Don’t shoot

By Tyler Vincent

America’s youth are in big trouble.

And this trouble is not rooted in the tradition elements cited by societal elders, such as premarital sex, drugs and rap ‘n’ roll. No, this battle is not over the polluting of minds but the saving of lives.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the shift in the point of public schools in America. In diverse places such as Portland, Ore., Jonestown, Ark., and Littleton, Colo., the “three Rs of education” are reading, writing and rounds of ammunition, as more and more disaffected and harassed youth are coming to school packing heat.

And now you can add Santee, Calif., Gary, Ind., and El Cajon, Calif., to the list, with many more schools becoming unnerved by catching would-be killers, or finding guns and “kill lists” among their students’ populous.

The modern era of school shootings began on Feb. 2, 1996 when 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis, a student in Moses Lake, Wash., took a hunting rifle into to his algebra class and murdered a teacher and two students. There were seven different instances of school shootings between 1997 and 1998. But the school shooting at Columbine High School served as crucial point in societal attention on the issue.

The media decried the event. Books were written by survivors of the event. School shootings were no longer regarded as a series of freak incidents but a disturbing trend.

The single most horrifying element in the aftermath of Columbine is that it made murder a possibility for outcasts. When Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris marched into their school that fateful April morning, killing classmates graduated from a sick fantasy to a feasible option in striking back at those who torment them.

The ultimate root of the school shooting problem lies in the traditional story of bullies and tormentors.

Consider general outline for the students who are driven to such brutality is eerily similar. They are usually outcasts who are mercilessly picked on by classmates either for their look, their actions or their dress.

But the saga of the pickers and the picked-on is as old as when humans first entered school. They were present in the first days of kindergarten. They were there in the days leading up to graduation. They were present in the days of our parents, and we remember them from our days in the public school system.

There are no new trends in the bullying demographic.

So what else is happening?

A number of things & the first being the new societal emphasis on materialism. Never before in the history of our culture has so much emphasis been placed on having, as opposed to not having. Media outlets pummel us with images of designer clothing, excessive automobiles, hip CDs, not to mention the commercials advertising the bigger and better soft drink.

The effects of these messages become apparent when they hit the high school level: the popular kids own these things, or express a strong desire to do so, while the unpopular do not or cannot ascribe to this aesthetic. Thus the pattern of bullying is ripe to begin.

Society also has gotten more violent and narcissistic. Limp Bizkit singer Fred Durst summed up the attitude of our generation in his address to the Woodstock ‘99 crowd, when he said, “Let out all your negative energy.”

This is not to say the arts have a direct influence over the thoughts of a generation. The arts can only serve as a mere reflection of those thoughts. But the comments of Durst show the attitude of the current set: “Life sucks. Screw everyone. Let’s break things.”

This attitude is not lost on those who are being harassed.

Solutions? Some have been suggested. Peer counselors. Banning guns. Metal detectors in the schools.

But the only real, and ultimate, solution to the problem is the only one that is unattainable. It requires those in the position of doing the picking to show a little kindness and tone down the harassment toward the students they pick on.

It requires them to look beyond the look, the clothing and the behavior and see the victim as a fellow student on equal standing.

It is not going to happen.

There will always be those who will pick and those who will be picked on. It’s the American way. Those who have the finer things in life will prey on those who do not in the secondary levels.

To suggest anything different would mean the traditional ways we judge another (looks, appearance, actions) would have to be thrown out the window.

Since we all know this is not going to happen, we will have to prepare.

We will have to make sure our kids know they might not make it home from school, and we will have make sure they go to school with their shoelaces tied, their hair combed straight and their bullet-proof vest secured.