Our Killing Schools
(on the killings in American schools in the 90s)
Please forward to Professor C. Bradley Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Dear Professor C. Bradley Thompson.
A chain of friends of mine forwarded your article on "Our Killing Schools", and since I find it very much to the point, I’d like to offer my thanks and add a few brief comments:
I fully agree that American schools spawn aggression through their very nature of “action and reaction”. Please let me share my background: I was a Fulbright exchange teacher to the US myself, and in addition to this, all of my four children have experienced first hand the differences between American and Danish high schools. We all went to different schools throughout the US.
I agree that although there can be little doubt that the numerous examples of shoot-outs in American history (perpetuated in Hollywood) are bound to spawn copying, the American society and the school system itself is guilty of the school massacres which are thus self-inflicted rather than “senseless” or “mindless”.
In short, the American school system of discipline breeds reaction, the keywords being “mistrust” and “suppression”. The prison-like measures taken to safeguard schools today were also present ten years ago, only not so conspicuous, and it’s no wonder children hate school if they are constantly being put down by teachers who resort to authority rather than reason.
But unlike you, I feel that the root of the problem goes deeper than schools and leniency. An example in point: after the shooting in Littleton, Colorado, President Clinton commented, "We must teach our children to act out their conflicts verbally, not violently" - note: while he was speaking, bombs were exploding over Serbia!!!
I fear the issues here are attitudes and mentality. If a society focuses on winners - such as track stars and homecoming queens, captains of football teams and debate clubs, popularity contests, cheerleaders, the most likely to succeed, etc. - there’s bound to be losers, scores of losers who are taught to feel doomed if they don't make it to the top and who are thus susceptible to taking out their frustrations on others, or - more preferably but still significant of the problem - trying to find a “niche” in which to succeed.
Why do (many) Americans ask: What is you favorite food? Who is you favorite player? Which character in the book do you like the most? if not because it’s an integral part of American thinking? Even the music charts are divided into subgroups to produce more winners.
I can easily imagine a group of American young people who try to fight their frustrations by being willfully "different" by wearing odd clothing and taking an interest in marginal things like the German language or subculture German rock music. The problem is that by doing so, they are also driven closer to extremist views offered by the political right (neo-Nazis) and may thus accept and adopt views that were not originally ‘intended’, but are part of the package they’re buying.
If we are to teach such groups of “misfits” to act sociably, I feel we are up against an attitude shared by many Americans: that of being #1 regardless of the costs - in business, sports, the academic world…, the “hero” is the one to be.
Consider stock phrases in everyday language like “Kill the bastards”, or “Nuke em” to see this attitude to winning at all costs reflected. Add to this a disrespect for life, especially so since an unsuccessful life or a life turned bad isn’t worth living (the movie fiction of “Thelma and Louise” or “Convoy” are just two modern examples of old American myths).
Also Scandinavia has a high rate of suicides, but for quite different reasons; and what’s more: the general mentality here doesn’t breed the kind of hatred found in America. Thus suicidal Scandinavians don’t include others when they decide to go. Even South European "hot spurs" don’t go postal to the extent seen in America.
So, I’m afraid that until you uproot the American perception of success in terms of being #1 and start focusing on other, more modest values to live by, you will always be facing the problem of frustrated, violent losers.