Frontal Lobe, Redaction (sanitization) and Freedom of Speech


First everyone became faklempt over guns, the NRA, President Kennedy.  They became faklempt again and again and again…..with every instance of mass violence including Columbine and up to the most recent Friday 14 December 2012, Newtown, CT.   Most people were so faklempt, they were looking for mental illness, gun licenses – anything to hang onto as to what caused some one to go stark raving mad and do something crazy.  While some people are busy looking for rationale for incredibly crazy behavior, some people have begun to actually admire the previous exploits of a variety of shooters.  The admiration society has always been pretty much an ‘underground’ affair as none of these followers/worshippers want anyone to really know they wish to emulate Lee Harvey Oswald, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, James Holmes and quite probably Adam Lanza.

As we attempt to even think about healing, we became much more aware of people who sympathized with the pathos of the above people who committed heinous crimes – for whatever reason.  We are realizing the enemy is us and we need to be more aware of each other.  This new dynamic (which most likely will last up to a year and then fade again, as it has so many times before, for all but the most intimately affected) makes us hyper sensitive….or does it?  Should the new dynamic make us sensitive?

As a teacher who is often given the custody of other people’s children during the course of the day, I am very sensitive surrounding the subject of safety for my students.  As a community member, I am sensitive regarding safety as I do not believe we need to live by intimidation/violence.  The part of me which studies student behavior and thinking to better understand students with differentiated needs is sensitive as  students (sometimes adults)  with some unusual/awkward behaviors have something amiss in part of their frontal lobe (the filter if you will) and through emotional import act in ways outside the realm of normal.  I am aware as students who have filtering issues often make impulse decisions which do not benefit them in the short or long run.  I hesitate to state filtering issues can lead to violence, rather I would say filtering issues can lead to frustration.  Frustration which can not be channeled productively can lead to violence.  Some students/people have perfectly fine frontal lobes and just experienced an insubstantial upbringing where they are not able to deal with some of the adversity of life and thus also act out of frustration.

My awareness level has pretty much always been on the surface after years of teaching.  Awareness,  much like that of other teachers and administrators is tripped/triggered not so much by the normal range of ridiculous kid behaviors, instead it is based upon the outliers who are pretty far off the curve at any point.  These are most often the students who need help (whether they know it or not) and they are the ones most likely to need a productive way to channel the frustration of being different and the adversity they face due to their unique label.  This applies to the prodigies (Adam Lanza) and the students who perform at a substantially lower level for whatever reason.  Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence are NOT the same, thus the issue of the frontal lobe filter can affect some one who is indeed highly intelligent.  We notice this inconsistency most often when we talk about highly intelligent people and their odd behaviors – Einstein for example.

In most cases, the odd behavior is a phase or stage. Once a more appropriate way of dealing with others is established, the inconsistency lessens  and some one seems more normal to our perception/understanding. In other words, the package and the wrapping are congruent. Sometimes behavior has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with ones exposure to the world and upbringing. Behavior is not always related to intelligence – it can be related to exposure, social mores, and norms.  Within any group there is a ‘normal’ accepted by that group.  Those of us who know or work within those groups are aware of their normal.

The burden is knowing what is not ‘normal’ within the confines of a particular group such that you can be sensitive to alterations in the ebb and flow.  The ‘knowing’ is what could save you, your students, your community.  This ‘knowing’ is most likely why Courtni Webb was singled out for her written piece:

“I know why he pulled the trigger. Why are we oppressed by a dysfunctional community of haters and blamers?”

She may have been  singled out due to a lack of freedom of speech rights….. since Freedom of speech does NOT include

The Right to incite actions that would harm others (e.g. “[S]hout[ing] ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”). Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).

Whatever the reason, whether a ‘knowing’ or not allowing a student to incite actions which would harm others (in context of recent events), Courtni received an invaluable lesson.  If  Courtni and her mother continue to approach the situation with indignance,

“I feel like I really been made to almost look like a monster by my school and I don’t appreciate that at all,” Webb said. “Never in my life have I heard that you couldn’t mention a tragedy that happened. I didn’t say that I agree with it, I said I simply understand it.”

she will fall under speculation of poorly channeled frustration.  We all get to make a choice about our behaviors. We do not get to redact that which we wrote (intentionally or otherwise) simply due to feeling frustrated.  Choosing the path of  ‘victimization’ in the current climate of frayed nerves and worried parents only raises others awareness of poorly channeled frustration.  A far better and more mature choice would be to learn about the freedom of speech (it does not mean you are free in every possible way) and seek some help in dealing with the very raw emotions which led Courtni to write what she did.