Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The decay of discipline produced the Columbine massacre

William Dean Howells observed that at the theater Americans want a tragedy with a happy ending. But in life we are made of sterner stuff and demand from tragedy only this: a lesson.

That the mass killing at Columbine High School a decade ago -- it was on April 20, 1999, that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 13 and wounded 23 -- could offer us more than sorrow and outrage has been an article of faith since the nation first learned of the crime. The exact lesson, however, has proved elusive, and the search has seemed obdurately focused on the obscure or the strange: the trenchcoats; the question of social isolation; the possibility that jocks and cheerleaders might be so nasty to an outsider that they could render him into a sociopath.

Apparently, the thing to do was to look not at the largest questions posed by the incident but rather at its particulars and to adopt a "zero tolerance" policy toward any behavior that seemed to mimic them. The result was a longish, culturally embarrassing interlude when kindergartners could get tossed out of school for bringing a nail clipper in a backpack. We began to look like a nation of adults who were terrified of our smallest children.

The one aspect of Columbine that seemed unworthy of examination -- when it came to pondering the policy changes that might actually make American schools safer places -- was the fact that the two killers had a long track record of doing exactly what deeply disturbed teenage boys have been doing since time out of mind: getting in trouble -- lots of it -- with authority.

Ten months before their shooting spree, Harris and Klebold were charged and convicted of stealing tools from a parked van. They were sentenced to a "juvenile diversion" program, which was intended -- by dint of counseling, classes, and the coordinated efforts of school administrators, social workers and police officers -- to keep the boys out of the criminal-justice system. According to the records of that experience, Harris reported having homicidal feelings, obsessive thoughts and a temper. Both boys were placed in anger management, although -- strangely, given Klebold's history of alcohol use and his submission of a dilute urine sample to his minders -- they were excused from the substance-abuse class.

Back at school (which they attended throughout their enrollment in the juvenile-diversion program), they smoked cigarettes in the hollow behind campus, cut classes and blew off schoolwork. According to Dave Cullen's new book, "Columbine," when Klebold carved obscenities into a freshman's locker and was confronted by a dean, "Dylan went ballistic. He cussed him out, bounced off the walls, acted like a nutcase." Both boys also picked on younger children and got into fights.

All of this was in addition, of course, to the notorious AOL postings in which the boys laid their murderous plans bare. Those postings were the basis of the affidavit that the Jefferson County district attorney compiled for a search warrant of the boys' houses. Lacking enough evidence to present it to a judge, however, the affidavit was not acted upon, and the thugs moved closer and closer to their goal. There was a time when boys like these would have been labeled "juvenile delinquents" and removed from the society and company of good kids, whose rights were understood to supersede those of known offenders against the law. It was once believed that good kids should be neither endangered nor influenced by criminals-in-training.

At the turn of the last century, the U.S. -- a nation of laws, of course, and a nation with an ever-evolving sense of sympathy for children and teenagers -- decided that sending youthful offenders to adult prison was a grotesque form of punishment, and so were born the juvenile code and the juvenile court system. With these innovations came something that was still talked about in tones of dread and excitement when I was a girl in the 1960s and '70s. "He's going to end up in reform school," we would say of a bully or a fighter, some luckless child of a rotten drunk or a mean single mother. One way or another, it came to pass: Boys disappeared and were not missed.

Due process? Who knew, who cared? All we knew was that the funny-looking, heavy-set boy who used to smash kids' heads into the porcelain backsplash at the drinking fountain of Cragmont School was no more a menace in our lives.

Harsh fate that would send a boy away for no greater crime than the accident of his birth! Homeward the course of juvenile justice went, reinventing the system in yet another iteration, the one in which Harris and Klebold were allowed to stay put in their own houses and at Columbine, during the very time that they were not only committing petty thefts and cursing out their teachers but also communicating openly about their plans for mayhem.

Today only the most incorrigible young offenders are removed from their guardians' care and forced to live and study in correctional facilities. Furthermore, to expel a student in most public school districts is an arduous business. An expulsion hearing is required, and parents may choose to appeal the decision, a process that rains down a world of legal woe on whatever teachers and administrators have been involved in the action. Many expulsions, moreover, constitute a strange reinterpretation of the very word: They are time-limited and include within them plans for re-enrollment.

It is, of course, the responsibility of the state to provide some sort of education to all its children under the age of 18, and so for a host of legal, moral and economic reasons we end up with an ugly truth about our nation's schools: By design, they contain within them -- right alongside the good kids who are getting an education and running the yearbook and student government -- kids whose criminal rehabilitation is supposedly being conducted simultaneously with their academic instruction.

As someone who taught school for a decade and who has now been a mother for about as long, I can tell you that -- when it comes to children -- the rigid exercise of "due process" in matters of correction and discipline makes for high comedy at best and shared tragedy at worst. Someone needs to stand apart from children and decide what is best for them and for those around them. When it comes to matters of state-ordered punishment, someone needs to stand apart from their parents, too, and make the necessary decisions. It's a complete bummer; I will grant you that.

Who would possibly be willing to side not with the students of an institution -- those fun-loving creatures of the now -- but with the institution itself, a place ostensibly devoted, above all else, to the well-being of its population? I'll tell you who: adults. Remember them?

In my teaching days, no single document shaped my thinking as much as Flannery O'Connor's 1963 essay called "Total Effect and the Eighth Grade." It concerned neither guns nor violence, neither cliques nor experimental approaches to the treatment of adolescent depression. It was about . . . books. In defending the teaching of the great works of the Western canon rather than those of the modern day (which kids far preferred), she said something wise, the sort of thing an adult might say. She said that the whims and preferences of children should always, always be sublimated to the sense and judgment of their elders.

"And what if the student finds this is not to his taste?" O'Connor asked. "Well that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed."


Britain. The working class children betrayed by Labour: Bad schools NOT class bias to blame for thousands missing university

Bright children from poor homes are failing to get into university because of under-performing state schools and not class bias. That is the finding of a major study, covering hundreds of thousands of children, by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Pupils at struggling comprehensives are getting such low grades they are simply not equipped for degree-level studies, it revealed.

It was one of three studies published yesterday which together painted a picture of a 'lost generation' betrayed by Labour. Government figures showed the number of Neets - teenage dropouts who are not in employment, education or training - has soared to record levels.

Meanwhile, a report by York university found that British children are among the worst-off in Europe in terms of health, wealth and happiness. The study by the IFS - conducted jointly with another research body, the Institute of Education - blows apart ministers' claims that 'elitist' universities are snubbing youngsters from less privileged backgrounds. Gordon Brown and education ministers Ed Balls and John Denham have put universities under intense pressure to widen the class mix of students by reforming the admissions process and spending millions on 'outreach' work in schools.

In a recent speech, Mr Denham called on top universities to 'address fair access effectively, or their student population will remain skewed'. He has also accused them of 'social bias' and 'failing to attract' talent from across all sections of society.

However, the IFS research, which will be presented this week at the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society, throws the blame for the university class divide squarely on to ministers' failure to tackle poor-quality schooling. It will also fuel the belief that the abolition of most grammar schools since the 1960s has closed off an important route to university for bright children from poor homes.

The study, which involved tracking more than 500,000 state school students, revealed that the gulf between the university haves and have-nots has its roots in the school system. 'It comes about because poorer pupils do not achieve as highly in secondary school,' the research said. Grade for grade, pupils from low income backgrounds stand virtually the same chance of getting into university as their wealthier peers, according to the study. The problem was partly that poorer pupils were more likely to attend under-performing schools, it said.

The report added: 'At least part of the explanation for the relatively low achievement of disadvantaged children in secondary school is likely to be rooted in school quality.' The latest findings also undermine Mr Denham's claim that 'social bias' by universities plays a part in their selection process. Pupils from poorer backgrounds are just as likely to get into the most selective universities as middle-class peers, after taking into account their A-level grades, the study found.

The report said initiatives aimed at dispelling a 'university is not for people like us' attitude must begin much earlier, perhaps in primaries. Drives at sixth-form level - the focus of much taxpayer-funded activity - 'will not tackle the more major problem... namely, the underachievement of disadvantaged pupils in secondary schools'.

The findings were released as it emerged that 11 prestigious universities - including Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle - have launched a scheme to consider working-class school-leavers who would normally be rejected outright because of their predicted A-level grades. Critics have warned that the initiative could become a 'charter for bad schools'.

The Tories said the denial of opportunities to poor children was a ' scandal' and accused ministers of attacking universities instead of tackling failures in the school system. Admissions tutors said the research showed the real barrier to top universities was England's 'uneven' education system and the link between children's prospects and their social background.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: 'Over the past five years the attainment gap between those children eligible for free school meals and those who aren't has narrowed and the results for these children are rising faster than the average, but we know there is still more to do. 'That is why we have invested more than £21billion in child care and the early years since 1997, so that poor children get better chances in early life. We are also massively expanding one-to- one tuition for children falling behind in English and maths.'


Anarchy in UNC

by Mike Adams

Last week, I was away speaking at Michigan State University. While I was gone, my inbox filled with requests that I write about the recent disruption of Tom Tancredo’s speech at UNC-Chapel Hill. I am pleased to do so. As a professor in the UNC system, I’m also pleased to explain why this embarrassing incident occurred.

If one is to understand the Tancredo incident one must be familiar with ten rules that apply to free speech and to other rights in the UNC system. One must also understand the origin of at least some of these ten rules. Once one is properly educated in these rules, it becomes obvious that Tom Tancredo is not a victim in any sense of the word. In fact, it is Tancredo, not the protestors, who should be embarrassed.

1. Groups, not individuals, possess rights. Many observers are confused into thinking that Tom Tancredo’s constitutional rights were violated last week in Chapel Hill. This is based on the antiquated notion that free speech is an individual right. Because our Founding Fathers owned slaves (read: violated individual rights) those rights have now been transferred from individuals to groups.

2. The rights of any given group are determined by the extent of historical oppression the group has suffered. Obviously, as a group, African-Americans now have rights because of slavery. Illegal aliens also have rights, as a group, because the conditions that caused them to become “illegal” were oppressive.

3. Oppression need not have occurred in this country to produce rights in this country. Some will note that the oppression that produced illegal immigration occurred in another country implying that this does not create any rights here in this country. This criticism assumes the legitimacy of the term “countries,” which like the term “laws” is suspect. It should also be noted that prior to any discussion of how to patrol our border, the term “border” is designated as oppressive. This helps us to think globally.

4. Jews are exempt from rule #3. Jews have suffered a lot throughout history. But most of that suffering occurred in other countries. Since the Jews now control so much of America and probably planned 911 there is no need to grant them unnecessary rights.

5. Rights do not compel responsibility. The notion of responsibility is antithetical to the notion of collectivism. Notions of responsibility help to advance capitalism, which help to advance oppression. In other words, it is irresponsible to advance responsibility because it is responsible for a lot of group oppression.

6. Whites may establish rights temporarily by acting as spokespersons for oppressed groups. The fact that most of the people protesting Tancredo were, like Tancredo, whites in the country legally, is irrelevant. They had free speech rights because they were speaking up for the oppressed. Tancredo did not because he was speaking out against the oppressed and, hence, advancing oppression.

7. Oppressed groups need not give consent to their spokespersons. White liberals always know what is best for minorities who do not always know what is best for them.

8. Vandalism is a permissible form of expression. Jonathan Curtis, a UNC administrator, aided and abetted the theft of the conservative Carolina Review in 1996. He went unpunished. Since then, the administration has been reluctant to suggest that lawlessness is illegal. Lawlessness can be a good way of showing how laws are oppressive. This includes pounding on windows and shattering glass while people are trying to speak.

9. An effect may precede its cause. The protestors claimed that the Tancredo incident was the fault of the police who sprayed pepper spray to disperse the crowd. It should not matter that the disruption happened first. These kids have taken sociology courses where they are taught that labeling someone “delinquent” causes delinquency. They have taken education courses where they are taught that labeling someone as “slow” causes bad grades. These assertions are not backed up by longitudinal studies that can separate cause and effect. That would constitute “evidence” and evidence is oppressive. In fact, the videotape of the protestors smashing a window is oppressive.

10. The law is an instrument of oppression and criminality is a form of expression. Tom Tancredo supports the enforcement of the law. He is an oppressor. The protestors were breaking the law as a form of expression. In the same way, illegal immigration is a form of expression protected by the First Amendment and unaffected by antiquated notions like “citizenship.” Citizenship is oppressive.

Now that you have heard the rules and know something of their origin you may decide to sympathize with the protestors. Or you may decide that I’ve been right about what I’ve been saying in this column for the last six years. And why I often feel like an alien in a strange land speaking a language no one understands.


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