Image Long Description: Color close-up photo of the iconic lighted "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign.
I stayed up all Sunday night into Monday afternoon, listening to the radio traffic from the Las Vegas police. Somehow it seemed more truthful than the repeated loops of phone videos on CNN, videos that seemed primarily to show jostled phones rather than anything informative. I couldn’t tell everything that was going on, but I could hear the active work to care for the safety of the people in Las Vegas. At a time when I didn’t (and still don’t) have the ability to actively work against the tragic events, it was somehow soothing to hear the voices of people who could and were doing something.
As I write this now, colleagues on the discussion list (WPA-L) of the Council of Writing Program Administrators are talking about whether to address the shooting with students and if they do address it, what they should say. Their discussion thread has the subject line Responding to Las Vegas in Class? Teachers are weighing in there with advice and strategies.
For my students, I wish I had a magic ability to know what to say to make it better, but no one can take the tragedy of it all away. My students are juniors and seniors, taking business writing and technical writing. The shooting doesn’t really connect to the subject matter, but I want to give them space to talk if they need it.
As I considered how to set up a place for their conversation, I was reminded of a piece that I wrote for NCTE ten years ago, in the aftermath of another tragedy. I shared a slightly revised excerpt on the WPA discussion list, and I want to share it here with you as well. While this piece refers to a middle-school journal, the idea is relevant for all levels.
Stories of Tragedies
Revised from the April 17, 2007 post of the NCTE Inbox blog
In his Voices from the Middle article “Difficult Days and Difficult Texts,” Bob Probst talks about the value of stories. “Stories,” he tells us, “will save us, if anything will” (50). Writing of the events of September 11, but just as applicable to the events in Las Vegas, Probst explains, “Part of the problem with understanding . . . was that we had an event, but didn’t yet have a story. All we had at that point was an image, a happening” (53). No matter how old the students we may interact with are, our job as teachers is to help them find the stories:
- stories of their connections to people in Las Vegas,
- stories of their own reflections on the events,
- stories of police and rescue workers who responded,
- stories of political reactions and implications,
- stories of the social networks supporting them,
- stories of the news media’s coverage,
- stories of their own outrage, sadness, and horror,
- stories of their fears and where they have found security,
- stories of how such a thing could happen, and
- stories of how we all can and must continue on.
As we meet with students and difficult events come up, the most important thing we can do is invite stories and respond to them as empathetic and encouraging readers. As Probst says, “Stories will save us, if anything will.”
The Tragedy of Needing This Post
There are too many tragedies, as we all know. I have had to share a version of this post three times now—after the shootings at Virginia Tech, after the shootings at Newtown, and now, after the shootings in Las Vegas. I would love to never revise it again, but the reality of today’s world leaves me little hope.
For now, I will do what I can by asking students to share the stories they want and need to and to work together to find ways to move beyond the tragedy. It doesn’t feel like the active work that we need as a society to stop these tragedies from occurring, but it’s what I can do and what students need. That has to be good enough for now.
If you have a response to the tragedy that you can share, particularly advice on how to talk with students, please leave a comment below to help all of us do what we can to help students move forward.
Credit: Las Vegas Mandalay Bay by Anthony Quintano on Flickr, under a CC-BY 2.0 license