"Dame esos cinco!" (Give me five!) This cheerful exhortation echoes up and down West 74th Street in Manhattan each weekday morning. Building superintendent Eddie Ayala, aka "Eddie Spaghetti," greets each Calhoun lower school student with a high five every morning on the sidewalk in front of school.
The natural exuberance is contagious. Every now and then a child or adult unaffiliated with the school will get a quick walk-by high five.
Contrast "Eddie Spaghetti" with the absurd proposals to have armed guards in every school across America. Which children are safer? Violence in schools -- violence in society for that matter -- will not be solved by more guns. Love is the most effective security.
The impulse to arm schools is irrational. The chances of being shot in a school are significantly less than the chances of dying in a horrific plane crash. As is true in armed homes, the presence of guns in schools poses more risks to children and adults than all the mass school shootings in history. Shall we stop taking children out for recess or on exciting field trips or have them accompanied by armed guards? Are we so delusional and paranoid (or bullied by the NRA) that we must all be armed? Is that the social climate you want your child to grow up in?
The gun rights crowd claims that shooters go there because they know the school to be a gun-free zone. That is just plain crazy. The school shooters in recent history were prepared -- eager -- to die. Did these deeply alienated shooters experience their school as a warm and loving place? The evidence suggests otherwise.
America's schools can be alienating places for far too many children. Increasing class sizes, the depersonalizing effects of technology, the persistent stresses of testing, the lack of counseling services and the insidious effects of bullying have all served to marginalize sensitive and awkward girls and boys. They are often silent and invisible. We really don't know much about Adam Lanza, but every report suggests painful isolation. And who cared? He apparently lived in the cracks of the school, avoiding group pictures, escaping close scrutiny and living without relationships. Did anyone notice this little boy at all? Do you think boys like Adam Lanza don't hurt deeply every day?
There has been entirely too much speculation about the role of mental illness in the murders in Sandy Hook. The aspersions cast toward children assessed with Asperger's syndrome are particularly offensive. This neurodevelopmental condition is not associated with sociopathic behavior or violence. The children I've known with this diagnosis are sweet and gentle. But if there is a common quality found in Adam Lanza and the other recent agents of mayhem, it is deep alienation and loneliness. How many times have so-called "deranged" gunmen been described as "loners?"
I'm certainly not blaming Sandy Hook Elementary or Newtown High School for bringing on their own unthinkable tragedy. Perhaps they did everything they could to invite Adam into the life of the schools. I just don't know. But however that boy experienced his schools do you believe it would have been better with armed teachers or security guards? Would guns in schools make alienated children feel more loved? Would guns in schools make any children feel more loved? Or do guns in schools suggest to all children, lonely or gregarious, that life is so threatening that we must arm ourselves and be on hair trigger alert.
I recently revisited several iconic images from another time: One of a small girl with a flower at the site of the killing of 4 Kent State students in 1970, another of a Vietnam war protester putting a flower in the rifle of a soldier during a 1967 march on the Pentagon.
This was at a time when our nation had lost its bearings. We've lost our way again. We don't need guns in schools. We need more flowers. We need more Eddie Spaghetti's greeting every child with a booming "Dame esos cinco" and a wide grin.