Shooting Match

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New at Reason: Two from the archives in memory of the fifth anniversary of the Columbine massacre. Nick Gillespie calls for reform of the prisons, er, schools. And Jesse Walker tracks the soothsayers' efforts to explain what it all meant.

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  1. The sad thing about Gillespie’s piece is that it ends with the plaintive hope that schools will be changed so as not to be “personal hells” for so many kids.

    But that would make too much sense, wouldn’t it? Instead, schools have become more impersonal forms of hell. Schools are afraid of pissed-off, alienated kids? Well, let’s solve the problem by making kids more alienated and more pissed off!

    I’m so glad I don’t work in public schools anymore. I wanted to talk to kids about literature and art–not work for the goddamned Gestapo.

  2. Interesting article in Slate on the minds of the killers and info that came up. Basically the thrust is Harris was the psychopath and Klebold was the depressed kid along for the ride. I don’t know enough about the details to judge the accuracy, but the main thrust is that this wasn’t a school shooting, they wanted to inflict damage period, not as revenge (or at least Harris) did. Worth the minutes to read.

  3. Mo-
    I read that piece too, but I’m not sure I buy it. It almost sounds like a form of self-assurance: “Ooh, he was a psycho! No wonder! And no need to worry that anyone I know would do such a thing!”

    It’s like those anti-German documentaries after World War Two, trying to prove that Nazism was a result of something uniquely horrible in the German psyche; thus, no need to worry it could happen to normal folks like us!

  4. I think the first step towards reform is to punish severely, any public official who uses “Columbine” as justification for yet another one of their oppressive policies.

    The fact that “Columbine” happened FIVE years ago and there hasn’t been another mass shooting like it shows just how rare these things are and just how ineffective, unneccesary, and unwarranted any policy would be.
    “Columbine” is used towards teenagers the way “terrorism” is used towards adults.

    Perhaps we should treat students in school like adults and stop regulating their every move.
    This begins to eliminate the prison like atmosphere and removes a lot of the power that some teachers can wield over certain kids they don’t like.

  5. Jen,
    That was my thoughts. A lot of his writings could be viewed as youthful delusions of grandeur (this will be the biggest killing ever, we will make everyone pay, etc.). At the same time, one couldn’t exactly call the boy psychologically stable either. Of course, I knew (and am sure I’m not alone) a guy back in high school that could’ve been Harris before Harris was. Disaffected, angry, little regard for inferior people, etc (he asked my best friend to help him derail a train). I’ve lost contact with him, but I’m sure that he’s better adjusted now (though my friend and I joke he might be running a meth lab in the desert too). I haven’t heard from any people that he’s locked up by the Feds, so I’ll guess that he matured passed the nihilism of youth.

  6. I lost my job soon after Columbine.

    At the time I was running a chat channel for gifted teenagers. We talked about the shootings in great depth, and the consensus emerged that “you just don’t go shooting people” but that school brings even good kids to the edge… especially good kids, because they feel the harrassment and abasement aren’t deserved, and they don’t know how to rebel effectively.

    The firm I worked for (it had a Colorado branch) issued a PR statement that belittled the shooters and trivialized their problems, expressed deep, pitiful condolences for the families and friends of the Littleton students, and piously appealed to “the Lord” and said everyone in the firm had them in their prayers.

    All the employees were “requested” to sign. Since I’m a high school misfit, an atheist, and not inclined to show one face to the kids who trust me and another to my so-called “superiors,” I refused to sign.

    Then a few weeks later I was fired, without being given a reason. It wasn’t until recently that I talked to someone who worked there at the time (but doesn’t anymore), and they said that the refusal had something to do with me being let go.

  7. Mo-
    I have a feeling that any intelligent but unpopular high-school kid writes similar stuff in his or her journals. The sad fact is, the way high schools are set up nowadays, any normal kid would likely feel hatred and contempt!

    A lot of kids who suffer from depression in high school find that their depression miraculously evaporates as soon as they leave. But that must be pure coincidence, no?

  8. A few of the rules at the school where I taught:

    *stalls were removed from the bathroom doors, to “prevent students from smoking cigarettes.” Thus, adolescents who are already insecure about their bodies must undergo the daily humiliation of performing excretory acts in front of their peers.

    *I know of at least one occasion where the school bus was late, but those kids on the bus were marked tardy and suffered the after-school consequences.

    *students with bad grades lost their parking passes; even those students who did not live on a bus line and needed their cars to get to school. The theory was, I guess, that anyone with bad grades would find their grades improving by making it harder for them to get to school.

    *students were required to wear IDs at all times. This rule was instituted after Columbine, on the apparent theory that Harris and Klebold would not have been able to kill anyone if they carried a school-issued ID on them.

    And so forth. Frankly, I’d worry about the mental health of anyone who DIDN’T develop a bad attitude about this.

  9. Make that “Doors were removed from the bathroom stalls.”

  10. Speedwell-
    Not to tell you how to live your life, but why the hell didn’t you sue? At the very least, on the grounds of religious intimidation!

    Dude, you could have won the legal lottery and you went and threw out your ticket. Sheesh.

  11. jennifer: have you considered writing a book about this stuff? your stories are very entertaining, if somewhat depressing.

  12. Dhex-
    Actually, I have considered such a thing, but I’m not sure if anyone would publish such a book that was basically a series of personal anecdotes, as opposed to someting backed up by The Facts.

    Presumptive title: “What the Hell is Wrong with Schools Today.” No question mark.

  13. Jen,

    Have you read anything from John Taylor Gatto?

    By the way, I too enjoy reading your anecdotes even though I don’t always agree with your conclusions.

    My attitude towards school is like anything else that is good in essence – it’s bad when taken to excess. Twelve compulsory years for 36+ weeks each year and 7 hours each day is a massive overdose.

  14. Russ-
    I’ve read some of Gatto’s essays, but not his book.

    The situation is worse than you non-school people realize. On the one hand, academic standards are non-existent. Those anecdotes you hear about kids who graduate despite being illiterate are true. When it comes to academic things, modern students have it far easier than you or I did (I graduated in the late 80s.)

    And please, don’t think that the new wave of “standardized testing” will make things any better. I’ve seen the standards for the Massachusetts test; it’s a joke, albeit a non-funny one.

    On the other hand, the non-academic aspects of school are downright ridiculous. I’m sure you already know plenty of zero-tolerance horror stories so I need not go into them here. Call me paranoid if you must, but I really think the object here is to train kids to be citizens of a police state.

    Consider: in response to Columbine, many schools started requiring students to carry or wear school-issued ID at all times; this, despite the fact that EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL SHOOTING was done by a student who was legally allowed to be on campus! Schools can’t afford new textbooks, but by God they found the money to issue photo IDs and lanyards to every member of the student body.

    Kids are required by law to go to school; once there, they’re required by law to carry and display government-issued ID at all times. These are the first generation of American citizens required to display ID to autority figures on demand.

    There’s also the whole Harrison Bergeron-ization of schools; my school used to have the stated goal of “sending every kid to a four year college.” Also, “there are no failing students, only failing teachers.”

    More and more schools are putting special ed kids in with regular classes. My old classroom was directly above the classroom for the severely retarded kids, who had to wear safety helmets and often did not know their own names. Sometimes it was hard to teach, because even with the door shut my students and I could hear the weird, non-vocal atonal howling coming from the special ed rooms.

    I subbed in a classroom with a “Sped” kid who stole things; every day we had to check his desk for items which did not belong to him. And that’s all we did. No punishment; no telling him that stealing was wrong and he must stop it. You know damn well this kid will end up in jail.

    Message to kids: shut the fuck up and do what you’re told. Don’t question authority, ever. Don’t bother working to educate yourself, because you get the same grade either way. You have no right to expect to be treated with dignity and respect. Nor can you be held to any sort of academic standards.

    What little money I have is invested overseas.

  15. We, the American electorate, are spending _our_ tax dollars to raise _our_ children to be repressed and angry drones of an authoritarian government.

    It seems horrible to me to imagine that someone would do this to someone else’s child — but even more so to imagine that we are doing it to our own children.

  16. Whenever I hear about a kid shooting up his school, I have the same thought process; “Good for you… oh, right”

  17. What is needed is the personal suing of school administrators who institute humiliating or opressive rules without clear-cut empirically demonstrated justifications. I don’t mean the suing of school systems – if you win, the taxpayer pays. However, if the individual administrators are sued they stand to lose their own assets. This could focus their minds onto the task of being reasonable. Of course, few lawyers would taks such case on a contingency fee basis – school administrators are hardly “deep pockets” – but a foundation which championed school freedom could finance such suits. Just a thought.

  18. NCDan-
    I think the administrators are protected by various laws stating that you can’t sue a government employee for doing their jobs.

    And you’re wrong about deep pockets. Teachers get low salaries, but administrators make pretty good money; the average annual salary is somewhere around $70,000.

  19. Jesse’s piece holds up pretty well.

    Except for the amorphous complaints about the Kosovo war.

    “Serbs slaughter Kosovars, NATO slaughters Serbs…” Not your finest hour.

  20. See my note elsewhere about the cowardly actions of the armed police and the swat team.
    Yellow bellied shits who, when it came time to do what they were paid for, demonstrated they were not worth it.
    We are always going to have maniacs. Let us hope we will, next time, have cops with balls.

  21. Walter-
    I read your posting.

    Do you remember the students in the room with the teacher who’d been shot? They hung a sign outside: “Teahcer bleeding to death,” but for some reason–I don’t remember the details–the SWAT team actually interfered with those who would have saved him!

    Cops don’t want to risk their lives–it’s SO much easier to arrest nonviolent pot smokers.

  22. I read an article in a pro-cop gun magazine, written by a cop, about what worhtless shits the columbine cops were. The cops aparently got there and formed a peremiter and did nothing for a long while, waiting for the swat team to arrive.

    The jist of the article was “hey fuckers do your jobs, one of your main functions it to protect the innocent, particularly kids, it is not to protect yourselves and write tickets!”

  23. Jennifer, I may be crazy but…

    1) It’s their business. In Texas, they can fire at will (and I could leave at will). I support that; labor should be a completely free-market, laissez-faire arrangement between seller of work and purchaser of work. Nobody violated any contracts, explicit or implicit, that I could see.

    2) They’re a bunch of religious fanatics anyway (and I, who once worked for a company run by Scientologists, know whereof I speak). I wasn’t any more comfortable there than they were having me there. But I did my work and did it well and was well liked by the rest of the staff; I didn’t think the muck-a-mucks were crass enough to let anything else be a consideration.

    3) My replacement was punishment enough for them, from what I heard. LOL

    4) I didn’t have all the facts in time to bring the suit, even if I cared enough about it to put myself through all the legal and financial hassle.

    Just ’cause you asked. 🙂

  24. Speedwell-
    Yup, you’re crazy. But I admire your honesty. (smiley-face)

    (Fire-at-will is something of a misnomer. I can fire you because I just plain don’t like you, but I CAN’T fire you because of your race, or religion, or refusal to sleep with me.)

  25. Actually they killed mostly people that were strangers to them. Not their bullies.

  26. We should just make all the kids who fit in the alienated catagory go to certain schools where we can play violent games like Medal of Honor:Alied Assault ,and Grand Theft Auto :Vice City and when they get old enough ,send them into Iraq to get killed .KILL TWO PROBLEMS WITH ONE STONE

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