Monday, September 29, 2014

The K-12 Killing Fields

“School shooting” -- a term that appears more and more often in the headlines, almost to the point where we're tempted to say “Ho hum, another one, hope it's nowhere around here [quick check of location], things are going to hell, etc. What's for dinner?” Yes, even this – unheard of in any past era – has become almost expected, like some sort of seasonal natural phenomenon. And we get the usual hand-wringing and pointless babbling, all of which reflects an attitude of victimhood and helplessness, and a refusal to delve into the real causes. The only question that is consistently asked is the wrong one, namely: What is wrong with “our society” that “allows such things to happen” by refusing to confiscate everyone's guns? But even that is usually drowned in a sea of “grief counseling”, “healing”, “moving on”, and teddy bears.

Now, I don't mean to sound cynical; after all, tragedy is tragedy, and it happens to individuals, not groups or societies. But to remain on a superficial level and not ask the hard questions is to, basically, give up on finding answers and on really doing anything about the problem.

The most obvious question, which is begged over and over again, is this: Why schools? And, more specifically, why public schools? When's the last time you heard of a shooting at a private, Catholic, or Christian (i.e. Evangelical) school? I can't think of a single instance. Naturally enough, most of the perpetrators are themselves students (in the school in question or one nearby), though there are some exceptions. But ease of access is not enough to explain the statistics – nor is the fact that the public schools have a much larger enrollment than all other types combined. It has to be – it seems to me – something about public schools per se that invite this sort of... let's call it “rage” (and rage, as we all know (or ought to) is most commonly a result of helplessness and frustration). The shootings are typically planned, sometimes far in advance... preparations are impressively complete at times, although an escape plan is seldom included since – also typically – the perpetrator has pretty much planned to be killed in the process – to be, in effect, a martyr to his own ambiguous cause. And they all have reasons, and those reasons typically have to do with bullying, or at least having been a “loner”, albeit usually a fairly intelligent one. “Over-sensitivity” -- on the opposite end of the scale from being a bully, I suppose – is an almost inevitable trait, along with being somewhere on the Asperger's scale.

And yet the victims seem, most of the time, to be chosen at random; they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. In other words, the perpetrator does not seek out the bullies who've been persecuting him, instead blaming the student body as a whole for, I suppose, having an “atmosphere” of bullying and intolerance (the way so many sectors of our society allegedly have an “atmosphere” of racism or sexism, even if there is no tangible evidence). There are, after all, in society at large, bullies and those who aren't bullied but who tacitly go along with bullying, i.e. either approve or don't object. (This is a phenomenon frequently discussed when the topic of Nazi Germany comes up, for example. The “silent majority” -- the great, gray middle – may not commit crimes, but they are silent in the face of crime, preferring to protect their own interests rather than “get involved”.)

But are the schools themselves bullies and persecutors? Don't they exist primarily to teach the “3 R's?” Well, no – not in our time. It's no accident that the video of Pink Floyd's song “Another Brick in the Wall” showed a parade of schoolchildren in grotesque masks filing through a dark factory and then plunging into a giant hopper – all to the tune of “we don't need no thought control”. Preparation for good citizenry is less about tangible subject matter than about attitudes and feelings – and public school teachers identify themselves as “agents of change” (and proud of it).

So perhaps the question should be not only what the public schools do on an ordinary, daily basis, but what they represent or symbolize – especially to people who prefer to “connect the dots” rather than drown their sorrows in sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll (or team sports). The school shooters may have diseased minds and twisted thought processes, but they at least get this much right: The public schools represent the Regime... “the man”... the system... and what used to be called the “establishment” before the people who used that term became the establishment. The public schools are rightly seen – and not just by the deranged – as the cutting edge of society's campaign against true freedom, true liberty, and true individuality. They are a key component of the propaganda apparatus, and the first one the average citizen is likely to encounter (unless they overdose on PBS while still toddlers). And for the “normal” among us, they are no threat, because we have already -- by the time we enter that gaping door on the first day of kindergarten – been sufficiently softened up; we have become little authoritarians. We are unlikely to rebel, except for a few pathetic gestures in early adolescence; and, most importantly of all, we are unlikely to ever question the basic premises upon which our system (political, economic, social) is based. The outlier, however, has little if anything to lose by questioning the party line... by wondering whether we all live in the “matrix”. They value their own individuality, flawed as it may be, over group identity; they are unlikely to ever become political animals or “good citizens”. And yes, the system is designed to tolerate (if not encourage) a certain small percentage of outliers; they act as a safety valve, and mostly as an example the Regime can point to and say (to all the others), “Now you don't want to be like that guy, do you? A geek, a loser, a disruptive influence? No, of course not. Now drink your Kool-Aid and be quiet.”

But then a small percentage of these alienated types – the truly wretched souls – get it into their heads that the only way to express their rage against the machine is to kill off some of its other victims, albeit the willing ones. And like terrorism, their act doesn't teach anyone anything (although it should); it just increases the sum total of fear, alienation, and insecurity in the community. And they (the perps) might say, well fine, I'm showing these people how things really are. Maybe on some level that's true, but who will argue that the lesson is worth the price?

Now don't get me wrong; it's still their fault. You can't water down evil by ascribing it to a group, or a race, or “historical grievances”. And frankly, I've never had much regard for the “insanity defense”. Doesn't it implicitly assume that most murders are committed by sane people? And can that possibly be true? I would say it's false by definition. But having said that, there are certainly environmental factors contributing to violent acts; very few are completely random. And what sort of environment have we created in our time? One where the individual feels increasingly helpless and exploited, so tries to assert himself through risk-taking and “extreme” activities, clothes, tattoos, piercings, and other lifestyle choices – anything to show that he still has some small measure of control over his own existence. (And if you want a veritable fashion show of extreme looks, seek no further than the nearest public high school.) What I'm saying is that when you have a society that exerts control over every aspect of life... that attempts to eliminate all sources of danger or hurt feelings... you're going to get a reaction. The human organism is not programmed to accept, and be grateful for, a completely stress-free existence; we crave danger and risk, and when we don't get it in the normal course of things we create it – and by doing so we, and others, may become victims.

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