The Mean Little Column - "Class, and School Violence"

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Mean Little ManTwo school shootings in less than a week. The ghosts of Columbine refuse to rest, and still an answer has not yet been found. Since Klebold and Harris fatefully stalked the halls of their school ending students' and teachers' lives, a myriad of special interest groups have found a way to use school violence as their touchstone.

The cause is a culture that has too many guns. Or some would argue, too few.

A culture of cruelty is to blame. Or the parents. Or that simply the students were born to kill.

Nancy Gibbs wrote in Time March 19, 2001:

"Don't look for a pattern; by the time you find it, you will find a counterargument wrapped around it. Is it the absence of parents, the presence of guns, the cruelty of the culture, the culture of cruelty? School shootings are like plane crashes, rare but riveting for the primitive fears they evoke. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the executioners of Columbine, gave that fear a face: cold-blooded, calculating, seeking immortality, dancing with the devil. They gave our kids the awful shorthand: You're not going to do a Columbine? Williams' friends asked. They even frisked him that morning before school."

I see no insight in her observations. Her article is akin to throwing ones arms in the air and resigning there is no cause for students to lash out with lethal force against their community. This argument has lead a number of schools to single out students for dress, or attitude, or manner, that the administration has deemed a 'warning sign.' Racial profiling is considered unconstitutional, but this is not?

In many ways High School is not representative of the real world, and in others it is far too clear a reality. High School is a closed community that all teens by law are required to be a part of unless they are affluent enough to afford private school. It is the only time in many people's lives when socialization is not by choice. Smart, athletic, attractive, charismatic, awkward, or freakish. All are required to be together in the same setting. It may sound like the makings of a utopian construct of exchange and diversity.

But community pride and High School rivalries that are made in the classroom and not on the sports field are anomalies. There are arguments occurring at the state level across our country as to whether or not to allow the teaching of evolution, yet there are no debates regarding the separation of school and athletics. The grid iron is far more pious than Darwin, the hoop more enviable the Twain.

When was the last time a drama program was chosen over the baseball team when the budget got tight? Or any academic program? Shop included.

When was the last time the entire school got out of class for the chess team's pep rally?

Who are the old locals more likely to remember? The quarterback, or the valedictorian?

Community pride, especially in areas of the Midwest, the rust belt and the Bible belt, is greatly dependant on the performance of the football team. Many towns live and die by their boys. In Texas No Pass No Play laws were fought all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.

Community and Federal dollars run a school, pay the salaries of teachers, and pay for the supplies used by students. They also pay the salaries of coaches and for the upkeep of athletic fields.

Our educational institutions are often the focal for a town's pride through its athletic performance. What does that mean for the students that are not athletically inclined? They do not have institutional traditions that celebrate them; parades, pep rallies. Where are their cheerleaders? Where is their marching band? What message does this send them except that what they have to contribute is less valued by the school and community? That their refuge is in pursuits of the mind, which are embattled in the dumbing-down politics of religion versus science and the morality plays of book banning by right wing moralists.

Malcolm X stated that 'people will use the maximum amount of power afforded to them.' Guns are the maximum amount of power that one can have. In wielding one a person can threaten all that those around them has ever had, and all that they ever will.

A hundred years ago, during the time of the burgeoning industrial revolution and the slow fading of the wild west, disenfranchised youths often took to the gun. Ask Billy the Kid or the numerous 14 and 15 year old enlisted in the civil war what power the gun made them feel they had in the face of a nation that seemed to offer them little but subjugation?

As recently as 50 years ago graduating from High School was seen as a mark of achievement, not a right. Teens were saddled with the responsibility of entering the workforce for financial and social reasons.

So what we have, in the end of it all, is a society that has extended adolescence far past what it was not long ago. A High School degree of 25 years ago carried the same weight a college degree does now.

So we are forcing people who, as recently as 50 years ago, would be considered adults, to accept a cloistered social environment. This environment is considered an educational institution, but the communities have given far more weight to its athletic accomplishments, and far more celebration for those that can excel athletically. Crime and punishment in High Schools is dished out arbitrarily by the administration, not within a system of representation with checks and balances.

So if you're an unathletic person who feels persecuted or powerless in your environment can you move or change jobs? No. Do you have the right to speak out against your environment under the protection of the first amendment? No. Can you feel that you'll receive a fair and impartial trial?

But yet 5 days a week, 7 and ½ months a year, 7 hours a day you have to go there and make the best of it. Make the best of it when you know you'll never get the girl because you aren't tall, can't hit a lay-up or break a tackle. Make the best of it when you know that no classes will be cancelled for a pep rally to help kick off your coming endeavors. Make the best of it when all your frustrations of not being a nobody seem to have no end. Make the best of it when, day in and day out, you are reminded of your place on the food chain by those of social privilege.

When the teasing happens where do you turn? This is a social environment that rewards and celebrates physical achievement. Those unable to stop the bullying through physical means are damned to be prey.

Creating and enforcing rules against bullying will not solve the problem. If the community wants a football team so badly let them support it separate from school. Let the schools take the money for football helmets and buy up-to-date chemistry books.

Baseball and Hockey have a minor league system to hone the skills of the talented outside of the educational system. High school and college football and basketball are billion dollar enterprises. Football and basketball are the sports most schools, High School and College, and communities, live and die by.

70% of all the sexual assaults committed by participants in sports from high school age through adulthood, are committed by football and basketball players. Football accounts for 51%. Football and basketball are sports that have no minor leagues to separate themselves from the social constructs of our educational systems.

I argue this is because of a level of privilege these participants have enjoyed. Sexual assault is a violent act. These untouchables are committing not only sexual assault, but mental and physical violence against those in their scholastic societies that cannot physically defend themselves, or that have no recourse in the High School justice system. They are using the maximum amount of power afforded to them.

This article is not meant to attack athletes, or paint the unathletic or intelligent as victims. But throughout the incidents of school violence over the past few years a few patterns emerge: Those conducting the violence are regarded as unpopular, and their targets are the popular or the administration.

March 7 - Since Monday's shooting at Santana High School in Santee, Calif. there have been at least 12 reported acts of school violence or threats of violence. Here is a list of the incidents:

Williamsport, Pa. - One girl is arrested today after allegedly shooting a female classmate during lunch period at Bishop Neumann Junior-Senior High, a Roman Catholic School.

Fort Wayne, Ind. - The day of the shooting at Santana High School, police arrest an Elmhurst High School student after finding a semiautomatic handgun in his locker.

Covington, Wash. - Authorities arrest a Kentwood High School student for allegedly bringing a gun to the suburban Seattle school.

Twentynine Palms, Calif. - On Tuesday, two 17-year-old boys are arrested for allegedly planning to kill their classmates at Monument High School. Police recover an alleged hit list of 16 students and a .22-caliber rifle at one home.

Ontario, Calif. - Three Woodcrest Junior High School students are arrested for allegedly threatening to put a bomb under a teacher's desk. No bomb-making materials are found in their homes

Perris, Calif. - A teacher overhears an 18-year-old student at Perris High School talking about planning violence, and school authorities find a 4-inch knife in his backpack and recover two rifles and ammunition from his home.

In an unrelated incident, authorities apprehend a 14-year-old boy after he allegedly threatens an administrator as his mother tries to enroll him at the Perris Community Day School for troubled youth. The boy allegedly tells the administrator, "If you make me come here, I'll bring a gun and shoot the place up."

Wheatland, Calif. - A boy is arrested after allegedly threatening to bring a gun to school and start killing people. He is released after authorities determine he doesn't have access to weapons.

Camden, N.J. - A 15-year-old honor student is arrested after allegedly threatening to shoot members of his woodshop class.

Las Vegas, Nev. - A 17-year-old junior at Western High School is arrested for possession of an unregistered weapon on school property after he is seen carrying an assault pistol. The gun was never brought into the school.

Largo, Md. - Authorities today arrest a 14-year-old in Tuesday's shooting of a 17-year-old outside the entrance of Largo High School and charge him with attempted first degree murder. Neither the suspect nor the victim attended the school.

E-Mail - An 18-year-old girl living outside California is charged with assault for allegedly threatening a school administrator through e-mail, telling the official, "I will put you in so much pain that you will wish you were dead."

Hugs and Smooches!,
The Mean Little Man

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