Saturday, October 29, 2005

Another Colorado Column

©1999 Harrison Information Systems
May 1, 1999

No matter how horrific the crime, every crime has three fundamentals: means, motive, and opportunity. The Colorado murders are no exception, and, of course, everyone is reacting, trying to find a way to stop school violence. As a society we have focused on two elements of school crime and basically ignored the third.

Gun control, naturally, is the first reaction, but, like so many other rights, privileges, and traditions, that "cure" has remained elusive, and it is questionable whether rigid gun control would, in fact, succeed in lowering violent deaths. Weapons can be found everywhere, though logic must bow to the argument that the death toll in the Colorado rampage would have been much less if the attacks were carried with fists and knives. Keep in mind that the Oklahoma bombings resulted from diesel fuel and fertilizer.

Schools across the nation have instituted all sorts of security precautions at various levels. From metal detectors to armed guards, some schools now resemble prisons more than houses of democracy and learning. School officials have likewise reacted with a variety of "get tough" school policies. It seems that every time state legislatures get together someone is cooking-up some new idea that restricts the freedom of both students and employees. Just as you can get tough with criminals to the point that half of the population is locked-up and the other half is guarding the criminals, society can pose stifling rules and regulations on schools to the point that education just doesn't occur and teachers become only guards.

More adult abuse and domineering of innocent school children is not the answer.

Well, that leaves motive to deal with. Again, the knee-jerk reaction is not answer. Trying to abridge First Amendment freedoms for the 90% plus part of the American population that is not dangerous is not the answer. Too much sex and violence on TV? That caused the murders? (I remember when comic books caught the blame for society's ills.)

Certainly unstable people can be made more unstable by the media, but, again, most people do not watch television, see violence, then go out and kill people. If that were the case, then the news from Europe would have be discontinued, too. No, we've been down that road and that doesn't solve the problem either. Another solution exists, but it is neither quick nor cheap, which probably rules it out of consideration from the power-elite.

The solution is intervention. Like any other special needs group, children with violent tendencies can be identified. Children who are alone and alienated can be identified. Children who are the object of ridicule and abuse by classmates can be identified. If a problem can be spotted, then it is possible to either solve the problem or at least lessen the consequences. No, I'm not talking about a "special class" labeled "future criminals." Nor am I talking about a 30-minute once-a-month session with a school counselor. I'll leave the "treatment" angles to the professionals. Again, not cheap, but can we afford not to?

If that idea is too far-fetched, like a lunar landing, perhaps, there is something else each and every one of us can do: oppose school consolidation. Two troubled kids in a 500-student school can be included; they stand a good chance of finding some positive school involvement: sports, band, clubs, etc. Two kids being tormented in a small school quickly draws the attention of teachers and administrators. Two kids in a 3000 student school stand little chance of even being noticed or becoming involved in an "official" school activity. The competition is too intense to avoid athletic cuts, the cliques too large and powerful to allow the "uncool" entrance. The truly dark side of large schools emerges when two troubled kids are multiplied by 10 or 20 or 30 and they gravitate to each other. Now, instead of two, twenty or thirty troubled kids hang together, feeding off each other’s pain, and eventually, serious trouble emerges. The psychology of the group takes hold. Small schools can solve some of the problems if for no other reason than offering more opportunity to be noticed. What if the two Colorado students had been in the school play? Would they have still gone forward with their deadly plans? Would they even have considered such a plan?

Maybe it is time to quit worrying about cutting taxes and schools to the bone. Yes, it is more tax efficient to have large schools with every room crammed to the ceiling with students. Yes, the large schools can offer more diverse programs. But how many lives must be sacrificed for efficiency? Maybe it is time to quit warehousing children in huge industrial complexes. Let’s make the schools communities, not industries, and not businesses. Maybe it is time to stop bussing children for hours all over creation to these monolithic institutions. Maybe it is time for the smalling of America. Make the schools small. Make the rewards large.


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