Berkeley Parents Network
Google Custom Search
Home Members Post a Msg Reviews Advice Subscribe Help/FAQ What's New

Discussion: the Littleton, Colorado Tragedy

Advice, discussions, and reviews from the Parents of Teens weekly email newsletter.

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults > Discussion: the Littleton, Colorado Tragedy

1. From Glenn: "Teasing & Cruelty in School" and a letter from Ralph Nader about the culpability of corporate greed
2. From Ginger: "Geek profiling" a panicked hunt for the oddballs in High School
3. From Soheila: A petition for gun control
4. Jon Carroll: "More Thoughts on Colorado" (reprinted with permission; copyright 1999 San Francisco Chronicle )
5. From Kay: "We are all responsible"
6. From a parent: "Intelligent oddballs and Jock terrorism"
7. From Anita: "It starts in the home !"
8. From Mary Carol: Caring adult involvement makes a difference
9. From Deborah: a smaller school might be better, and a petition for teaching non-violence in the schools
10. From Linda: Conformity and the Suburbs
11. Article about "Boys and Violence" from the Boston Globe forwarded by Christina
12. From Cecilia: Schools = Prisons?
13. Richard Rodriguez: "The Unmentioned Victim at Columbine High School" Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times
14. From: a parent

15. From: Leah: 2 book recommendations

From: Glenn
Date: Fri, 30 Apr 1999

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

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
 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.

From: Ginger (5/99)

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:  "News for Nerds.  Stuff that Matters"


  ``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

"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.


From: Soheila

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.

From: Sherry

I liked John Carroll again today and thought I would pass it on.

More Thoughts On Colorado 
       Wednesday, May 5, 1999 
       (c)1999 San Francisco Chronicle 
       Copyright San Francisco Chronicle, Used by Permission


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

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

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

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

Give me land, lots of land, under starry ... 

From: a mom (5/99)

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.
From: Kay

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
How many times have we flipped off or cursed someone who cut us off in
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.

From: a parent

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.

From: Anita

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 - "Train up 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.

From: Deborah

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

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.

. . .

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

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 to sign.

From: Linda

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 

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  

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  

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  

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  

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  

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.

From: Cecilia

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

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

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

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.

From: Leah

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 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!

Home   |   Post a Message  |   Subscribe  |   Help   |   Search  |   Contact Us    

this page was last updated: Mar 31, 2004

BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are transitioning to a new website:

The opinions and statements expressed on this website are those of parents who subscribe to the Berkeley Parents Network.
Please see Disclaimer & Usage for information about using content on this website.    Copyright © 1996-2015 Berkeley Parents Network