The Parkland Survivors – Breaking a Habitus?

Front of Marjory Stonemason Douglas High School

Many teachers can attest to the impact of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on students across the country. While student protests garnered a lot of media attention, less discussed are the ways students grappled with the event in the classroom. Elizabethtown College student Emily Overfield ’18 used a blog assignment in her Scoping Out Religion: Theories and Methods course to consider what’s happening and not happening after Parkland.

The Parkland school shooting has been a hot topic in the media since it happened on February 14, 2018 – and with good reason. The students that survived this tragic event have been extremely vocal in the media about changing gun control laws and ensuring that these kinds of tragedies are controlled and stopped.

Unfortunately, there have been so many school shootings and tragedies in the past couple of decades that our country has begun to face a cycle of enduring shootings, dealing with events emotionally, brief political discussion about instigating change, and then a fade-away out of the headlines (Cottle 2018). This type of controlled structure of feeling sorry for the victims long enough for the event to fade out of the headlines because the American political system is too difficult to approach as the Second Amendment has been a part of American society for so long, is exactly what the survivors of the Parkland shooting are looking to break.

American society has somewhat normalized the stigma around school shootings as more and more occur and little action is taken by politicians and lawmakers. This normalized stigma and difficult political system can be described as a habitus, or a structure that has existed in society for quite some time now and influences the way people live their lives. Martin describes a habitus through the definition of Pierre Bordieu, who includes the basic elements of habitus as structured structures, dispositions, and practical sense (Martin 2017, 86-93). The word “habit” can be seen as a root of habitus, and looking at recent history, shootings at schools, concerts, movies, and other public venues have become somewhat of a recurring habit as the frequency of these tragic events increases.

Americans turn on their televisions for the six o’clock news and see headlines about a new school shooting, or any public shooting for that matter, and think “those poor families”, “another shooting? I’ll pray for those affected” and other similar phrases, but eventually the story fades out of the media and the general population moves on. The habitus has come to exist because such a small percentage of the population is directly affected each time a shooting occurs that people are unable to grasp the concept of the extreme tragedy they would face if they were to be the next victim; therefore, little political action is taken each time a shooting occurs. Many people who are not directly affected by these tragic events do not think about the possibility that it could happen to them at any time. They think that by being careful and taking generally safe practices, they can avoid experiencing this type of tragedy, and do not consider that the next time they attend a movie or concert or put their child on the bus, they could face the end of their life.

The students that survived the Parkland tragedy are doing everything they can to break the habitus that has developed in America involving shootings, and are speaking out despite criticism. The American political system and surrounding social classifications and structures can be tough to break, but these students do not have a shortage of ambition to take action and make their voices heard. They are sick of watching stories of tragedy fade in and out of the news and have taken a stand to try to eliminate these terrible events from our nation. As stated by Michelle Cottle, these students are very social media savvy and are using everything at their disposal to make their voices heard to politicians and lawmakers. Cottle also discusses the social structure of Parkland, which includes a majority of white collar families with children who grow up with a strong sense of self-worth. The students have used this to their advantage, as well as their extensive experience with social media, to speak their minds and take action for the greater good.  The survivors of such tragic events are normally not as vocal and effective as these students have been; they are seeking permanent change.

Unfortunately, with habitus comes the hysteresis effect, making it difficult to establish immediate change. Pierre Bordieu established the hysteresis effect as the idea that the elements in a system are not immediately responsive to changes in the system; it takes time for changes to be instilled (Martin 2017, 91). So while these students are standing their ground and inspiring many citizens with their stories, lawmakers and politicians have not been extremely receptive to their statements. Some states have made small changes to their gun policies and many businesses are taking action themselves, but in order to make a significant change to the frequency of shooting tragedies, the students argue that bigger changes to laws and policies need to occur.

This is where the hysteresis effect can truly be seen. This group of students, most of which are unable to even vote, are dedicating endless time and effort to speaking out to lawmakers about their experiences, but their ambition has not yet been able to launch permanent change to federal laws regarding gun control. The Second Amendment has been a part of American society for too long for changes to its details to take shape overnight.

Without a doubt, the Parkland survivors have stepped up and made it clear that they will not stop until permanent change is established. This is a tough habitus to take on, because the American political system is complex and surrounded by many rigid structures. These students are tired of people, let alone students, experiencing tragedies like this with no repercussions from lawmakers with the exception of the usual “sending my thoughts and prayers” messages. While the changes they have been able to push are somewhat subtle thus far, these students have made it clear that their voices will not be lost from the forefront of the media as shooting victims have experienced in the past.

Bibliography

Cottle, Michelle. 2018. “How Parkland Students Changed the Gun Debate.” The Atlantic. February 28.

Martin, Craig. A Critical Introduction to the Study of Religion. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Emily Overfield

Emily Overfield ’18 is a Math major and Data Analytics minor at Elizabethtown College. During her course work, she used GIS and discourse analysis to examine the relationship between the rise of the interfaith movement and field of positive psychology.

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