The ‘snitches’ who get stitches are the real heroes in School Safety.
In an article found online written by Corky Siemaszko, Students Sound Alarm and Avert Florida School Massacre, a possible school shooting was averted because students notified school officials of a plot by two students to engage in an Active Shooter Event. Although this is another win for our preventive measures in school safety, I do not agree with the characterization by the author that the students were ‘whistleblowers’.
When I first started teaching in the early 1980’s, there was a code among the students: Snitches get stitches. Although this code sometimes hampered our efforts to maintain order in the school, it also minimized tattletales who disrupted the day by attempting to get their classmates in trouble for petty rule violations. The real problem with this student code came to light when there was a school shooting in our area. According to the news reports, multiple students knew the gunman was planning to shoot another student during lunch, but no one informed any teachers or the administration. Using the incident as a ‘teachable moment’ I asked my students what they would do if a classmate brought a gun to school and was planning on shooting someone. They all repeated the code. It was then I knew we had to change the mindset and a culture if we were going to keep our schools safe.
Fast forward to today, students understand that reporting potential acts of violence is not snitching, but part of their responsibility as members of the school community to keep their school safe. These students are not whistleblowers. Although a whistleblower is a person who informs on a person or organization engaged in an illicit activity, we generally think of the person or organization as a business or government entity, not a student in a school. If the students discovered the principal was running a candy store during lunch to fund a gambling addiction, then the students could be called whistleblowers.
The students who alerted the school officials should be labeled as heroes because their actions potentially saved the lives of their classmates and teachers. They should be honored for their actions. The focus of articles such as the one cited should be shifted from the focus of the targeted act of violence to the actions of the students. Most students today want fame and recognition; calling those who prevent school violence ‘heroes’, instead of ‘whistleblowers’ will make them the focus of news articles and give those students a positive chance for fame while keeping our schools safe.