Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Wailing the Dead to Sleep

From what I can gather at this point, Lucinda Roy (b. Battersea, South London, 12/19/1955) taught Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech shooter, in creative writing, and concluded from his creepy demeanor and even creepier writing that she needed to raise the red flags. She consulted with authorities, advised psychological counseling, and took him out of her class to work with one on one. But because he hadn't committed any crimes, he remained at the university and was a senior majoring in English at the time of the shootings.

Lucinda Roy (B.A. King's College London, M.F.A., University of Arkansas) is a professor, poet and novelist who has taught at Virginia Tech for quite a while. Her published works include a work of poetry titled Wailing the Dead to Sleep (1988, 1991, introduction by Nikki Giovanni).

Apparently, because Cho Seung-Hui wouldn't speak his name in another English class, he was donned "the question mark kid" by other students. Two short plays written by him -- "Richard McBeef" and "Mr. Brownstone" are posted on the internet as of this evening. Angry, but who can tell anger from homicidal in reading these?

In red ink on the inside of one of his arms was inscribed "Ismail Ax." The closest thing I can find to this so far is a Turkish/Kurdish (I haven't found a decent translation so am only guessing) music video: Ismail YK - Bombabomba.com "full video klibi."

Another snippet: the shooter came with his family from South Korea to the USA by way of Detroit in the early 1990s.

The question for teachers is: how do we deal with anti-social students? Personally, I've done pretty much what Lucinda Roy did. Now I have to rethink what else can be done, just in case.

Today's Rune: The Warrior.

Birthdays: Isak Dinesen (Karen von Blixen-Finecke), Nikita Khrushchev, Thornton Wilder, Lindsay Anderson, Liz Phair, Victoria Beckham.


Johnny Yen said...

Brilliant post, as always Erik.

You, JR and I deal professionally with some difficult people-- people society's written off. And to tell the truth, though I'm exhausted dealing with them, and particularly with the administrators, I don't feel threatened by them. This kid was from a culture that values education, from, what I'd guess, is a good family. He was in a good school. Yet, he was a sociopath, someone to be feared.

I spent a lot of my younger days feeling disconnected, angry-- yet, I never externalized that anger and alienation to the individuals around me. I blamed the social system, the political system, even the economic system. I could never bring myself to hurt individuals in response.

I look at it like the guy who murdered my friend last year. How did I, we, fail you? What did our society not give you that helped you learn empathy? I think of this guy in the same way.

I too thought of Charles Whitman. It wasn't just the tumor-- there was an anger toward his father-- it's believed that this was, in his eyes, a punishment for his father. Yet, how could he disconnect his angry impulses from the innocent victims? Are there just people we can't reach? And what do we do as a society-- or even as individuals, when we think we're faced with them?

lulu said...

You know, I saw her talking about his writing and how it was so disturbing, and I thought back to my creative writing class last year. Pretty much every kid wrote violent, crazy, depressing shit. I have to admit enjoying the story that involved pistol-whipping mimes, but at the same time, I had no idea if I had a whole class of sociopaths on my hands, or just normal teenagers.

Johnny Yen said...

Today's New York Times (at least online) has a story about how Nikki Giovanni had this kid removed from her class because the other students were afraid of him. Her class went from having 70 students to 7.


"The Professor Said 'Not In My Class'"

There'll be a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking about this, but I keep coming back to those kids at Columbine and their parents. They'd made threats and had weapons. This kid obviously had problems, and had gone out and bought a $571 gun. Was his family not aware of this? The guys in Colorado had a collection of guns and bombs in their homes. Were the parents not aware of this? I mean, how out of it were the families in these cases?

Erik Donald France said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erik Donald France said...

Johnny and Lulu, thanks for the comments, much appreciated. Johnny, I'm with you -- I always channeled any anger toward systems, too, things that could actually be addressed. Anyone can have a voice these days on the internet. Lulu -- I'm with you on the mimes and young creative writing students. And thanks (again) JY for the Nikki Giovanni update.


Charles Gramlich said...

From all I've heard so far, and of course I didn't know the guy personally, but it seems unlikely that Cho was a pure sociopath. I might guess borderline personality disorder.

Very interesting that Nikki Giovanni would tell the guy to stop his intimidating poems. Considering some of the vicious imagery in her poetry you'd think she'd understand.

JR's Thumbprints said...

What do you do with people like this? I wish it were as simple as saying, "Lock them up." Currently, at the prison I'm at, we have a kid who threatened to mimic the Columbine massacre at Chippewa High School in Clinton Township, Michigan. He is fitting in quite nicely with the other convicts. I see him outside my classroom playing basketball.

Anonymous said...

Well wrtitten Erik. The question
difficult. MW

lulu said...

If you teach high school, you are legally required to report if you think the child is in danger of being harmed or harming others. Do you do that for every messed up story that a kid writes?

I've talked to DCFS on more than one occasion about suspected abuse, and to the school social worker about one child that I thought was in danger of harming himself, but honestly, what can you do? I don't think my having a heart-to-heart with a kid is going to stop him if he has his mind set on mayhem.

There are a couple kids at my school who are watched, because they are so obviously damaged and disturbed, but what can you do until something happens? All the therapy in the world isn't going to fix some of these kids.