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My little town

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Amanda Marcotte:

As someone who grew up in rural Texas, every bit of the shooter’s story feels familiar to me: The utter ruthlessness of the bullying, the hopelessness, the way that so many kids have unstable homes and end up living with grandparents. 

washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/05…Most kids that face these challenges find a way forward. But you definitely see kids, especially the boys, who become monsters that are totally alienated from other human beings and themselves. And when they turn 18, our Republican leaders invite them to “man up” with guns. 

Obviously, drug addict parents and school bullies are everywhere. What I think the rural life makes worse is the isolation. A lot of kids really don’t have a full view of how big the world is and how many opportunities lay beyond your small town, and that creates hopelessness. 

I never doubted for a moment I was getting out, but I also had the fortune of spending my elementary years in El Paso, which was the Big Scary City to kids at my high school. (Don’t laugh. Or do.) So I knew there was a bigger world, in a vague sense, and I wanted in on it. But way too many people in these tiny rural communities think that’s basically all there is to life. And there is a total lack of resources for people who are struggling. The response is often punitive, because of the conservatism of rural communities. 

My friends and I used to joke that so many people thought the ends of the world were “Marfa and the Y.” (The town west to us and a literal highway intersection east that broke north to Ft. Stockton and south to Mexico.) So that’s some context to how isolated it can get. These detail really struck me.

Kids in cities and even suburban areas have freedom to experiment with fashion and identity, but small towns often have this crushing conformity. I remember kids mocking me for wearing black, which was “weird.”

Anyway, the common thread in these school shootings is toxic masculinity and access to guns. Just some thoughts on the way that rural life in particular exacerbates those underlying issues and makes violence of all sorts, not just mass shootings, more common. 

Uvalde was, IIRC, one of the many small towns my UIL team used to travel to every year for academic competitions. Get up at 3am and get on a bus and then compete all day and get on a bus and get home at like 8pm. Though it was far enough away we might have sprung for hotel rooms. UIL was a true lifeline for rural kids, even if you just went to other towns that were exactly like your town and met kids just like yourself. If nothing else, it created these temporary communities where the bullied nerds could let it all hang out and feel free for a day. 

Unfortunately, most kids didn’t have a rich extracurricular schedule. And without that, there’s very little to do. For kids in crisis, the total lack of outlets is just extremely dangerous. This is an extreme example, but there’s so many other forms of self-harm and violence. 

I realize I’m woolgathering a bit, because this shooting hits so close to home. But one other thing I’ll add is that schools are often the only resource kids and families have. Texas teachers are overworked and underpaid, and they stick with it because they care about kids. 

Schools provide extracurricular activities and libraries, both of which are invaluable to opening up the bigger world to kids stuck in small town life. And teachers who often are happy to talk to them about life beyond Your Small Town. (Since they went to college.) 

And now our schools are under a multi-pronged assault. Loose gun laws that make school shootings common is a huge part of it. But Republicans are also banning books, defunding schools, and otherwise trying to wreck public education. That’s just not irresponsible and bizarre in the 21st century, where education in the linchpin of our economic system. It’s taking away the only lifeline that many, many, many kids have.

Which I assume is the GOP’s goal. Like parrots, Republicans squawk “mental health” every time we have a mass shooting. But this is a clear-cut example of how they don’t give a single fuck, because any hope we have of reaching troubled kids is through the schools, and they are chipping away at that.

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