Jared L. Loughner's homicidal rampage has inspired a great deal of soul-searching. . . among community-college staff. Sure, in retrospect, his oddball outbursts, inappropriate giggling, and insistence "that the number six was actually the number 18" fairly scream potential spree-killer. But you have to understand: To a typical community-college teacher or administrator, he would have seemed just a slightly more off-kilter-than-usual representative of the type of student collectively known as "wackadoodles."
Every teacher has them, generally one or two per semester. Their exploits are often amusing, occasionally creepy, but invariably odd. And while it is easy to say, in retrospect, that there were signs of potentially violent behavior, we are actually impressed that Pima Community College took as many precautionary actions against Loughner as they did, ultimately suspending him from school and requiring him to receive psychiatric help before returning (which he never did).
Our own favorite oddball student was a young man we worked with back in New York. One day, "Dave" came into our tutoring center, walked up to our desk and asked, "Mr. Solipsist, is it OK to be afraid of dogs?"
We were used to Dave's odd conversational gambits, so we took this in stride.
"Well. . .it's 'OK' to be afraid of dogs. . . . I mean, if you are, you are. . . . ARE you afraid of dogs?"
"Actually, it's really just one dog."
"Yeah, there's this dog I see every day."
"And it's a really big dog."
"Uh-huh. Umm. . . Is the dog near where you live."
"No, I see it here at the school."
"Yeah, there's this guy? And I always see him standing in front of the East Building? And he's got this big dog."
"Oh. . . . So. . . the dog's on a leash?"
"Well, the dog's probably safe, but--"
"But it's a really big dog!"
"--but, OK. Look, if the dog makes you nervous, you could just cross the street, right?"
"Well, I guess, but. . . ."
"Well, the guy is (lowering his voice) black."
"Oh. OK, so, are you worried that the guy will be offended if you cross the street? Like, he'll think you're a racist?"
"Well, maybe. Oh, and also. . . the guy is blind."
Image from Saycampuslife.com