.

    Yes, scientific discoveries can be misused. But every tool or idea can be misused. Any field of study can be used improperly, including the humanities. Often music, art, theater and dance has been used is used to promote xenophobic, racist or other hateful ideas.

    To claim that the study of math or science is part of the problem, frankly, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what math/science is.

    The worst of human behavior, at the core, arises from ignorance. I believe that humans are in need of more evidence based discovery, not less. Along with more study of the arts. And contrary to the current anti-science bias shown by some today, science and the arts do not have to be mutually exclusive fields of study.

  3. There's a typo in the Aristotle quote. I believe it needs an "of"?

  4. realtortracy says:

    I'm sorry if it read that way because it was not my intention at all. I love science and actually believe when you follow science far enough, you arrive at spirituality.
    My point was that our schools are pushing math and science while they completely cut out art and severely cut back on humanities.
    They are also failing to help our students learn and grow as social emotional beings. Again, science is beautiful and deserves an even stronger and richer representation in our schools, but as in all things, it's important to move forward in a balanced way and approach teaching holistically.
    Thank you for letting me know that it reads that way, so that I could clarify that it is not my intention at all.

  5. realtortracy says:

    No, it reads correctly. If it had been "education," it would require "of," but it is "educating." Thank you for looking out , though, I've definitely found typos sneak through in my work before.

  6. realtortracy says:

    I'm so sorry for everyone, especially those closest to this tragedy.

  7. Heather says:

    Namaste, all.

    I live a few miles from where this happened and have been reading up on this guy. I’m sorry–although I fully agree that there are complex reasons for a person to inflict such suffering, I am growing more and more astounded at the response that this guy did what he did because of something someone else did. So far there has been no evidence of him being a victim of abuse. He came from a middle class two parent home. He was a PhD candidate in neuroscience (not the kind of course of study a kid from disadvantage tends to believe they can pursue). He had friends and didn’t get into trouble. He may have started developing a mental illness, and that would be seriously sad. I have no desire to see this guy hang or be treated cruelly. But the guy made a choice. He is not a victim of a classroom that teaches more math than art (that blew my mind, frankly). How many math and science folks are building wells in Africa? Building homes for Habitat for Humanity? Create machines that save lives? Come on, friends. When are horrible acts the responsibility of the accused?? He NEEDS to be taken out of society. Especially because he was given the opportunities that millions of people worldwide are not given and he chose to be a murderer. I mean think of how many people around the works are systematically raped, pillaged, beaten for being victims of rape! SERIOUSLY abused. And they do not choose to murder. Evil exists. People make bad choices. They don’t always need a hug and a cup of tea, you know what I mean? it’s time, sometimes, to OWN the bad decision. Call a spade a spade: what HE did was wrong and bad. He was not a helpless victim.

  8. realtortracy says:

    I will have to revisit this article and eventually rewrite it if only for myself, because I have a great love of science and never intended to express otherwise. I believe strongly in the suggestions I stated as a necessary and balanced approach to raising our young people, but just like I believe that Art & Humanities should not have fallen victim to Math & Science, I certainly don't think that it should be the other way around.
    And I most certainly am not claiming that this young man's actions are anyone's fault but his own. He most certainly needs to be taken out of society and held responsible for his actions.
    My point is that we need to move forward teaching the whole child so that we are raising healthier, better adjusted children. It is very possible that there is nothing at all that could have been done to help this individual, or he may have either learned something differently or received help for whatever mental illness he has before he committed this crime. We won't ever know, but we can work toward a more emotionally stable society.
    And my assertion that we must teach and counsel in no way should imply that we do not teach children to understand the consequences of their own actions (we're going back to the beginning now, of course). Many of the current methods of punishment do not teach children WHY they shouldn't have done something and often don't help them understand what they should do differently. This is not about hugs and teddy bears; it's about moving forward with balance, responsibility and a deep understanding of our role and responsibility to society.
    Simply punishing or rejecting does not teach personal responsibility and often does not engender regret, responsibility or empathy. Too often, it yields the exact opposite.
    Since I've already been misunderstood, let me clarify once more: this individual and others like him need to be removed from society. However, moving forward by teaching our children in a balanced, holistic, results-driven manner helps all of society.

  9. Abby says:

    So good on so many levels, thank you Tracy!

  10. elephantjournal says:

    I agree, not about blame. We can rest in our sadness.

    But, then, we have to learn from our mistakes (not that we will). As Roger Ebert said:

    ~ Waylon, ed.

  11. elephantjournal says:

    Great dialogue. Kate, I think, has featured your article on our front page.

  12. __MikeG__ says:

    Thanks for clarifying. Other than the (or what I thought to be) the anti-science tone I did enjoy the article and I thought it brought up some good points. I wish I had made that more clear in my post.


  13. __MikeG__ says:

    When I first read this post it seemed to me to have an anti-science tone and I posted as such. The author replied that what I perceived was not her intention. I completely believe that to be so.

    Now to the positive.

    I enjoyed the majority of this article. Particularly, I found interesting the contention that we are too focused on punishment and not focused enough on teaching ethics and interpersonal skills. To repeat an overused quote, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Even though Mr. Franklin was talking about fire safety when he said this, the basic message applies to many circumstances.

    But in the era of standardized tests most school curriculum is designed to meet the needs of the test. This means that currently most of school curriculum is not designed to build an ethical and just populace.

    A balanced education of science, art, ethics and critical thinking could transform our society. Hate mongering talking heads would no longer get rich and crime would be greatly reduced. We would be spending most of our tax money on supporting the good in society instead of spending too much of our tax money on dealing with the bad.

  14. realtortracy says:

    Thank you, Abby!

  15. realtortracy says:

    Thank you so much for coming back to revisit and share your opinions on the path forward. I agree with you wholeheartedly.
    I also recognize that schools are having growing pains with standardized testing. I have always worked hard to incorporate target skills into relevant, thematic units, rather than the quick (and ineffective fix) of teaching disjointed skills directly for a test.
    I remain hopeful that conversations such as ours will eventually drown out the "hate mongering talking heads." I believe that the advent of the communication/technology era has given us great strength. In fact, that reminds me of a recent article I read that illustrates that beautifully:

  16. realtortracy says:

    I agree. However, when I chose to write this article, I wanted to speak with as broad an audience as possible and I felt that focusing on my message of a balanced education had the best chance.
    I truthfully believe that this particular shooter would have found other means of mass murder, even if he hadn't had easy, legal access to weapons, but there are plenty other senseless deaths that are directly linked to lax gun laws.
    Thank you for the read!

  17. realtortracy says:

    And again, thank you for letting me know because it gave me the opportunity to clarify.

  18. realtortracy says:

    Thank you so much! I'm honored!

  19. Hopper1212 says:

    I don't understand the "anti-science" comments. I happen to know the author personally and I can tell you she is quite pro-science. But that is not her point. As I read it, her point is that we need to focus on the emotional/social aspects of children's lives. I, like Tracy, have taught for many years, and I can tell you with the break down of the American family, teachers are doing more and more of the 'raising' of children (serving lunch AND breakfast, teaching health and hygiene, before school babysitting, after school babysitting, etc.) None of these things are 'bad' per se, it's just that parents expect schools to raise their children. That coupled with state mandates that we must have standardized tests in *every grade*, there's not much room in the day to discuss how we treat each other. My school has had many programs about anti-bullying, as a matter of fact, for years now 'empathy' has been our core theme. More schools should address this, BEFORE things like this happen.
    Personally, I think anyone who does this has a mental disorder, and he would have done it with guns, bombs, or whatever he could get. (He did booby trap his apartment).
    If you want an example of what I (and Tracy) mean, google "Rachel's Challenge". It is a school program (we did it at my school), started by the family of one of the victims of Columbine. They have documented that they have actually stopped violent acts through this program.
    When children's social/mental disorders are not addressed, horrible things can happen. Let's all just be a little more aware.
    And yes, I think he should never see the light of day again. He lost that privilege.

  20. @Suri_k8 says:

    You can call this "genius" by his name, James Holmes , and he caused a great deal of suffering to his family too…they are also victims of this tragedy and they will have to live with a considerable amount of guilt and pain for the rest of their lives.

  21. realtortracy says:

    I avoided using his name because I don't want to give him anymore notoriety that he's already earned. I am as devastated for his family as I am for the families of the victims. And he is an intellectual genius only.

  22. realtortracy says:

    Thank you for bringing up the program. It looks outstanding.

  23. realtortracy says:

    I was just watching CNN right now and the father of one of the victims, the young man (Alex) who saved his girlfriend, just pleaded with Anderson Cooper not to use the shooter's name and not to give him further notoriety. Certainly, it is realistic to say that we want to learn more about him in order to see if it might help us moving forward, but I firmly believe that a small, but very important strategy here is to give these perpetrators as little attention as possible.

  24. @Suri_k8 says:

    Well, i have to disagree with you.
    I think not calling him by his name is silly , if people dont want to give him more notoriety they should ban his face and name from all writen and visual media but that is not going to happen because this is something that cant be denied , this actually happened and James Holmes is the name of the killer , he is already known everywhere in the world, we will be hearing more about him until they lock him up or kill him and we cant deny his existence. Also , i think that a lot of people, me included , really want to know why he did it , what was going through his mind …Who is he..

    So if Anderson Cooper was serious about what he said he would be talking about teenagers on drugs instead of Holmes but he isnt …silly , silly idea….we are adults we should call things by their name , he is not the devil like some people said he is just insane.

  25. Guest says:

    Tracy, this is such a beautifully written and truly heartfelt piece – thank you so much for sharing it on elephant journal.