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Voices From The Hellmouth Revisited: Part Eight 6

Here is the eighth part in our continuing reprint of the columns Jon Katz wrote following the killings at Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado. Below are more of the many charged comments that the story drew.

"I grieve for the dead in Colorado and for their families. It could have been me! (Either the shooters and the shot) And it could be my children dead, should I choose to send my children to an American high school some day. I am eternally grateful that I have not experienced high school in the United States of America, having moved to Denmark before then. I've wondered though: would I have been a jock or a nerd, a geek or something else? That's not to say there are no such groupings in this (dare I say more civilized?) country, institutions, such as football teams and cheerleading groups, do simply not solidify them. We don't have them. We have gym class, where I was forced to guard the goal when we played soccer. Had to participate, though I would rather have read Heinlein. Makes me a nerd I guess?" "It is not the disorganized effects of all things odd that make people like the shooters go crazy. It's the well-organized institutions, creating outsiders from free thinkers, rejects from rebels. Whatever happened to "The Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave?" Are there enough free thinkers at any high school to start a rally? Write up some signs, have a demonstration. Don't forget those old stooges sitting on school boards probably have been out demonstrating for free hash in their youth. Demonstrate for free thought!"---R.R. (Original Comment #1)

"I don't think that many would disagree with you that these kids were not merely geeks, nerds or outcasts that played Quake. There was something sick about these kids and Quake and the Internet ain't it. But that's not the point. The point is, that kids who are outcasts already in school are now subject to a whole new level of persecution and exclusion as a result of these killings and the media creating the Geek Profile. Here in Ohio, everyday there are new stories about kids that are suspended, expelled, and/or arrested for saying something as innocent as "I understand how this could happen" or wearing trench coats. It's ludicrous. Everyone is now on the hunt for kids that are outcasts. They were before this happened, but now it is a whole new dangerous level. This is the tragedy that we are talking about today. I hated school. I did excellent in school. I am so thankful that I am out of there. No one is comfortable in school. Everyone is looking to point out other's flaws to conceal their own. When I got out of school, I left my little po-dunk town to go to the city to go to college (a freaks paradise!). I loved it and never returned. I am so glad that I'm not there anymore and feel horribly for those there now that are getting pushed more into the dark and made to feel even smaller. For those in this situation now...just make it gets better. Go somewhere where there are fellow freaks and it gets way better."---D. (Original Comment #2)

"Maybe you could give me something convincing to prove that these kids were "obsessed" with Hitler. Ironically, the only ones that have maintained these were racist Nazis were those who taunted them mercilessly. Their friends have spoken to the media and denied the allegations. The media keeps repeating allegations that they spoke German to each other, or wore t-shirts with German writing on them. I knew many, many people who fit that description in high school (mostly German industrial music fans), and none of them were racist neo-Nazis. As far as the selection of the date as Hitler's birthday, I still consider that bullshit until I see convincing evidence from the sheriff. He's come out and announced information from a document (the diary) he has no doubt not even seen or examined in detail. Yes, 4/20 is Hitler's birthday. 4:20 is also a euphemism for smoking pot and all things pot related. Considering the context of a suburban high school, I'd imagine the pot connection is closer to the truth. I think they fit the profile here to a "T". They just lost all hope and perspective on their lives, and finally lost their humanity, which had been taken from them by force on a frequent basis by those who tortured and emotionally abused them."---H. (Original Comment #3)

"The shooting in Colorado is a reflection of the skewed values in the United States. These values are magnified in the closed system of the high school. What can we expect when American society emphasizes career and sports, but marginalizes cultural activities such as going to the museum, listening to classical music, or reading a book? I work at a university, which disallows towing illegally parked cars during football games. Sports teams have tons of money while departments such as English and anthropology are provided with little more than heating and air conditioning. These values are really messed up. It doesn't have to be that way. My last two years of high school were spent at a public boarding school, which emphasized education first and foremost above everything else (The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics). We still had jocks and rich kids, but the social structure was not as severe. All groups - sports, cheerleading, etc. - were clubs. There were no try-outs. Everyone who wanted to join was allowed to do so with no exclusions. You could get a pin for your club to put on a letter jacket. Letter jackets were available for purchase by anyone from the student store. Such a school is probably not the ideal solution for the United States, but the over-emphasis on money and jocks has to end. The brief time I lived in Germany people had careers. Several played sports. But many people were equally interested in what books you read, what art exhibitions you visited, or what music you listened to."---M.M. (Original Comment #4)

"I'm not sure where to start, but here goes. First, as regards those who are being mistreated in school as a result of this, the administrators are not your friends. Accept this. When you find this isn't true in the case of one individual or group of individuals (rare, but happens), treat them accordingly, but remember that they're there to make things rum smoothly. If they can lower their workload by walking all over you, most will do it without hesitation. Expect it. So what to do? You people are supposed to be smart. God or nature may not have given you beauty or strength, but one of the premises here is that you have brains. Use them. The letters to Katz show several lawsuits waiting to happen. Be aware that you don't have to file them (I never did). Go to the library. Read the relevant areas of the Constitution. Find some court cases that set precedents that favor your position. When Joe Administrator tries to force you into counseling for speaking your mind, lay it on him calmly, cooly, and with confidence. He will turn tail and hide." "And if this doesn't work? Pick up a pen. "The pen is mightier than the sword" is an old cliché, but it's true. If you know how to use it."

"When my school implemented a draconian dress code (for no real reason that anyone could ascertain; the vice principal just decided to do it) I wrote a long editorial for the school newspaper. I pointed out the flaws in the reasons given for each specific rule. I did not call names. I did not use inflammatory language. I did use humor. I did cite legal angles. When the vice principal tried to kill the article, he was unsuccessful because he couldn't point to anything that was actually wrong with it other than that it kind of made him look stupid. The dress code wasn't repealed as a result of this (it ain't a perfect world), but neither was it enforced. And if he had killed the article? First I would have offered to send it to the local paper along with an explanatory letter to the editor. This will usually work. If that hadn't worked, I would have gone ahead and sent them. The point is, you need to do what the TCM didn't. Take responsibility for your life. If you can get help from your parents or a teacher do so, but if you can't (I usually didn't) don't just roll over. There is always a way to fight back. You'll have to work harder than you should have to find it, and you'll lose some frustrating battles, but if you're smart (and you are, right?) and careful, you'll win most. It is worth it. And you'll find that you might not have to wait until you're out of high school to laugh at the people who are putting you down."---A. (Original Comment #5)

"I'm just going to tell you a quick story about my first day back in school after my April vacation. I dress weird; you can say I'm a freak, or just weird. This is what I look like just about everyday at school. Because of this, I was assaulted. For many, many years since about fifth grade, I've been the object of ridicule because I'm very defenseless. I'm now a junior in high school; everyday I get made fun of or joked about. I've got the reputation in my class for the most likely student to bring a gun to school and kill people. This is very untrue; I wish to harm no one. In fact I'm a real peaceful guy. I just don't get treated as a human being. Since I've been through all this ridicule I've learned to ignore it." "Anyways here's what happened today. A fellow student noticed me standing in the doorway of an empty room, he began shouting at me saying stuff like "Hey! Here's that psycho kid!" and "H's in the trench coat Mafia, watch out he has a gun." I know he was just messing around with me, but it was getting ugly at that point. I told him to back off and he began to grow violent with me. It all went off when he first spat in my face. I stood my ground and didn't flinch; I grew very angry myself at that point. He then demanded that I apologize for being disrespectful to him. Just right there, that's BULLSHIT! One of the most disrespectful thing one can do is spit in another man's face. Yet I still stood my ground...after a few more minutes of him taunting me, I was fed up and told him to "Leave me the hell alone." Being the punk that he was, he quickly threw his hand to my throat and began choking me. I could tell he wasn't 100% serious about choking me to death, because I was still able to breathe out my nose. After about 4 seconds of this I immediately ripped his hand off my throat and once again told him to leave me the hell alone. I guess he grew tired of me and so he left. Before leaving the room he walked over to me and punched me in the side of my throat/neck area. I was very lucky he didn't get a hard hit on me, or else I would have died right there from a collapsed windpipe. He then walked out of the room. I was left in the room with saliva running down my face and finding it difficult to swallow anything. Now let me ask you this: At what point did I do anything wrong?"---P.R.M. (Original Comment #6)

"In a suburb, not a canyon
Contemplating crime
Lived two teens
They were mean
Dreadful sorry, Columbine
Oh my high school, oh my high school
Oh my high school Columbine
You are lost and gone forever
Dreadful sorry, Columbine
They told people they were killers
But no one dropped a dime
They weren't fak-o
More like Waco
Dreadful sorry, Columbine
Oh my high school....
They picked Adolph Hitler's birthday
As the perfect killing time
Nietzsche's uber-
Dreadful sorry, Columbine
Oh my high school....
Oh my high school...

---A.C. (Original Comment #7)

"It really pisses me off to no extent when people I know start raving about how high school was the greatest time of their life. To me, every school I ever went to has been hellish. I never bitch about it because I know that so many people have gone through the same thing I have. Sometimes I just really wish the authorities would get their noses out of their asses and figure out why kids can crack. I really thought college would be different. I got a free ride to the University of Montana, but just recently dropped out. As far as I could tell, it was all the same. Teachers never really cared about any kids except for the popular ones, because that in turn made them more popular. I'm 18 now living on my own, and I'm as happy as I've ever been not going to school. School, I think, is just a common torture geeks must bare. My best friend is 16 and dropped out in 8th grade when everything just became too much for him. He's my local UNIX guru who solves all my problems, and is probably one of the smartest people I know. School, at least the education content of it, is far underrated. I don't game as much as I used to, but that's mainly because of a lack of time. My parents tried to cancel my Internet account several times, but its amazing how many accounts you can get with a few CC# and a strong drive. I, like most of us, was a complete outcast in school. The only time people were nice to me is when they were buying passwords from me, I ripped off from the school database. Hellgate was a real dunce-they stored the passwords in plain text files, not encrypted, and thought that not having access to a shell would stop us from breaking in. Easiest password grabbing I've ever done; I just used Qbasic. We all have these same stories to share; because when it comes right down to it our classmates were afraid of us. We don't follow rules, and are by nature nonconformists, and that in itself is enough reason for society as a whole to hate us."---D.K. (Original Comment #8)

"Once upon a time, I was the most powerful kid in my high school. I went to something called a "magnet" school, which gathered up these "gifted" kids from the suburbs and bused them to an inner-city school to give them more "opportunities." Most of the base students didn't get those same opportunities, which caused a lot of racial conflict while I attended there. When I first entered high school, I was pretty much a nobody. I didn't act like the other kids, so that made me an easy target for bullies. None of the teachers knew me very well, and few of them really wanted to. I got into trouble a little too easily, getting coerced into conflicts that always turned me into the bad guy. I had a lot of crying spells my freshman year. I came close to suicide at least twice. My parents worried about my lack of socialization with the other kids in my classes, not to mention my sudden infatuation with rap music. Being spurned by my "peers," I hung out with the predominantly black base students quite a bit, and back in the late 1980s, Public Enemy was considered dangerous. So Mom and Dad decided to take a more active role in my schooling, not by cutting me off from the things I liked, but recognizing my talents and helping me use them. For example, they knew I enjoyed spectator sports, something my grandfather instilled in me as an elementary schooler. Even though I clearly wasn't very athletic, I still read Sports Illustrated religiously. So they steered me toward the school paper. Occasionally, even the geeks ganged up on me there, but after awhile, they accepted that I was a competent writer, and by my senior year, I had my own back-page column."

"During my senior year, while covering the men's basketball team, I discovered something distressing - at our home games, fans from the opposing school outnumbered our fans 5 to 1, and the few fans we had that actually cheered were often stifled by others. After seeing this over the course of several games. I wrote a scathing column that lashed out at the school's clear lack of fan support. I called everyone out for assuming that because our teams never were very good, they never would be, so they never bothered. That column came out the day of our first conference game. That night, the house was packed. Every group was represented that night - the populars, the jocks, the nerds, the fashionables, all cutting across every race you could imagine. A lot of people I knew told me they came out because of my column. The grin remained plastered on my face the entire night. The next Monday, one of the players thanked me for writing the column. We lost the game, 98-53. Of course that wasn't the point. The point was that this little nobody lost in a sea of 3,000 managed to shake that entire school to its foundation with nothing more than a few hundred words. I made a difference, and for everyone like me who gets that sort of opportunity, there are MILLIONS of kids who don't. Because their parents don't care enough to find out their kids talents and steer them the right way. Because teachers and administrators can't be bothered to find out why these kids are different. Because most kids are cruel, and some LIKE being cruel, and nobody tells them how wrong this is."

"These are the reasons that Littleton happened. It has nothing to do with gun control laws, black trench coats, the Internet, or Marilyn Manson. It's because everyone is afraid of something they don't take the time to understand, and what good is traditional media if it can't spread fear, justly or otherwise? Yoda may be a goofy little muppet to some, but he has a point: "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." Fear, anger and hate were all prevalent at Columbine High, and it's probably prevalent at thousands of other high schools across the country- perhaps even more so now as adults' knee-jerk reactions to media coverage of this tragedy is leading to Orellian Shakedown of all things deemed "abnormal" in schools. Students that are already ridiculed by their peers are now getting similar treatment from the adults that are supposed to be teaching them. What do they think these kids are learning from this? If lawsuit-weary schools allow this shakedown to continue, what happened at Columbine High will happen again, and it will keep happening in greater numbers until everyone - parents, teachers, jocks, nerds, etc. - stops looking for scapegoats and starts looking in the mirror. Until we reach out to those kids we have ostracized for so long, we are all to blame."---D.J.W. (Original Comment #9)

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Voices From The Hellmouth Revisited: Part Eight

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  • by alleria ( 144919 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2001 @04:23PM (#518538)
    ... that this isn't being published in book form. Most of the installments so far have had no commentary by Katz, just a collection of (admittedly interesting) posts by members of the Slashdot community.

    While an anthology of various peoples' reactions to the incident and their anecdoates are certainly worthy of attention, this collection alone does not do justice to the problem at hand. What is needed is an analysis: a non-anecdotal treatment of the topic, listing possible reasons why people (specifically the administrators, although obviously also the 'bullies' at large) act as they do.

    This is not an easy problem to solve, and the point of this book should not only be to draw attention to the problem, but to start us all on the path to solving it. Otherwise, this will receive no more notice than some humanitarian bemoaning the travesty of female circumcision in Africa or someother 'worthy' cause.

    One way of doing this would be to summarize various reasons that these things (the harassments, not the shootings) have happened -- this is easier than understanding shootings anyhow, since we have far fewer data points to work with.

    This would allow Americans to not just say "awww, how awful" and then go back to watching Springer, but instead maybe actually try to think of ways to help solve the problem.
  • I have left school a few years ago, but my girlfriend is still in school. She is really having a hard time at the moment because of the admins at her school, they are real basterds to her just because she is the only 'mosher' at her school.....this in turn has sent the teachers against her which in turn has made her life more stressful which means she is not doing as well at school as she should be.

    What makes this even worse is this is in a private school, which means you have to pay for it, which over here is rare..........she should be getting better support there, not worse.

    However seeing this set or articals has made life a bit better for her, I just hope it does not get too bad.

    Take care - Rab

  • Hmm, I think you miss the point if this was to be done as a book.

    If this was to be done as a book then the admins would have to do the thinking about what had to be done. It has been done in this form because this shows what the students are thinking and like all good peices of work lets you make up you mind for yourself.

    Take care - Rab
  • I know. But America is too lazy to think. Unless you feed them the soundbytes, they won't want to pay attention. Sad, isn't it?
  • I do. I wish I could say that I feel sorry for the people who get picked on and that I understand how they must feel. But I can't because I don't. I too was a "geek" in high school, but I was not tortured for it. Why? Because I have good social skills. The people I saw being picked on uniformly had poor or non-existant social skills. They were also cowards in that they didn't stand up for themselves or fight back when someone started getting push with them. It is far better to fight like rabid dog and lose than let someone walk all over you. Few fights are won without cost. Get in some good punches on someone and even if they do come out on top they're unlikely to mess with you again. Anyone else who might have thought about messing with you will think twice. Don't fight and anyone and everyone looking for a punching bag will get in line to attack you. Now some will say naive things like "violence isn't the answer." Well that depends on the question now doesn't it? Violence used defensively in response to violence used against you is almost always the right answer. Refusing to fight out of fear or because of some immature philosophy that it isn't right to fight is almost always the wrong answer. Wrong because it will only make the situation worse. If I ever have children they're going to be enrolled in martial arts classes as young as I can get them in the door. As for social skills, the lack of them is why people get targeted for abuse more than anything else. The outcasts I've known have been downright annoying. Its almost like they've worked to learn the mannerisms and vocal tenors that will drive others up the wall. So if people are picking on you, you might want to look a little closer to home for the reason why. You are the one who decides how people treat you. Remember that. Lee Reynolds
  • Gun control is people control. If someone wants to do harm to others simply taking away a convenient weapon will not stop them from finding another. Firearms and the ability they provide for the common citizen to directly defend their own rights is the foundation of our democracy. The constitution is a piece of paper. Brute force trumps legal nicities any day of the week. The right to own guns gives each of us the power to use brute force should our government ever become an enemy of the people.

    In case all this sounds familiar to you, it might be because its one of the philosophies the country was founded on. You don't have to agree with these principles. There are other places where these ideas are strongly disagreed with. You can move there if you'd like. Visit the chinese or north korean embassy for more information on how.

    Lee Reynolds

"To take a significant step forward, you must make a series of finite improvements." -- Donald J. Atwood, General Motors