Special statement on the racially motivated mass shooting in Buffalo, NY and other recent events

May 17, 2022

We at the National Academy of Education offer our most sincere condolences to the families of those murdered Saturday, May 14th, 2022 in Buffalo, New York and to those injured in this mass shooting. This horrific mass murder shakes our moral core. We recognize how essential it is that as a nation, we address the multiple underlying causes of this racially motivated act of hatred. We must connect this horrific act to both current and historic acts of violence driven by racism and other forms of oppression and dehumanization. Just the day after the Buffalo massacre, another attempt at mass murder occurred in Orange County, California where the accused gunman allegedly acted because of hatred for the Taiwanese. We also still mourn other recent acts of violence targeting religious groups, as seen in the Pittsburgh synagogue and the New Zealand mosque shootings; immigrants, as seen in the El Paso shooting and in the anti-Asian hate crimes committed during the pandemic; and gender identity and sexuality, as seen in the Orlando tragedy and in ongoing attacks against members of the LGBTQ community.

The continuation of mass murders in the U.S. is connected to the persistence of racism against people who are not considered “white” — a legacy of the country’s original enslavement of Africans and as evidenced by our historic relations with indigenous populations, immigration policies across our history, and the ways in which the law and popular media have demonized those who were considered as the “other.” We have disagreements over how to interpret  these facts of our history, but they did happen. And the fact that we can continue to see such acts, including acts of physical violence, where the purveyors of these acts clearly state their motivations, means that we are compelled to address the underlying contributors. How we will address these conundrums of our history in public schooling, particularly in the K-12 sector, is currently being vehemently and sometimes violently debated. 

We must also connect these racially motivated acts of violence to broader challenges of gun violence and mass shootings in our country, so many sadly involving children. The Gun Violence Archive reports 201 such shootings this year and 693 mass shootings last year. The massive gun violence in our country is entailed in our state and federal policies around access to guns, in challenges we face around addressing mental health problems, and in the broader issues around the consequences of extreme, persistent, and often inter-generational poverty. 

Our democracy was designed to accommodate differences and to create pathways through which we can navigate our differences within the bounds of democratic principles and values. As a country, we face very complex civic dilemmas for which there are no simple solutions, which often introduce competing interests, and alternative pros and cons. We at the National Academy of Education assert that education – in the immediate sense and in the longer term – plays an essential role in preparing our students to engage with critical reasoning. This reasoning is informed by ethical commitments to democratic values that will prepare young people to engage in civic dilemmas and to reach enough of a national consensus to move forward. In our recent report, Educating for Civic Reasoning and Discourse, we articulate a conception of what is entailed in civic reasoning and discourse that involves knowledge across all the core content areas that we teach in schools (conceptual knowledge and knowledge of procedures), epistemology (valuing complexity over simple solutions to complex problems), ethics (moral grounding in a sense of fairness and empathy for others), and dispositions to question, to weigh evidence, and to listen to others. The report stresses that these underlying competencies are complex and unfold differentially as children move across the grade levels. Because of this complexity and the importance of such development, these goals must be addressed across the curriculum and across the K-12 sector. 

These goals for public education are both short-term and long-term. The young man who murdered ten human beings in Buffalo is only 18 years old. He has experienced 12 years of schooling, and yet, was able to be influenced by social media to take violent and racist actions.  An immediate question is, what supports need to be available in the short-term to teach young people not to hate, to provide them with the social and emotional supports they need for well-being, and to teach them to wrestle with complexity and not be swayed by simplistic solutions to complex problems? Students should also learn to interrogate the rhetoric and claims made by any who seek to influence them — from the media to politicians.

The National Academy of Education will be hosting a series of projects to support our field and our public to wrestle with these persistent challenges. We also refer you to the statements the Academy has made over the last five years as challenges to our democracy continue to arise[1].  We believe the various fields of expertise represented in the National Academy of Education can bring together available empirical research to guide our combined efforts to address these challenges. Unfortunately the horrendous mass murder in Buffalo is only the most recent instantiation of racial hatred; we must act now to prevent further violence.

[1] National Academy of Education Statement on Pittsburgh Tragedy

Research Scholarship and Remembrance in the Midst of Social Crisis

Special Statement on Charlottesville

NAEd & AERA Joint Statement in Support of Anti-Racist Education

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