09 Jul What I Learned as a Student at Columbine High School
Growing up I attended many schools: Private schools, where I had to wear a jacket and tie; hardcore public schools where metal detectors and fights were a daily occurrence; and hippy schools like Waldorf where we would sing and draw most of the day. Perhaps the most noteworthy school I attended was Columbine High School. It was 1996 and I had just returned from a year in England where I had ineffectively tried to pick up an accent so I could fit in, only to look like a “right tosser” when I came back to the States asking when I should “ring the birds for a laugh”.
Columbine had a serious bullying culture and it was primarily facilitated by a select group of well-to-do athletes who reigned supreme on school grounds and beyond. Though I had been loosely accepted by this troop of alpha monkeys, I, too, was a victim of their bullying. Each time I attended one of their parties, I had a subtle but disconcerting feeling that someone was going to get punched or pantsed. Right before I left town to move to Vegas, I had a going away party that many of them attended. By the end of it, they had broken the door off my bathroom and smashed each other into a mirror. I learned over the years not to condemn people like this completely, because their actions usually speak to the pain they feel inside.
Then the shooting happened. The kids who did it were mild-mannered guys who got pushed too far. I’m not letting them off the hook for their actions by any means. They are responsible for their choice just like everyone else, but there are always an infinite number of sides to the story. Video games have been blamed, along with music, movies, gun control and even junk food. I think they are all responsible. I also think the parents, teachers and media should be held accountable.
But laying blame is not what’s important. We need to look at how we can create an environment in school that doesn’t allow this to happen in the first place. To me the answer is developing more effective and empowered communicators in our children. Both sides of the coin – the bullies and the bullied – need to be addressed. The bullies can learn to express their anger and fear more effectively through empathy and social intelligence training while the bullied children can gain skills in assertiveness and humor to diffuse situations where tension is forming.
I strongly believe the key to a better future is to have more programs like this in schools. Unfortunately the school system is broken and backward. The place that we should be investing most of our money (the future) is being neglected in favor of supplying the war machine with its nukes (I’ll save that rant for another post). In the meantime, afterschool programs will have to suffice for parents who really want their kids to excel and have the life they want.
Devon OB Ash