Missing Columbine

In a generally positive New York Times Magazine story on misfits who choose cyber schools, writer Emily White worries that virtual students miss out on school violence. Many of those she interviewed see school as hostile, coercive, distracting and dangerous. They don’t see the beauty.

Before Columbine, the social Darwinism of the hallway was seen as character-building. Now we effortlessly imagine those ”characters” hiding guns in trench coats, or dead. Promoters of virtual school promise that their Web sites are safe from online predators, and traditional school is portrayed as a haven for bullies, a brutal, corrupted environment in which violent confrontations are bound to occur.

Yet it is also true that there is a beauty in high school: those long, exhausting hours full of other kids, everyone trying to interpret one another. It’s a beauty that Gus Van Sant evokes in his new Columbine-inspired film, ”Elephant” — kids break dancing and taking pictures and making out, even as the school day is headed for darkness.

Some students like the social interaction of school; others can’t handle it or prefer not to or go to schools where the danger is too dangerous to be beautiful.

I see why I’ve been unable to break into the New York Times Magazine. I lack the right mentality.

About Joanne


  1. Inspired by Columbine, a massacre of innocents? That is a rather Fascist notion. Perhaps Gus was inspired like Michael Moore was, to rhapsodize the greater bullshit.

  2. Well, keep trying to get into the Times. You’re my candidate to replace Maureen Dowd. What a great improvement that would be!

  3. What she means, of course, is not BEAUTY but SUBLIMITY. The Sublime, which partakes of the horrid and the terrible, can indeed have nasty streaks of death-filled violence. Beauty, probably not.

  4. Steve LaBonne says:

    As a nerdy type I experienced plenty of the “social Darwinism of the hallway”. I’m SO grateful I didn’t miss out. Not.

  5. Unsalted Cracker says:

    “Social Darwinism of the hallway”

    Oh, jeez! I was a nerdy type as well. Still am. A nerdy type with self-esteem. Bullies like easy targets. I refused to be one and am a better person to this day because of it. Anybody who whines about getting picked-on in school had the power to stop it. If they were too spineless to try, it’s their fault.

    I don’t know why bullies picked on me. Maybe because I was thin and intelligent. Name calling bullies were at a disadvantage. I was of a quicker wit and more intelligent. When they resorted to violence, I retaliated with the same. Did I need a gun? Hell no! An unexpected nose-bleed courtesy of the geeky kid was always enough. Since bullies are cowards by nature, the best way to combat them is by standing ones ground and refusing to be bullied. The physical pain of fighting is temporary. The emotional and mental pain of fear and cowardice lasts forever.

    By the end of my sophomore year the teasing had all but ended. Their lessons were learned. It’s just not worth it to mess with that kid.

    I would rather fight every day of my life than cower to bullies. Nobody is willing to chance taking an ass-whoopin’ anymore to stand up for principle and that is just sad.

  6. Having been a kid who didn’t have the power to stop it, and in a school unwilling to exercise their authority to stop it, a virtual school, or at least an authoritative school, would have been an improvement over my own experience.
    Granted, I got out alive, but the fear definitely interfered with my educational experience. Schools should treat education (primarily, the 3 R’s), and not socialisation, as their most important mission. Everything else (and that includes socialisation) should come second.

  7. Unsalted Cracker says:

    I guess I should point out that I went to high school during the ’80s. I’m sure it is different now. Bullies I could deal with. Violent criminals are altogether a different story. That said, the criminals should be pulled out of the schools, not their victims. Like many urban areas, people would rather pull out than face down the issue. There is a principle here that is worth fighting for. Schools are for pepole who want to learn, not for troublemakers and violent criminals. Public schools are in trouble but they are so busy towing the PC line that they don’t even notice it.

    Geoff or I, or anybody for that matter, should not have had to put up with what we did in school but that, unfortunately, is life. Like it or not, we DO learn social lessons at school, only they shouldn’t be TAUGHT, per se, by the faculty. More often that not, they are hard lessons. Examples are: People can, and will, be cruel. Life and many people are not fair. People will take advatage of you if you let them.

    In a utopian society school will only be about the three Rs. Sadly, said Rs are very low on most school’s agandas. PC is the number one lesson taught now. Or as Geoff put it, “socialization”.

  8. Sounds like classic Dewey:

    “I believe that the school is primarily a social institution. Education being a social process, the school is simply that form of community life in which all those agencies are concentrated that will be most effective in bringing the child to share in the inherited resources of the race, and to use his own powers for social ends.”
    (John Dewey, My pedagogic creed, 1897)

    My name links to full text (not my site)

  9. Yeah, Unsalted Cracker, it really is different now. When the bully pokes you hard in the ribs, the teacher won’t see it…but when you retaliate, she’ll she *you*, and you will get into more trouble than the bully. It’s not just Darwinism; it’s modified Darwinism with an umpire who has an agenda.

  10. We can dream all we want about the great sacred cow of “the socialization of school children,” but what about education? What about training children/students to reason, to give them the ability to resist “feelings” driven voter decisions, teaching them to love to read (much less learning on their own from the classics and primary sources), learning about our government and the constitution, what liberty means, THINK FOR THEMSELVES? Can most modern products of John Dewey’s great social engineering project actually detect a fallacy of argument or notice when a politician is lying just by analyzing the construction of his arguments?? I have a “public education” teaching degree and I think “Not even remotely!” I dare agree that “the curriculum of today is the social policy of tomorrow.” (Gary DeMar, American Vision) What is going on in government schooling is rushing this nation past the socialist welfare state that is currently pervading the political engine straight to something far worse.
    I liked “Unsalted Cracker’s” thoughts about “public” education being in trouble. But lets face it, it is pushing a social agenda that is violating most if not all of our constitutional protections and dragging this country into stupidity. But far worse, it is not “Public.” State eduction needs to close its doors and give parents back the money that it has been stealing. That way parents can make better use of thier own education dollars in educating THIER kids and not everyone elses around the country.

  11. Very inspiring, thankyou! Good luck to you in the future. 🙂


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