School daze

We’re always surprised when somebody goes and shoots up a school; but we shouldn’t be. School massacres — whether with guns or by some other means — are actually quite common, as a bit of Googling will reveal. (The worst ever in the United States occurred in Bath Township, Michigan, in 1927, perpetrated by a disgruntled school board member who packed the basement with dynamite. That’s a picture of the aftermath, above.)

The recent horrible affair in Newtown, Connecticut, has given rise to the predictable liturgies of thumbsucking about guns, violent video games, lonerism, mental illness, divorce, the American culture of violence. Maleness has been implicated. The local coroner in Newtown apparently hopes for some insight from genetics, according to a recent report.

Curiously, nobody mentions the common element: schools.

Schools and workplaces abound in massacres, though the death toll is never as high in the workplace massacres. The two have have much in common, though the workplace, bad as it is, is generally more benign than the schools; but that’s understandable, once you get past the the latter’s humanitarian candy-coating to its real mission, which is to serve as a kind of Sorting Hat for the former. Schools pick the Hufflepuffs and the Slytherins, and in our society, a Fifth House that didn’t exist at Hogwarts: the Superflewuffs.

So it’s unsurprising that most of the people who are really going to snap, snap in school and never make it to the workplace. Think of it as one among many aptitude tests: How much bullshit can you take before you go nuts?

No doubt a lot of things contributed to Adam Lanza’s ultimate meltdown, but I for one would be very interested to hear more about his experiences in school, a topic little discussed, and certainly never discussed from his point of view.

Consider those terrible violent computer games that we hear so much about. I don’t get the appeal of them personally, but it’s not hard to imagine that a person who feels utterly powerless — whose daily existence is one of contrived competition, pointless regimentation, and intolerable authoritarian prying into his emotional and personal life, without a shred of understanding — might find some solace in the possession, actual or virtual, of a BFG?

One recent report suggests that poor Adam — and anybody who doesn’t feel sorry for this kid has a heart of stone, as far as I’m concerned — might have been upset about his mom’s plans to have him committed. Who knows whether this is true or not, but if so, it must have sounded to him like Back To School: credentialed experts, who don’t have a clue what’s going on in your head and couldn’t care less, determined to make you a better person, able to hold down a job, or drive you even crazier trying.

That Michigan massacre, in 1927 — the one that still holds the record — occurred at the dawn of the modern era in schooling. Bath Township, in accordance with the latest pedagogical theories, had recently shut down its one-room schoolhouses, scattered around the countryside, and built a shiny new consolidated school, with the inmates now separated by grade and bussed in from hither and yon. It was a more expensive project and taxes had to be raised into order to fund it. The bomber, one Andrew Kehoe, was described as a thrifty man, and in one of those ironies you couldn’t make up, was elected treasurer of the new consolidated school board, though he seems to have thought the whole project extravagant and ill-conceived.

But then, he does not appear to have Played Well With Others, in general, according to contemporary accounts. Bit of a loner. Argumentative. Money problems. On the way down, in a society where — at least for the next two years — everybody else was on the way up.

6 thoughts on “School daze

  1. The elephant in the room; the untouchable; the sister spirit to taxes and military recruitment and the NFL. Brilliant, Mr. Smith. If you had to take this season’s approved news as your motivation to write, so be it, but you did an excellent job.

    Assuming that the latest Lone White Gunman With No DHS Help (TM) actually did this one on his own, you’re right on. Either way, it’s time to invest in companies that pay military dropouts $9 an hour to wear plastic badges from Target and grope-feel middle-school boys who talk too loudly in the hallway.

    • “grope-feel middle-school boys”

      sign me up

      but not those ” who talk too loudly in the hallway”
      very un stimmulating prspect
      but i’ll have a certain measure of toal power
      i’ll pounce on the quiet oddly abstracted ones
      with an unhatched plot against ” McDonalds amerika ”

      alas to cabin in the woods
      just a janitors closet
      but one can make do
      if ….inspired

  2. Good to see you back. I figure another week or two of listening to the insufferable “libruls” droning on and on about more unpopular unconstitutional legislation and someone else will be primed to go off.

  3. It never ceases to amaze me that in a society born in blood and violence, perpetuated by violence, celebratory of violence — a society that spreads violence to every corner of the globe — people are shocked when one of its citizens behaves….violently. I don’t care about videogames or violent movies, and often enjoy the latter. It’s the real-life stuff that matters. And I hardly need note to SMBIVAns the irony of the Droner in Chief lamenting the evil destruction of young, innocent life.

  4. Bath Township, in accordance with the latest pedagogical theories, had recently shut down its one-room schoolhouses, scattered around the countryside, and built a shiny new consolidated school, with the inmates now separated by grade and bussed in from hither and yon.

    Dear, I hope my hero John Dewey isn’t at least in part to blame…

    I’d say not giving a shit got me through school without being completely destroyed. In first grade I refused to do assignments I didn’t want to do and punishment had little effect. Eventually I kinda learned to the do the minimum I could get away with, motivated by the fear of being held back. College I actually hated more. But I went into it goal-oriented with a specific aim in sight; and looking back I suspect that’s were I failed. At work I’m at least blessed being (for the most part) surrounded by embittered coworkers who just do enough to “stay under the radar”–an art unto itself, I must say–but don’t break a sweat trying to impress the company.

  5. I thought this post might be a little too cynical. Then I read this:

    Notes Caroline Isaacs of the Tucson office of the American Friends Service Committee: “To invite for-profit prison guards to conduct law enforcement actions in a high school is perhaps the most direct expression of the `schools-to-prison pipeline’ I’ve ever seen.” Clearly, the similarities between government-run schools and prisons are not limited to architecture.

    No matter how bad you think it is, it’s worse.

Leave a Reply