Wednesday, October 04, 2006

School shooting, blame evolution, ignore bullies.

Apparently CBS News allows individuals to record commentary. And the commentary regarding the shooting at the Amish school was turned over to Brian Rohrbough. Rohrbough had a son killed at Columbine. Now perhaps here was a man who could offer sympathy to the parents, though Amish don't watch TV. Or perhaps he could give some unique insight to experiencing such a tragedy first hand. He didn't.

Instead he went off into some Right-wing fantasy land. What causes such things? In his mind it was simple. The cause of school violence is teaching evolution and legalized abortion. Anyone want to lay the odds he's a member of an extremists fundamentalist sect?

According to this amateur philosophical sleuth evolution teaches the "strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value." I didn't say he was intelligent. Obviously he isn't. Of course this is not at all what evolution is about. This is a rather naive and uninformed analysis of the the evolutionary process. And evolution doesn't even say the strong kill the weak. What is said was those best adapted to the conditions survive. Humans are much weaker than a large number of species but survive not because they are strong but because their intelligence allows them to adapt to conditions.

Another reason for these attacks is that "Abortion has diminished the value of children." It doesn't explain why other nations with legalized abortion don't have these problems. But then that is to sophisticated a concept to grasp for some.

What sets off these attacks? Different things do depending on the individuals. And I doubt that evolution is in the minds of most the people involved or abortion for that matter. At Columbine we had two angry kids who said they had been bullied by other students. Anyone who remembers their school days will remember that such bullying was not uncommon. And traumatizing kids will make them angry. There are a lot of fundamentalist types who encourage bullying in their kids by constantly telling them that "those others" are sinners, evil, wicked, Satanic, "destroying America", etc. I had enough dealings with such people to know they actually enjoy it when people who don't conform are harassed or even hurt. They laugh about it. Don't tell me this doesn't happen I've seen it.

These attitudes create bullies. And bullies hurt others and that creates anger. And angry young kids sometimes lash out viciously and stupidly. Here is a recent such case.

Fifteen year old Eric Hainstock was an angry student. He pried open a gun cabinet at home and took the weapons to school. He got into an altercation and ended up shooting the principal to death. Lots of people know it happened. Very few bother with the reasons. Here is what one TV station reported. Hainstock told police exactly what happened.

Other students harassed him and "teased him calling him 'fag' and 'faggot' and rubbing up against him" and "the ten felt teachers and the principal wouldn't do anything about it. So Hainstock decided to confront students, teachers and the principal with the guns to make them listen to him". This is all from the criminal complaint filed against the boy. A custodian grabbed the boy and that is what set off the shooting. Maybe he wanted to kill maybe he just wanted them to listen for a change. Either way he was in the wrong about his methods to solve the problem. But at fifteen one is often unable to think these sorts of things through clearly. And constant harassment can drive a teen into desperate measures especially if the bully is ignored by the very people he thinks are there to protect him.

Rohrbough may think evolution caused the shooting of his son. But people in his own community came forward to say that "Bullying at Columbine High was rampant." The principal there claimed he knew nothing of such incidents. But parents and staff confirmed it took place and that the two boys who went on the rampage had been victims of "excessive" bullying. Columbine special education assistant Pattie Stevens said "her students were terrified of bullying."

Another mother said she had discussed the issue with her daughter who was a peer counselor at the school. "There was just across-the-board intolerance." The aunt of one of the victims said that the principal "discounted" concerns about bullying. It was reported that the two students were often the victims of anti-gay taunts (though there is no evidence they were gay). One student there said: "If you want to get rid of someone usually you tease 'em. So the whole school would call them [the two shooters] homos." Other students recalled: "People surrounded them [the two students who went on the rampage] in the commons and squirted ketchup packets all over the, laughing at them, calling them faggots. That happen while teachers watched. They couldn't fight back. They wore the ketchup all day and went home covered in it. "

At Frontier High School in Moose Lake, Washington, Barry Loukaitis, 14, shot Manuel Vela to death. At his trial classmates testified that Vela had constantly taunted Loukaitis as a "faggot" for weeks before the shooting. Luke Woodham, 16, took a gun to school and killed two. He had been bullied for his weight and called a "fag" regularly. Michael Carneal, 14, took a gun to Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky and killed three students. He had been the victim of anti-gay harassment for years including the school newspaper printing a rumor saying he was gay and in love with another boy. Charles Williams, 15, killed two students at Santana High School in Santee, CA. His mother and girlfriend both said he was teased and harassed by students who called him "gay" and was subjected to bullying over the same thing.

Kristopher Wells of the University of Alberta said "Homophobic language is often the most common verbal form of bullying, yet it is the least responded to by students and trusted adults." Why? Because lots of students and lots of adults approve of it. We can't ignore the reality that many prominent churches in the US particularly, of a fundamentalist bent, repeatedly and regularly say the most vile things about homosexuals. So is it any wonder that gay students, or those perceived to be gay but who aren't, are often subjected to harassment, bullying and violence.

Rev. Robert Billings ran a Christian school and was a key figure in starting the Christian school movement. He was also a founder of the Moral Majority and said: "I know what you and I feel about these queers, these fairies. We wish we could get in our cars and run them down while they march." And he admitted: "We need an emotionally charged issue to stir up people and get them mad enough to get up from watching TV and do something. I believe that the homosexual issue is the issue we should use." I once debated the Rev. Greg Dixon, a national officer of the Moral Majority and confronted him with an audio tape of a sermon he preached in his megachurch where he said: "When they say homosexuals should have their civil rights I ask one question. Do you give criminals rights like honest citizens? Absolutely not! Criminals do not have their civil rights." He also said: "I say either fry 'em [execute them] or put them in the pen [imprison them]." And he said: "I don't know how you can ever get them [society] to put these homosexuals to death but God's word would uphold that."

Jerry Falwell the archbishop of intolerant fundamentalism went on the TV show hosted by his fellow fundamentalist Rev. Pat Robertson shortly after the attacks on 9/11. Falwell said "a lot of the blame" for the attacks were due to "abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians". Pat Robertson nodded in agreement and said he supported that view.

The bullies in the schools regularly use antigay rhetoric in their harassment of other students. Where do they get the idea that this is acceptable? Could it be from TV evangelists, ministers and parents who tell them these things. If adult authority figures constantly tell them that gays are Satanic and evil and that "tolerance" and "diversity" are evil don't you think the kids inculcate these beliefs into their values systems. And kids being kids, what do they do with such values? They often use the same sort of language to harass other kids who are perceived to be different. Fundamentalism of all kinds is intolerant of differences. It demands conformity. But it goes one step further. It also attacks differences as being evil and dangerous. The "other" is portrayed by all fundamentalists some abominable that must be destroyed.

And kids taught these lessons carry them to school and act on them. And with a thousand verbal knifes they slash away at the self-esteem of the "other". And often, very often, they turn their taunts into physical violence. Day in and day out the student seen as the "other" is attacked and harassed and sometimes they snap and people die. It is not justified to kill over such things but is it unexpected? The fundamentalist may want to blame it on evolution but I think they should look closer to home for some of the answers.

Several things conspire together to make this an American problem. One is the culture of intolerance and bullying that picks on the "other". Second, the "other" often feels powerless with no one willing to stop the attacks. He seeks out a means to get them to "listen" or just decided to end the misery and punish the bastards along the way. Guns are easily available for those wishing to seek their revenge but schools are "gun free zones" making them easy targets.

Intolerance does lead to bullying and bullying does lead to such violence. It is not the only cause of the problem but it does play its part especially in those cases where it is a student who does the shooting. If schools want to minimize the risk of violence they need to end the bullying. And Americans need to stand up to the intolerant hate messages regularly preached by the Imams of fundamentalism.