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Discussion: the Littleton, Colorado Tragedy
Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults > Discussion: the Littleton, Colorado Tragedy
15. From: Leah: 2 book recommendations
There has been a lot of discussion in the media about teasing in school. I know this is long, but it goes to the heart of our jobs as parents and I hope you will consider posting such a long post. Here's what my sister had to say: ==================== My poor daughter is having such a hard time socially at school. The way the kids pick on each other is intense, I think jr. high is worse than it was when we were in school. They just dig, dig, dig at her all day long. Today she called me in tears from the nurse's office, I went and got her and brought her home. I don't know what I can do to help her get a thicker skin. She's had her first visit with a counselor and I am hoping that will help. But, sheesh, if you don't have the air Nikes and the Tommy Hilfigers and the leather sandals with the thick soles and the little below the knee spandex pants, you can just forget fitting in, they won't let it happen. I was talking with her about Columbine High and was saying that while what those two boys did was very wrong and evil, that I thought that the kids who had picked on them were in the wrong, too. She turned to me with big tears in her eyes and said "Mom, it can drive you to insanity!" I agree with Ralph Nader's letter (below); yeah, I think that it does have some of its roots in corporate greed. Let's not forget the corporate greed of the people who make the very overpriced "in" clothing. (At Columbine High, I guess we'd thank Abercrombie and Fitch) And let's not forget the corporate greed of the people who get their salaried employees to put in ever more unpaid overtime to feed the quarterly reports. Overtime away from their kids, who desperately need their attention and company and guidance. At my last salaried position in publishing, 55 hrs a week was considered nothing special. Everyone did at least that much. At my husband's last salaried position in the hotel industry, 70 hr. weeks were normal, and many many weeks were over 80 hrs. This is why we both left the corporate world. I am looking at this "current event" as the mother of a sweet, goodnatured child who is being verbally tortured by her classmates, to the point where it is affecting her entire outlook on life. I think that probably happened to those two boys, starting long ago and continuing to the end. My question is: what can the schools do to change this behavior? These verbal digs that go on all day long out of sight of the teacher, in the hallway and in the cafeteria and in the locker room? What can they do to change this behavior? Because I think that is one of the basic roots of the problem. If you know anyone you can forward this to who might have some ideas on this subject, feel free. Thanks. (end of my sister's letter) Ralph Nader sent this letter today to House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott: April 30, 1999 The Honorable Trent Lott Majority Leader United States Senate Washington, DC 20510 via telecopier (202) 224-4639 The Honorable Dennis Hastert Speaker U.S. House of Representatives Washington, DC 20515 via telecopier (202) 225-7733 Dear Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader Lott: Following the tragic homicides at Columbine High School last week, and the mourning over the loss of life there, you said that you would convene a national conference on youth and culture. Such a conference is sorely needed. But it must not be an empty dialogue. Our country needs better. Throughout the last week, politicians and the media have searched for the causes behind the disaster in Littleton, and have been quick to ascribe it, in part, to the violence in video games, music, the Internet, pop culture, Hollywood, movies, and television. Such comments, though understandable, do not go far enough. They stop at the symptom, failing to reach the cause. They do not grasp the central fact of our commercial corporate culture: it is produced by people in corporations who are getting rich by promoting products to teenagers; corporations governed by incentives that impel them to respect no boundaries in exploiting the vulnerable minds of teenagers. Every day, hundreds of companies work with one thought in mind: how to manipulate children and teenagers to purchase video games and music, to watch movies and television. In their quest for larger audiences and greater profits, the commercial media predictably races to the lowest and basest standards, with ever more blatant displays of violence, sex, crassness, and nihilism in television, cable, movies, radio, video games and music. These are the motivations that relentlessly drive the creation, production and marketing of ever more Doom, Quake, Basketball Diaries, Marilyn Mansons, Mortal Kombat I & II & III & IV, Jerry Springers, Howard Sterns, South Parks and the rest of it. It is easy to point the finger at the Marilyn Mansons. But they are merely instruments. Focus on the deeper problems. Behind every Marilyn Manson are corporations and corporate executives who cynically draw their large compensation packages from the fruits of such work. The national conference on youth and culture will be a charade unless you discuss the corporations and the powerful, monied interests that produce this culture, and vigorously insinuate it in the minds and pockets of American youth. If you have the courage to trace the problem to its source, to focus the national conference on youth and culture upon the commercial rewards which give rise to this culture, and how we might alter these incentives, and harness the power of corporations to produce a culture that nourishes -- not harms -- its teenagers, you will do an important service for this country, its parents, and their children, who are surrounded by and conscripted into debasements and violence by methodical, calculating corporate marketing that our teenagers may not understand, and may not be able to defend themselves against.
I have a non-conformist 13-year-old who is also sweet, polite, well-adjusted and very sociable. According to him "Everybody likes me." But he and his buddies like to dress in unconventional clothes and dye their hair crazy colors. Right now his hair is metallic blue. He owns a pair of camo pants and has even been known to wear a black trenchcoat he bought from a local second hand shop. You might think this would hardly be noticed in the Berkeley Public Schools, and it HAS been OK up to now - one of the things I love best about Berkeley is that there is a place for everybody, and people are much more tolerant than in other places. But that tolerance seems to be changing in a disturbing way since the Littleton tragedy. At a teacher conference last week at Willard Junior High I was told that my happy kid seems "depressed" and that he "doesn't choose his friend well" which might lead to his hanging out at the park across from Berkeley High with the Goth kids unless we keep a close and careful watch. I sincerely appreciate the concern from the school administration, but it was strikingly misplaced and based on very superficial observations like blue hair and black coats. What is happening? Below is an excerpt reprinted in a mailing list I subscribe to. From: Slashdot.org "News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters" EXCEPTS FROM http://slashdot.org/articles/99/04/25/1438249.shtml ``In the days after the Littleton, Colorado massacre, the country went on a panicked hunt the oddballs in High School, a profoundly ignorant and unthinking response to a tragedy that left geeks, nerds, non-conformists and the alienated in an even worse situation than before. Stories all over the country embarked on witchunts that amounted to little more than Geek Profiling. All weekend, after Friday's column here, these voiceless kids -- invisible in media and on TV talk shows and powerless in their own schools -- have been e-mailing me with stories of what has happened to them in the past few days. Here are some of those stories in their own words, with gratitude and admiration for their courage in sending them. The big story out of Littleton isn't about violence on the Internet, or whether or not video games are turning out kids into killers. It's about the fact that for some of the best, brightest and most interesting kids, high school is a nightmare of exclusion, cruelty, warped values and anger. [this page goes on to describe email from high school students who have been targetted because of their clothing, or their nerdiness, or the video games they play...] ... and from today's AP newswire (May 10, 1999) as reported in USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/news/ndssun02.htm "ACLU: Swamped with student complaints" ``Eleven students are suspended for putting a satirical essay on their personal Web site. A teen-ager is sent to the police station for wearing black clothing. A student is interrogated about the chemistry book he's carrying. '' ``It seems to have become a witch hunt. I'm sure we've gotten hundreds of phone calls,'' said Ann Beeson, a staff attorney at the ACLU's national headquarters in New York. ''Most school officials are not aware or not focusing on the fact that students are citizens, too.'' [More examples were given in this article] I am concerned that these kids are being made to feel like criminals in order to make some parents and school officials feel that "something is being done" to prevent an event such as the tragedy in Colorado. --Ginger
Like most people, I've been disturbed at the rise of violence in our lives. But Littleton really brings it home. It seems ridiculous to me that that guns can be picked up at gun shows without even a background check. Why aren't guns regulated for safety like other consumer products? Thousands of small children could be saved by simple child safety standards for handguns. Extremists are obviously still running the show in Washington, but I believe it can change.
I'm helping launch an Internet campaign to tell our representatives that we've had enough. It's time for government to accept its proper role in regulating firearms. Will you help? Just sign the petition at this link:
MoveOn is the group that ran the online anti-impeachment campaign last year. They got a half million people to speak out. And it made a difference. It only takes a minute to sign. And then if you send a message on to your friends and colleagues, the ball will really get rolling. It's up to us.
I liked John Carroll again today and thought I would pass it on.
More Thoughts On Colorado JON CARROLL Wednesday, May 5, 1999 (c)1999 San Francisco Chronicle Copyright San Francisco Chronicle, Used by Permission URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/1999/05/05/DD75529.DTL IT IS HUMAN nature to seek confirmation. Much of the aftermath of the shootings at Littleton has consisted of people saying, in essence, ``This is the fault of that bad thing that I already warned you about.'' There was much talk about how ``transforming'' the event was, about how it opened ``a new chapter,'' but I personally did not witness any transformation. I saw politicians and academics merely repackaging their old arguments to fit the new facts. It is human nature to seek solutions that seem within our control. Gun policy is within our control -- theoretically, if not actually -- as is the content of video games, as are the responsibilities of parents. We can pass a law. We can threaten sanctions. We can find the executives or the lawyers or the lobbyists, and we can grill them. The notion that the answers lie in events that exist at the tidal level of human affairs is not a palatable one. It means that we're stuck in a world that we cannot control, and we have to go back home and just work with the seven people we really know, and that's tedious. It does not produce media heroes. The Great Man Theory of History -- not applicable. But let me suggest two ideas anyway. If we postulate that we live in a time of increased ambient rage --and I think that's what people are saying -- then the answer may lie in sheer numbers. We are all aware of experiments with rats in cages; we are all aware that population density decreases civility. If you think about the geography of high school shootings, you become aware that most have taken place in small towns or in new suburbs -- rather than in the inner cities, where, had you been guessing in 1980, you would have predicted this phenomenon to occur. SO WE ARE talking about places where people are used to having elbow room. We are talking about places built on shared assumptions suddenly engulfed by a world in which all assumptions are questioned. Suddenly there are too many people -- not by the standards of Cairo or Brooklyn, but by the standards of exurban America. So the rage starts -- not with the kids, but with the citizenry as a whole. The intemperate language of talk radio, for instance, fueled by exurban America. The rise of militias. The discovery by large media companies that intemperate movies and video games sell well in mall land. And the rage seeps. It's like a toxic goo; it coats the streets and lawns and basements. It makes differences sharper; disagreements seem more intractable. And at the very bottom of the food chain is the powerless adolescent rebel. Bingo. HERE'S ANOTHER THOUGHT: More and more in America, the home has become like a Holiday Inn, a convenient place for sleeping at the end of the day. The new culture demands hard work and long hours. If you don't make enough money, you lose out. The economy is spiraling upward, which is fine if you run hard enough. Opportunities abound, but you must really want them. We all must be competitive on the world market. There is someone waiting to take our place if we falter. Think about the importance of narrative in culture. We learned the narrative of our families from our older relatives; we learned the myths of our people from prolonged and rambling conversations -- and myths are nothing more than values repackaged as stories for easy memorization. In giving up the homeplace for the workplace, we have sacrificed the storytelling. We have nothing to tell ourselves when we get into trouble; we have no tales suggesting that there are exit strategies. No one has told us a story about forgiveness. Children are fed on opinions and suggestions, which are not nourishing. Narratives are nourishing. Here is what it was like for me, when I hated my teacher, fought with my friend, got drunk or laid or far too angry. But narrative requires psychic space, no competing entertainments -- above all, time. And we have no time. We do not need a national dialogue; we need just to stay home and talk. Give me land, lots of land, under starry ...
Thank you for compiling all of the feedback into a special edition. I was angry for a long time towards the "brats" who did this. I had to call them brats as part of my expression of anger. It seems that there has not been enough anger. I heard the words sadden, devastated, scared, but nothing about anger. I was teased in school, although not as brutally as some since I was a teacher's daughter and had some protection. I did not seek revenge for the teasing. The best revenge was watching all of the "cool" girls get knocked-up right out of high school and the "jocks" never get into college or a useful career. So why did these Colorado brats, and the brats last year, pick up guns and shoot? They were all white kids with more than enough stuff in life. I want to know where the adults were, parents, neighbors, teachers, when these kids were banging on things in the garage. Why didn't someone say, "Gee, what is little 'Johnny' doing in the garage?" and go and look and stop them. I want the parents of those boys to stop hiding behind their lawyers and to start answering some questions so we can all try to learn something from it all.
I feel the most compassion for the true "Goths" and kids who like to dress with their own style. I know that those kids are usually the more intelligent ones at any school and will go far once they survive high school. The minute I heard the kids in Colorado labeled "Goths," I cringed. I knew that those brats were not really Goth. I worried about the kids who dress that way. I am sad to see that there has been a witch-hunt like backlash against them. I hope they can hold up and be part of the healing. I feel like going up to kids I see and give them a big hug and cheer them on.
My anger is starting to turn to compassion and I recently was able to raise
those boys up in prayer. I hope I can do better with my child and the people
in her life when she goes through adolescence.
We may try to blame corporate America, the media, the gun manufacturers, the snotty kids who torment kids who do not "fit in", etc. But in reality the blame is with us--all of us. We the parents of the snotty kids who have not been taught what is appropiate behavior, we are the people who let our kids buy expensive name brand things the advertisers hawk on the media, we are the voters who elect politicians who are not for gun control, we are the people who allow media to show violent TV programs, we are the people who don't know where our kids are at night, we are all of these people because we continue to look outside of ourselves for someone to blame rather than accepting responsibility for ourselves. But not me you may think--I vote, I'm for gun control, my kid wears generic clothes. How many times have we flipped off or cursed someone who cut us off in traffic? Or taken too much change from the cashier when paying for something? Or nicked a car in a parking lot and didn't leave our name and number? Or had a little too much to drink? Or didn't talk to our partner about something but held the anger or hurt in? Or sued someone because we didn't follow the directions yet felt the company was negligent because they didn't include a safety mechanism for our stupidity or laziness? Or kicked the family pet because it was underfoot and we had a bad day? Our kids see what we do every day and learn by the example set by the adults around them. And as long as we have adults who do not accept responsibility for their actions and point the finger at someone else-- be it the media, the government, the big corporations, etc-- we will have Littletons and 101 California. WE ARE THOSE ADULTS--it is time we start making the changes we keep saying are others' fault.
What I will say will possibly offend even the UC Berkeley parents, but nobody in the press has been saying it. The intelligent oddballs have undergone generations of terrorism from their more popular and jockish classmates. In Littleton, rocks and bottles were being thrown at Trench Coats from moving cars (by the jocks), the school authorities and the teachers, the last resort for fairness that the Trench Coat children had a right to expect, were NOT for fairness, they gave preferential treatment to the jocks. There was no justice, ther was no fairness, the jocks could do almost anything and get away with it and the Trench Coats were the oppressed minority. That two of them snapped and blew away other students seems to have stunned everyone. Why? If they had been black students undergoing that treatment, would anyone have been surprised? Well, would anyone have simply stood by and let the treatment happen in the first place, and applied visibly stricter discipline to the minority than to the jocks?
I went to a highly technical university; most of the males in my classes had been beaten up regularly in school -- beaten almost daily, humiliated, made to eat fish bait, and all sorts of other large and small violences in keeping with their varied geographical origins. The only surprise to me is that this hasn't happened before. The greatest sorrow and worry to me is that the lesson IS NOT BEING LEARNED, as the school authorities still haven't said they will address the jock-culture and start teaching the majority students to be polite and tolerant (two things they seem to be unable to do on their own). Instead, they have told the other Trench Coat students -- whose only "crime" is wearing black -- to stay home from school for the rest of the year "for their own safety," which tacitly condones the most violent impulses of the outraged jock elite. The school authorities and the teachers who turned a blind eye to jocks abusing minorities are the MOST culpable, not because they have more influence than the idiotic parents who allow their children to tyrannize others, but because THEY SHOULD KNOW BETTER. They have willed themselves not to, and they have sown the seeds of Littleton's tragedy themselves -- now they absolve themselves of it by placing the blame on videos, parents, games, music, anything but the daily misery dealt out by the jock hierarchy.
I hate violence, and so do most intellectuals, and that is probably why it hasn't happened before. But when there is NO recourse, eventually it will happen again. The schools need to address the survival value of tolerance and politeness even to "nerds," or ethnic minorities, or ANYONE who doesn't fit in, or it will most surely happen again. The teachers and administrators also need to police themselves for fairness. Our society as a whole could use that training, anyway. Rational discourse seems to be much out of vogue.
In responce to everyone's e-mail concerning the treatment of children in school and the shooting in Colorado. I would like to simply say, "IT STARTS IN THE HOME" It says in the bible : Proverbs 22:6 - "
Trainup a child in the way that he should go and when he grows old he will NOT depart" Ephesians 6:4 " and ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath; but bring them up in the nuture and admonition of the Lord" We all have to do our part in training our own children to love themselves and others. If they know that the Lord loves them and that the things which are seen are temporal but the things which are NOT seen are eternal then they will know that what they behold inside is what really matters not what they have on their bodies. IF you are strong in the Lord, meaning the Word of God, having it as your armor then other people's words would not hurt them because they would know where the truth lies. People, parents are starting to see that the word of God is true and people are actually throwing away those bad images they have been carrying around with them about the word of God. HE is the only way! IF there is anyone out there who thinks they need to hear the TRUE word of GOD it's out here for you to grasp and take and learn and teach to those who mean the most to you. You all are welcomed to hear the TRUTH on Tuesday & Thursday evenings at 7:30 P.M. at New Light Christian Center on the corner of Parker Street & Martin Luther King, 1841 Parker Street is the exact address. This is a non denominational church, so this means that EVERYONE is welcome! Service on Sunday's begin at 11:00. I just want to save the children in the process of saving the parents of unnecessary hurt and pain, we all deserve to live long lives with many good times and prosperity and watch our children do the same. Truth, Trust & Faith is the only way !
From: Mary Carol
Thanks for your thoughtful compilation. Very helpful to see truly thoughtful responses. I have talked some with my aunt, who is now 75 and who taught in the public schools, both in the inner city in Ohio , for 20 years, and then in a small town in CA for 10 years. She saw troubled kids, and troubled situations, as well as love, community and good ideas both places. She said something to me which "speaks to" one item previously posted, e.g. >But let me suggest,,,. > >If you think about the geography of high school shootings, you become >aware that most have taken place in small towns or in new suburbs -- >rather than in the inner cities, where, had you been guessing in 1980, >you would have predicted this phenomenon to occur. > >SO WE ARE talking about places where people are used to having elbow >room. We are talking about places built on shared assumptions >suddenly engulfed by a world in which all assumptions are questioned. What she said was that 20 years ago, these kinds of problems WERE occurring in the inner cities. Oh, the technology/computer aspect wasn't part of it ... but alienation, pain, despair and guns were part of it. There WERE shootings. (an aside ... I grew up in Denver and my dad taugh high school in Denver. Dad was once threatened at knife point by a student in the 1960s in Denver ... and we had armed policeman on the high school campus I attended. Kids in my graduating class made a suicide pact, once drank cynanide and died. Everyone was totally distressed by this but it never made the news) My aunt feels that these "incidents" were not well reported in the 60s and 70s if they occurred in the inner city (poorer kids not as newsworthy?) but they still went on. Who knows, maybe less media coverage was good, prevented "copycat" acts. What she said that was POSITIVE, can be LEARNED FROM was that the *community,* the parents and teachers in the inner cities learned some strategies that worked to lessen violence in those schools. They took various forms -- mentoring, parents patrolling the halls to discourage between-class violence (unarmed, known and respected parents as opposed to armed cops), tutoring -- but basically they came down to one theme: get more caring adults involved in the schools. Teachers CAN'T do it all and sometimes parents are out to lunch, not there for their kids. Or sometimes parents ARE caring but the kids are just more willing to confide in some other adult -- say a mentor -- than their parent. Whatever, more caring adult involvement, from the wider community, seems to make a big difference. As I recall, the team (2 students, one teacher) from Berkeley High who visited Littleton recently came back with the same idea: they recommended that "EVERY student needs to have a caring adult who keeps in touch with her/him on a regular basis." Who knows how that might have manifested in Littleton ... recognition that these 2 kids were really troubled and some therapy intervention? ... support for the kids who KNEW their classmates were scary but didn't speak up? ... dialogue about hate, neo-nazi behaviour, self-respect, tolerance, kind and respectful speech? Who knows? But high schoolers are not adults, they still need adult guidance ... and Ralph Nader's right, if we're all working a zillion hours of overtime, how can we be there for the kids in our community? One last thought ... one does not need to be a parent to be involved. One can be a mentor, a tutor, a Big Sister or Brother, a foster parent. Alameda County has a BIG need for foster parents. Berkeley High School matches mentor volunteers with students ... We cannot change the past, but we can contribute to a better future.
For the uncle whose jr high niece is miserable. Small schools (500-600 students in high school) are much much better. (Extremely small schools may have their own problems with exclusivity since there are fewer groups to fit in with). So your sister might look into sending her daughter to a different jr high or look for a small high school. Even if there's not a smaller school to switch to, switching to any other school may give your niece a chance to reestablish herself in a different position in the social hierarchy. I realize your sister asked about how schools and society can change, and certainly that's what we should work towards, but your niece is clearly suffering NOW, so that's why my suggestions place the burden on her. I should also confess that I remember feeling left out at the middle school, asking for advice from a more popular friend, and going to buy the right jeans, etc. Perhaps a slave to conformity, but it also gave me a feeling of power. Deborah . . . For those committed to a systemic approach... Please join educators, families, authors, companies, and leaders in this call to action. A Petition and Pledge for Long-Term Prevention Summary: We are committed to a long-term, education-based violence prevention program for every school in America. These programs will be developed and implemented by educators, researchers, students, parents, business and community leaders, the government, and other volunteer participants working in partnership. Visit http://www.6seconds.org/prevent to sign.
I would like to offer one idea about the Colorado tradgedy. My sons first unsolicitated reaction when we watched with horor the unfolding drama that first night on tv was- "I wouldn't want to live in that town. It's the suburbs." I think that's why you see the wierdest things break out in such repressed societal groups. There is all of that forced conformism. As a teacher, I became increasingly aware that the way many teachers keep their classrooms in "order" was by pointing fingers at the children who aren't able to keep up or do their work. They ridicule them publicly and in some very subtle ways. By doing so, they give other children permission to ridicule those children. It's like the pecking order or in the army, they haze one another until they find a center target. And, then they destroy that person. It's building oneself up by tearing another person down. It's "keeping up with the Jones." It's not just in the classroom, it's prevalent in our whole society. But since children spend so much of their time in the classroom or in the school system, it goes on and on and on... ruining many children's lives. It's the silent majority who are afraid to speak up for if they do, they may be the one who will be "shot down." I don't think you see this type of mentality in a diverse population as much, because there is more racial, social, class, etc, differences. There are more places to fit in. But in a community that is largely white and upwardly mobile, the pressure is more intense. The hatred and scapgoating and self satisfied bigotry is a given that they pride themselves on. There is a lack of compassion and love. Which says something about the internet. More people in this country are hooked into the internet because it is an invisible room where all are welcome and you can have fantasy relationships. People are turning to the internet for sex! And you know our country's hang-ups on sex. I don't want to go off to far, but the primary thing I want to communicate is the "torture" of children in the classroom is every day in every way. And it is a given because it is espoused by the greater society as a way to achieve.
An interesting article from the Boston Globe. -- Christina This story ran on page E01 of the Boston Globe on 05/02/99. ( _Copyright_ 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.
---------------------------------------------------------------------- The national conversation in the wake of Littleton is missing the mark ---------------------------------------------------------------------- By Jackson Katz and Sut Jhally, 05/02/99 ---------------------------------------------------------------------- The events at Columbine High School 12 days ago have plunged us into a national conversation about "youth violence" and how to stop it. Proposals came last week from all corners - the Oval Office, Congress, living rooms across America. That we are talking about the problem is good; but the way we are talking about it is misdirected. It is tempting to look at the murderous attack in Littleton as a manifestation of individual pathologies, an isolated incident involving deeply disturbed teenagers who watched one too many video games. That explanation ignores larger social and historical forces, and is dangerously shortsighted. Littleton is an extreme case, but if we examine critically the cultural environment in which boys are being socialized and trained to become men, such events might not appear so surprising. Political debate and media coverage keep repeating the muddled thinking of the past. Headlines and stories focus on youth violence, "kids killing kids," or as in the title of a CBS "48 Hours" special, "Young Guns." This is entirely the wrong framework to use in trying to understand what happened in Littleton - or in Jonesboro, Ark., Peducah, Ky., Pearl, Miss., or Springfield, Ore. This is not a case of kids killing kids. This is boys killing boys and boys killing girls. What these school shootings reveal is not a crisis in youth culture but a crisis in masculinity. The shootings - all by white adolescent males - are telling us something about how we are doing as a society, much like the canaries in coal mines, whose deaths were a warning to the miners that the caves were unsafe. Consider what the reaction would have been if the perpetrators in Littleton had been girls. The first thing everyone would have wanted to talk about would have been: Why are girls - not kids - acting out violently? What is going on in the lives of girls that would lead them to commit such atrocities? All of the explanations would follow from the basic premise that being female was the dominant variable. But when the perpetrators are boys, we talk in a gender-neutral way about kids or children, and few (with the exception of some feminist scholars) delve into the forces - be they cultural, historical, or institutional - that produce hundreds of thousands of physically abusive and violent boys every year. Instead, we call upon the same tired specialists who harp about the easy accessibility of guns, the lack of parental supervision, the culture of peer-group exclusion and teasing, or the prevalence of media violence. All of these factors are of course relevant, but if they were the primary answers, then why are girls, who live in the same environment, not responding in the same way? The fact that violence - whether of the spectacular kind represented in the school shootings or the more routine murder, assault, and rape - is an overwhelmingly male phenomenon should indicate to us that gender is a vital factor, perhaps the vital factor. Looking at violence as gender-neutral has the effect of blinding us as we desperately search for clues about how to respond. The issue is not just violence in the media but the construction of violent masculinity as a cultural norm. From rock and rap music and videos, Hollywood action films, professional and college sports, the culture produces a stream of images of violent, abusive men and promotes characteristics such as dominance, power, and control as means of establishing or maintaining manhood. Consider professional wrestling, with its mixing of sports and entertainment and its glamorization of the culture of dominance. It represents, in a microcosm, the broader cultural environment in which boys mature. Some of the core values of the wrestling subculture - dominant displays of power and control, ridicule of lesser opponents, respect equated with physical fear and deference - are factors in the social system of Columbine High, where the shooters were ridiculed, marginalized, harassed, and bullied. These same values infuse the Hollywood action-adventure genre that is so popular with boys and young men. In numerous films starring iconic hypermasculine figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Bruce Willis, and Mel Gibson, the cartoonish story lines convey the message that masculine power is embodied in muscle, firepower, and physical authority. Numerous other media targeting boys convey similar themes. Thrash metal and gangsta rap, both popular among suburban white males, often express boys' angst and anger at personal problems and social injustice, with a call to violence to redress the grievances. The male sports culture features regular displays of dominance and one-upsmanship, as when a basketball player dunks "in your face," or a defensive end sacks a quarterback, lingers over his fallen adversary, and then, in a scene reminiscent of ancient Rome, struts around to a stadium full of cheering fans. How do you respond if you are being victimized by this dominant system of masculinity? The lessons from Columbine High - a typical suburban "jockocracy," where the dominant male athletes did not hide their disdain for those who did not fit in - are pretty clear. The 17- and 18-year-old shooters, tired of being ridiculed or marginalized, weren't big and strong and so they used the great equalizer: weapons. Any discussion about guns in our society needs to include a discussion of their function as equalizers. In Littleton, the availability of weapons gave the shooters the opportunity to exact a twisted and tragic revenge: 15 dead, including themselves, and 23 wounded. What this case reinforces is our crying need for a national conversation about what it means to be a man, since cultural definitions of manhood and masculinity are ever-shifting and are particularly volatile in the contemporary era. Such a discussion must examine the mass media in which boys (and girls) are immersed, including violent, interactive video games, but also mass media as part of a larger cultural environment that helps to shape the masculine identities of young boys in ways that equate strength in males with power and the ability to instill fear - fear in other males as well as in females. But the way in which we neuter these discussions makes it hard to frame such questions, for there is a wrong way and a right way of asking them. The wrong way: " Did the media (video games, Marilyn Manson, `The Basketball Diaries') make them do it?" One of the few things that we know for certain after 50 years of sustained research on these issues is that behavior is too complex a phenomenon to pin down to exposure to individual and isolated media messages. The evidence strongly supports that behavior is linked to attitudes and attitudes are formed in a much more complex cultural environment. The right way to ask the question is: " How does the cultural environment, including media images, contribute to definitions of manhood that are picked up by adolescents?" Or, " How does repeated exposure to violent masculinity normalize and naturalize this violence?" There may indeed be no simple explanation as to why certain boys in particular circumstances act out in violent, sometimes lethal, ways. But leaving aside the specifics of this latest case, the fact that the overwhelming majority of such violence is perpetrated by males suggests that part of the answer lies in how we define such intertwined concepts as "respect," "power" and "manhood." When you add on the easy accessibility of guns and other weapons, you have all the ingredients for the next deadly attack. Jackson Katz wrote, and Sut Jhally directed, the soon-to-be-released film "Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity." This story ran on page E01 of the Boston Globe on 05/02/99. ( _Copyright_ 1999 Globe Newspaper Company. ----------------------------------------------------------------------
Thanks for the Littleton digest. I found it helpful. I recently read a book called Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, which deals with teasing and bullying, both of which in my mind are what drove those boys to the point of insanity. As the mom of a sweet but difficult little boy, I am finding parenthood terrifying.
The Littleton tragedy brought home to me that middle and high schools have an eerie similarity to prisons. Both are mandated by law; both have inmates that are confined in the name of the good of society. Both contain groups that are hostile to each other; the wardens tell them they shouldn't fight, but have no real ability to prevent it. In both institutions, the inmates don't have the full rights of American citizens; and if they try to leave, the police will come and put them back in. The front page newspaper picture of Littleton high school students, all blonds, reminded me of the middle and high school in my small Indiana town. Most of the kids in our school were blond and came from middle class families. With my black hair and immigrant parents, I looked different from many of the kids in my mostly white, suburban school. It didn't help that I was a shy girl and the best in the school at math. I remember being called a "dirty spic" and other names too vulgar to appear in print, being beaten up and having my schoolwork sabotaged. Because my parents were immigrants and spoke with accents they were a target of ridicule too. I wished desperately for escape, but there was none. When I complained to my parents, they talked to me about the importance of education and warned me that I wouldn't want to turn out like my lazy uncle who'd quit school and spent all his time at the racetrack. The point I'm making with these stories is that adults may have forgotten or never realized how miserable life in schools was for anyone who was the least bit different. I was never a violent person, but there were other outcasts in my school who were treated as cruelly as I was, and I don't know what they would have done if it had been as easy to buy automatic weapons then as it is now. And there have been other tragedies in schools over the years that didn't get the press coverage like Littleton... I remember one girl in my class who was mercilessly teased by the popular kids--she committed suicide. We need to improve conditions in schools so that the torture of some students by others is reduced. Especially since, unlike prison inmates, the students have done nothing wrong that deserves incarceration. In order to improve students' lives, we should first acknowledge that schools, like prisons, are a necessary evil. We need to accept the fact that conditions will never be ideal for the inmates. The first step to improve our schools is to face the unpalatable truth about the misery of the confinement that goes on there. Let's stop this false rose-colored view of high school years as "the best years of your life." Here are my proposals to ameliorate the current potentially explosive situation: 1. A national mandate to require uniforms for all public school students. Nobody will like it, but imagine what our prisons would be like if the inmates were allowed to wear gang colors. This will help minimize obvious differences between the fashionably-dressed and the not-so-fashionably-dressed. 2. Minimize the amount of time groups of students are allowed to mingle unsupervised. This will reduce teasing and ridicule of those who are different. For example, instead of having the students walk through the halls and go to the classrooms, have each group of students stay in a home room, and have the teachers come to them. This would also eliminate the recently publicized "heavy backpack" problem. Students could keep their books in their desks in home room. One might argue that high school students need some time unsupervised by adults so that they can "develop social skills" with their peers. However, I question the type of social skills that are developed in the artificial society of high school, where a student is thrown together only with others of the same age. In normal society, people interact with people of all ages and backgrounds, and they have the freedom to walk away from someone who is behaving in a hostile manner. In the real world, if an adult beats you up, they'll face criminal prosecution or a lawsuit. Not so in school, where if you even talk about the beating to someone in authority, you get beaten up worse the next time. At the end of the day, when the students are paroled, they enter a society where not everybody likes each other, but at least the groups that are hostile to each other can choose to stay out of each other's way. That's a better time to develop social skills which will be useful in the real world. 3. Perhaps we should also give students more freedom to leave the jail, to spend time observing adult careers, and mingling with groups of all ages. What if schools offered co-op options? Middle and high school kids may be in even a worse situation than felons; the latter know what the outside world is like, and they know their sentence will be over one day. I remember as a teenager believing the oft-repeated platitude that public school prepares kids for the real world, and it was incredibly depressing to contemplate a lifetime in a world as cruel and unhealthy as high school stretching out endlessly before me. What may very well have saved me from suicide during those terrible high school years was the fact that I was allowed to take college classes, where I became best friends with a woman seven years older. We had long talks about everything under the sun, the talks I couldn't have with either my classmates or my parents. And she saved my self- esteem. I had believed that all the maltreatment was my fault, that I was somehow doing something wrong. She told me it was just that I thought about things that other sixteen-year-olds didn't. She made me realize that the world was a bigger and better place than my high school experience had led me to believe, and that one day the ostracism, harassment, and beatings would end. My sentence would be over. So, perhaps if we kept the bullies in line, minimized differences in appearance, and allowed kids some freedom to observe the real world, we might release some of the pressure and relieve some of the misery. Perhaps then schools would become less like prisons, and more like halfway houses. We might be able to better prepare kids for the adult world. High schools might turn out better citizens. Who knows, we might even prevent future tragedies like the one at Littleton.
"The Unmentioned Victim at Columbine High School" br> Richard Rodriguez
Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times
Sunday, April 25, 1999
SAN FRANCISCO--After the ribbons fade, after the dead are laid to rest, after the reporters drift away, the last casualty of the massacre at Columbine High School may turn out to be the idea of public school.
Public school. We used to know what that concept meant. Earlier generations understood, in a nation as individualized as ours, that we needed an institution, a school, where children would learn to regar themselves as people in common.
After Littleton, Colo., who wonders about Yugoslavia? The most balkanized region of America may well be the high school, inner city or rural, also suburban, middle class. In the cafeteria, the teenagers of America segregate themselves, each group with its own: jocks, skinheads, blacks, surfers, Latinos, nerds, etc. What we saw at Columbine--the Goths against the jocks--was a kind of ethnic cleansing.
More than a century ago, Mark Twain created Huck Finn, a kid who, in the company of a runaway slave, left his small town to risk the great American river. The nonfictional reality today is much less romantic. At that very time--the season we call adolescence--when we expect our children to leave home, to grasp their independence, American teenagers instead are looking for home or a tribe. Inner-city kids, for example, speak of their gang as "family," "blood." Because school is not the center of existence for the big-city gangsta, ethnic cleansing, East L.A.-style, tends to be accomplished through drive-bys, on street corners. We have known for some time that brown and black inner-city kids kill one another, to establish their sense of belonging in gangs, in the city of strangers. We are sorry for them, but as long as we stayed out of their line of fire, we thought we were safe. But then we started to see white kids emerge from the forests of rural America, their parody of big-city gangs, their murderous rage against parents and school.
Now the nightmare moves closer to the America's heart and hearth, to Littleton, a middle-class suburb where nice people live and the streets are wide and the houses have separate bedrooms for everyone and a three-car garage--the domestic architecture of anonymity. We look at photographs of those split-level suburban homes where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold lived. Steven Spielberg, our modern Twain, would doubtlessly romanticize the warm, golden light coming from within. The other Stephen--King, the writer whom many teenagers read--imagines teenagers in the basement, plotting to blow up the junior prom, while several televisions blare upstairs.
An Italian friend of mine shakes his head. He says we Americans are always flattering ourselves by announcing our "individualism" to the world. But, my Italian friend says, you cannot be truly individualistic unless you have a strong sense of family or village. You can't become an "I" without a strong sense of "we." For all our American talk of individualism, my Italian friend says, we are merely the loneliest people on Earth.
Our divorced and womanizing politicians keep yearning for "family values." The rest of us settle for chat rooms or support groups or a cafeteria table with people just like ourselves. Have you ever been to Littleton? There are hundreds of Littletons in America now, from the Silicon Valley to North Dallas to Long Island. The main employers are high-tech firms; many homeowners have college degrees; and there is a preference on Saturdays for soccer, not football.
But Littleton is a town built on restless ambition. Most people arrive from elsewhere, and most will probably end up moving away. A psychologist on one of the networks this week estimated that 20% of American teenagers today should seek psychological help. But all week, I kept thinking of the parents of the two "monsters." A woman, a mother of teenagers, said to me this week that she began to "lose contact" with her children when they began to listen to a music she could not decipher. Before that, they had their televisions. Now, of course, they have their own computers. "They live in their own world."
This, of course, is where the teacher comes in. We send our children who are innocent of intimacy to Columbine High School. But look at the place! The building has the charm and scale of an office building alongside the interstate. It falls to the teacher, underpaid and overworked, to teach the children of Littleton what public-school teachers have always tried to teach children, that they belong to a culture in common, speak a common tongue, carry a common history that connects them to Thomas Jefferson and Malcolm X.
The ideal of public education is an extraordinary one, especially because America is a country that otherwise prizes its unruly soul. (In Twain's story of Finn, the "school marm" must play the villain, because it is she who intends to catch Huck and diminish his individualism by making him "speak regular.")
In fact, for many decades, in many parts of America, our public schools betrayed their role by being racially segregated. Today, on the other hand, at a time when the American public school is open to all, many teachers settle for the sentimentality of "multiculturalism" (celebrate diversity!) instead of insisting on a communal vision. There are doubtlessly good teachers at Columbine. (One teacher died last week, trying to protect the lives of his students.) But imagine the task of today's public-school teacher. Everyday facing too many faces to know by name. Bodybuilders, pierced noses, shaved heads, brown skin, Calvin Klein blues, black trench coats. At such a school, can we be surprised to learn that a sad little tribe, the Trench Coat Mafia, dressed like the Blues Brothers, published an ad in the yearbook that announced, "Insanity's healthy"? No one on the faculty apparently noticed or had time to remark.
It turns out, something not nice was going on at Columbine High School. One father told CBS News that a football player used to look for his son in the hallways, pick on his son--a Jew--for being different. Meanwhile, elsewhere along the school hallway, two boys in black trench coats murmured Nazi tags to each other about football players.
You will say, of course, that high school is high school. It's always been the most conformist society of our lives. What is different now is that increasing numbers of high-school students come from families and neighborhoods that barely exist. They live surrounded by an architecture of impersonality and a technology of solitude--Web pages screaming in silence for attention.
All last week, child psychologists dispensing sound bites spoke about ways to "identify" the kid who might mean big trouble. Listening to them, I remembered how, after Timothy J. McVeigh's arrest in the Oklahoma bombing, a newspaper reporter, talking to his high-school teachers, found that none of them could remember the boy.
As my Italian friend would say, you cannot become a true individual if you do not come from a "we." You merely end up a loner, looking for a tribe. The white-supremist dreams of a cabin on the edge of America, where he might be with his own kind. The street thug kills to prove that he is tough enough to earn his place in the gang. Now we know that there are borderlines in the middle-class high school as murderous as any in Kosovo.
Lost in the news from Colorado this week was an education story not unrelated. Theodore J. Forstmann, a Wall Street financier-billionaire, and John Walton, the Wal-Mart heir, who have promised low-income children scholarships to private or parochial schools, announced that they had received replies from more than a million families.
The rich, of course, long ago abandoned our public schools. Now the poor want out. For many poor families, the best hope for what we might call a "public" education may be private, religious schools. In spite of their theological tribalism, or maybe because of it, a student is grounded in a larger reality than his separate self, call it a faith.
After Littleton, the middle-class parent may well decide that the public-school library is too dangerous a place for her daughter or son. But the question for America is larger than the safety of any one of our children. The question, now, is whether or not Americans will be able to embrace the idea of a public life--our responsibility to all children--at a time when we feel so foreign to our own, sitting in front of their computer screens or playing in the basement.* - - -
Richard Rodriguez, an Editor at Pacific News Service, Is the Author of "Days of Obligation."
Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved
From: a parent
The Boston Globe article was excellent, focusing on gender differences. Let's th ink internationally as well. I grew up in the seventies in a European country wh ere we don't have jocks, don't have homecoming queens, don't have valedictorians, don't have senior proms, and don't have emphasis on sports. We also didn't have access to weapons and you still can't get a driver's license before the age of 1 8. It wasn't until I moved here that I realized how this combination might have ruled out a lot of potential injuries. What is this urge in the American culture to always glorify one individual as the best? Is that worth pushing 99% in the shadow and giving them the impression that being at the top is the only worthwhil e thing to do and the only way to find recognition? The winner takes it all - ev en in the political system. Why is there a jock culture and why is it so support ed and cocky? Because it is a money making industry?
Once we think globally and understand that things don't have to be this way, beca use they already aren't in other countries, maybe we can make some changes. My f avorite adopted saying is: Most unhappiness is caused by comparison. I live by that. It goes deep in many ways for males and females alike. And we got to get to the core in order to preserve it.
I've finally just got around to reading UCB Parents' The Colorado Tragedy, part 2", and I'd like to recommend a book, though I haven't actually read it (awful, eh?). I'm not sure how soon I'll have time to read it, but I'd really love to hear what members of this newsletter think of it, if you've managed to find the time. The reader reviews on Amazon.com are mostly extremely positive. Here's a bit from Amazon's official reviewer: "Reviving Ophelia, Mary Pipher's groundbreaking book, exposed the toxic environment faced by adolescent girls in our society. Now, from the same publisher, comes Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson, which does the same for adolescent boys. Boys suffer from a too-narrow definition of masculinity, the authors assert as they expose and discuss the relationship between vulnerability and developing sexuality, the "culture of cruelty" boys live in, the "tyranny of toughness," the disadvantages of being a boy in elementary school, how boys' emotional lives are squelched, and what we, as a society, can do about all this without turning "boys into girls." "Our premise is that boys will be better off if boys are better understood--and if they are encouraged to become more emotionally literate," the authors assert." Sounds good so far!
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