March 13, 2001
3:30 AM   Subscribe

I want to bring up a concept for debate here that's been gnawing at me for a while, one that most people probably haven't ever thought much about (though I'd be delighted to discover I am wrong about that). It's taken me a few paragraphs to explain, so I don't think I should just publish the whole thing to the front page. Thus, I ask if you all wouldn't mind please jumping inside this thread for a second and checking it out. If you really hate it, you can back out and move on to something else.

The question I wish to ask, boiled down to one sentence, is this: Should we, as members of a caring, progressive society, have an obligation to be an inclusive society? To see to it that all people are made to feel to be a part of things? A detailed explanation of what I'm getting at is inside. (Yes, yes, I know I've said that I hate the word "progressive" used in any political/sociological sense, but in this case it seems the most appropriate term.)
posted by aaron (77 comments total)

Take a look at the backstory on Andy Williams. No, not that one. This one. The kid that shot up Santana High School. As we know now, Andy was treated like dirt at Santana High. He was bullied regularly, picked on an unusually large amount, had things stolen from him regularly, and eventually started getting beaten up. They called him a "faggot" and even taunted him openly in class. Nobody did anything to stop it ... not the teachers, principals, school counselors or anyone else in authority. Nobody gave a damn. And this was the reason Andy decided to "get revenge," according to a police expert: "You put these kids in an environment that is toxic for them, and they don't know how to fight back." Andy was ignored and ostracized and generally made to feel like an unwanted outsider without even the right to defend himself. And eventually, it made him snap.

This is hardly an excuse for what he did. But it is an explanation. And after looking at the circumstances, I think (and hope) that most of us would agree that, no matter your own views on guns and whether they ought to be more tightly controlled, it's better to nip a problem like this at the source whenever possible. If someone, anyone, had seen to it that Santana High maintained an atmosphere of inclusion rather than one of every-kid-for-himself, then not only would this tragedy have been prevented, but you would also have had the added success of having taken this troubled kid and allowed him to have a greatly improved chance of thriving.

Andy's story is just the latest example of a trend I've been noticing lately. It seems that so many of the problems we face in society these days are, at their bases, stemming from a lack of inclusion.

We all know that every guy who flips out and shoots up a place is invariably discovered to have been a "quiet loner" or, even better, a "troubled loner."

But it pops up in a number of other places as well. Just going down the list of recent MeFi links, we see a number of examples of problems whose root cause is people, or society at large, doing things to ostracize others, or at least not doing anything proactive that would stop it:

ceirog is upset because society uses terminology that have negative connotations about his ethnic group. People who use such words separate "those people" from the rest of society, and do so in a way that has very negative connotations.

optamystic thinks one of the best ways to launch a personal attack on someone is to snarkily imply that said person spends too much time doing things alone. Being a Loner. There's nobody society distrusts more than a loner, after all.

We discover that some groups feel safer when other groups aren't around. So they create their own exclusionary environment and publicly sneer at the members of the other group who refuse to be compelled to stay indoors.

Kids who step out of conformity at school in the most minor, inconsequential ways are literally carted off to jail as dangerous radicals.

We discover that we're required to keep a supply of "social currency" on hand in order to be able to easily get along with others in our peer groups. If you stop paying attention to pop culture, you'll run out of social currency. And then you'll be ostracized for not being hip enough to keep up with the latest cool conversations. Worst of all, we find out that one of the reasons we've come to rely on social currency so much is because so many of our older institutions of inclusion have fallen apart - such as families and neighborhoods where people actually interact with each other - that we're forced to rely more heavily on our peer groups in order to feel connected to society at all.

We're Red vs Blue. Our political beliefs have become so polarized that being on one side can make you a pariah on the other if you don't find a way to straddle the two.

And it goes without saying that racial politics and sexual politics are continually pushing us all apart in any number of ways.

And of the above examples, the one current that runs through all of them is this: There's too damn much "us against them" out there. There are too damn many people feeling left out in this world, for whatever reasons. They get ostracized, some only from certain other groups but some from practically everyone else. This can affect some aspects of their lives, or it can affect all aspects of their lives. It ends up hurting practically all of us in some way or another; most of us can deal with that, as long as the rest of our lives are inclusive and fulfilling. But if you're one of those that ends up being "a loner," it can completely destroy you; personally, financially, jobwise, across the board. And while being in that situation only rarely causes people to go completely over the edge like Andy Williams, there are still millions of people out there in similar situations who simply end up living lives completely devoid of any meaning or pleasure.

And while I fully realize there are people out there who actually want to be loners, most of them seem to have had the choice made for them, not by them. And I don't understand why we all continue to believe that's acceptable.

I don't know why it's acceptable to arbitrarily ostracize people for any reason, even if it's a sort of ostracization that only has a small impact on the victims' lives. I don't know why we think it's okay to allow anyone to fall by the wayside, fall through the cracks, while we just shrug our shoulders and move on.

All of this has been bubbling in the back of my mind for some time, so I decided to finally bring it up for discussion and ask, "What the hell's going on?" It seems we could solve, at least partially, so many of our societal problems, if only we'd make an effort to make sure that nobody is left behind, that nobody is left on the sidelines.

I guess it all comes down to one very simple question: Do we, as a modern society, have an obligation to see to it that all people are included? Well, let me rephrase that, since it's blatantly obvious that we currently feel no particular compunction about letting the "loners" drift in the wind: Should we have an obligation to see that all individuals in our society are included, unless they personally state a desire to be left alone?
posted by aaron at 3:32 AM on March 13, 2001 [1 favorite]

Aaron, you have raised an important issue and you are to be praised for your caring opening discussion to judgement so quickly and give us The Truth" as to what goes on and then follow up with some vapid "plan" that seems not to change much.
Simple suggestion, then: since getting bullied seems inherent among the young, how do European countries handle this? Clearly American boys do not like to report instances of this sort to their teachers or even to their parents, so the bullying continues. But we do not see instances of violence--is it the lack of guns?--in European new reports but there muyst also be bullying going on.
We need then some studies where we can evaluate how bullying is handled in other countries....and that might be a start.
posted by Postroad at 3:53 AM on March 13, 2001

This could be debated from all sides, and I suspect that if people do join in the thread, we'll see arguments on all fronts.

Personally, the description of a 'quiet loner' basically fits me to a T. I like to be alone. I prefer to be alone, on my own time. But, I don't reckon I'm gonna kill nobody, mmhhmmm. So, on one hand, if someone says they want to be alone, I say let them. But then, how do you distinguish the difference between someone who just might flip out from the person who never will? Are there warning signs? Might some people have the ability to read into others and tell?
I don' think there's a real answer, even though there's obviously something very wrong. A simple response, though it may be, I think a little compassion and understanding can go a long way to changing things.
Now leave me the hell alone...
posted by lizardboy at 3:57 AM on March 13, 2001

optamystic thinks one of the best ways to launch a personal attack on someone is to snarkily imply that said person spends too much time doing things alone. Being a Loner. There's nobody society distrusts more than a loner, after all.

While not purporting to speak for anyone but myself, I feel you are carefully cutting around the entire rest of the argument in that thread - you were the one to cast the first stone.

I think that, by selectively choosing a bit of that argument that suited your defense, that you're providing the answer to your own question in even more ways than you can imagine!

I also believe that a huge part of this problem stems from ignorance. I have seen a decent amount of it lately, particularly around here, and it's upsetting. I don't believe that everyone has to like everyone else; rather, I do believe that people need to at least attempt to understand what goes on in other peoples' minds. We are all humans! Yet we're ready to label people: loner, punk, (ethnic slur), fat ass, gay, etc. etc. When this happens, we obviously aren't thinking and are just being shallow and ignorant.

No one will completely understand what anyone else is thinking unless you physically enter that person's mind and body and soul in some way. Not gonna happen. But why can't people at least make an effort? Oh, that's right, too busy going down to Starbucks to get coffee.

People need to understand that we're all different. Until the aforementioned "snarky" as well as ignorant comments stop, it's going to be an uphill battle. At least for the group I'm defending, I'm ready to go.
posted by hijinx at 4:29 AM on March 13, 2001

Should we have an obligation to see that all individuals in our society are included, unless they personally state a desire to be left alone?

Yes, though I don't always. For example,

In a previous job there was a quiet loner and one day when I baked bicuits for everyone and made a special on a little "Pentium V" on his and made the biscuit extra crispy (har! har!). Anyway, he was a really annoying person to be around. I'm not sure if I can be truly friendly with people who hover about and, hell, just irritate me. I can be polite. The way in which some people are makes it very difficult to include them (and from the hovering it seems this was his desire). We chatted about several things and aside from computing we didn't have much common ground -- it was difficult being friends with him and in the end I didn't bother. It was an effort and his hovering was affecting my work... if he was an unemployed neighbour I don't know what I'd do. Until this lovely story by Aaron, I hadn't thought of him either. Hmmm... I guess it was limp of me not to state that I didn't like him. Still, he was a brat.
posted by holloway at 4:37 AM on March 13, 2001

Aaron you will be pleased to know that this is a topic that we do think about all the time. Your question has sparked another interesting debate in our household.

This is a question about how we want to live in our society. If we want to live in harmony, then we should include ourselves in all aspects of that society. By being a part of society we are automatically included. Its just how much we want to put back into it.

Unfortunatly we have no sense of community anymore. We don't give respect to others and put them down to try to promote ourselves. This is demoralising and pushes people to violence.

The world is in turmoil at the moment because we have forgotten the basics. Remember: Respect for ourselves and for others

Yes, we should include everybody in our society, but start on a small scale by saying *hello* to everyone you meet on your street.

posted by tuesday at 4:43 AM on March 13, 2001

I think there are (at least) two separate issues here - whether we should strive to be inclusive for children/teens and whether we should strive to be inclusive for adults.

The second comes down to basic human kindness and mutual respect. Although few would argue that these are not positive elements in society, these cannot and should not be enforced beyond certain limits, for the most part in place already (give or take, of course, I'm not saying all laws are correct and just), because to do so would take away too much of our freedom. For example, I should be able to tell my coworker he's an asshole. This kind of thing is self-regulating anyway, isn't it? If he doesn't like it, he has recourse. And if he doesn't have recourse, then almost certainly something was missing from his social learning before he reached adulthood.

Children are another matter. Children by definition do not have freedom. Andy Williams was forced to go to a certain school, to live in a certain place, to be picked on and stolen from and humiliated and hit. He was tortured. Even if he hadn't lashed out and killed, chances are very strong that he would be permanently scarred from this torture. I believe we should do everything we can to prevent this from happening. School is a place for social learning as well as intellectual. If a child is falling behind intellectually s/he should be helped. Few debate that. The question is, how can we put those supports in place to help a child who is falling behind socially?

When I was in college I tutored high school students and I had the opportunity to spend time with a lot of teenagers. Some were obviously suffering with social torture at school. It was obvious, the pain was written all over them, in their body language, on their faces, in their lack of confidence. And then - I am not a Christian - but I did also tutor kids from a Christian school. These kids - even the ones who, I felt I could tell, would probably not have 'made it' socially at another school - all of them had friends, all had at least a certain basic level of confidence. How much of this came from their parents (who had chosen to put them in this school) and how much came from the support of the school I don't know. And don't get me wrong, I certainly don't advocate religious-based education. But there was something there that was working. I think that kind of supportive atmosphere is what we should aim for. Rather than simply doing nothing, as most schools are now, I think this should be fully explored.

I think being alone is great. I, too, prefer to spend a lot of time alone. But there is a difference between choosing to be alone and being unable to have that choice. And of course, there will always be those who simply can't get along well with others. But I do believe they should be given every chance to learn to do so from the beginning.
posted by Tanya at 5:01 AM on March 13, 2001

posted by corpse at 5:03 AM on March 13, 2001

Regarding social currency, I think that you (aaron) are misunderstanding what it means (my response here).

We don't have an obligation as a caring, progressive society to be an inclusive society; this seems to be a tautology. Rather, we should be an inclusive society because it is in our best interests (warm fuzzy feelings aside for a moment). A society that is closed to certain groups or individuals, creates divisions, and through ostracizing essentially throws away the contributions of marginalized members will become as dysfunctional and problem-prone as your stereotypical inbred family.
posted by Avogadro at 5:20 AM on March 13, 2001

Thank you, hijinx.

The rest of this post is for aaron's benefit, only. I would have done it via e-mail, but he chose to make this public.

You listen, and you listen good, boy. Do not name-check me, and quote me out of context, in order to add (much needed) cred to some dipshit theory you cooked up between wanks last night. You are way out of line. You got a beef with me? Send me an email, go to MetaTalk, or continue the argument in the thread in which it was started. Don't rewrite the rules, just so you can salve your wounded ego. I'll assume (for the sake of argument) that you are bright enough to find my e-mail address. I'll be checking my inbox.

posted by Optamystic at 5:46 AM on March 13, 2001

Thanks, aaron.

Exclusion isn't confined to the US, or to high school. It's as old as society, I think. Keep your enemies outside to redirect your fears from the tensions within.

It's with real regret that I disagree with Avogadro: a society that is closed to certain groups, creates divisions, ostracises, marginalises, is too often a society that works. Badly, yes, but almost by necessity.

In Britain, until the early 80s, it was possibly to watch television programmes that were horrifically racist. ("Mind Your Language" and "Love Thy Neighbour" are the two that come to mind.) Now, while that racism and xenophobia often creeps out in the Daily Mail on asylum seekers, or the debate on the Euro, the marginalised comedy figures are the "gingers" (redheads). Regionalism runs supreme: you identify with your town before your country, your country against the foreigners. You define yourself negatively, against the things you can't imagine being part of your own character.

I was bullied through most of my school years, as I was smart and fat: the two worst characteristics in a hard-bitten comprehensive. Then I stopped eating, went to sixth form and university, and encountered the intellectual bullies of Oxford, who discriminate on different, but no less abhorrent grounds. Throughout, I've been on the fringes, dipping into social networks then realising that I prefer my own company best of all, rather than engage with groups that exclude by definition.

So it's hard. Really hard. But "inclusivity" is a paper tiger, unless you expand it to the point of "including people out". I prefer "tolerance", or better, "compassion".
posted by holgate at 5:55 AM on March 13, 2001

> Andy Williams was forced to go to a certain school,
> to live in a certain place, to be picked on and stolen
> from and humiliated and hit. He was tortured.

Maybe schools need to work harder...

Smells like a big, fat cliche coming at a hundred miles an hour, doesn't it?


Maybe schools do need to work harder at asking kids whether they are ever afraid to come to school, why they are afraid, where the danger spots are in the school, who they like, who they don't, who they respect, who they hate, who they are afraid of, who hurts them, who calls them names, who assaults them, who steals from them, who carries weapons, etc., so they can find the kids who are in trouble. Promise them that bullies will never find out who supplied the information about them*, and never break that promise. Promise them to use the information to help arrange things for their benefit, and follow through on it by trying to keep friends together and enemies apart, by removing or improving little psychos, by locating and eliminating dangerous areas, by expanding safe and enjoyable areas, and so on. Concentrate on improving, expanding, and spreading the good from kid to kid, class to class, school to school.

It's all a bit intrusive, but what is more intrusive than a psychiatrist? And maybe that's what schools need, to put all students (collectively) on the couch (through confidential surveys and followup talks with kids who want it) to see what makes it tick as a group, and to act decisely and positively on the results.

This and a million other things might make schools just a little better.

- Pollyanna


* And schools need to work on getting rid of the idea that you're a "rat" for turning in the guy most likely to shoot classmates or to cause the shooting of classmates by torturing kids who have access to guns. Being turned in can be good for bullies if you can discover and mollify whatever makes them so damned miserable that they need to hurt others.

posted by pracowity at 5:59 AM on March 13, 2001

Regardless of the whole inclusion issue, I'm not sure that we are a "caring, progressive"
society. We are an individualistic society still caught in archaic ideals. Yes, we make
great strides in technology and business; however, across the country, parents still
won't allow frank talk about sex in schools.

Inclusion may be the solution (or one of them), but I don't think it will ever happen. This
society was created based on concepts of individualism ("every man for himself," "pick
yourself up by your bootstraps"). Some major shifts would have to occur in the entire mindset
of the country for inclusion to truly start to happen.

Why didn't anyone who Andy Williams talked to tell anyone else? Because they didn't think he
was serious? Because they didn't want to get involved? Because they didn't have time to
really find out why he was talking about shooting up the school? Yes, hindsight is 20/20,
but if nothing else, maybe people will take these threats children make seriously from
now on. If we're not even "inclusive" enough to listen when children talk about harming
themselves or others, I'm not sure we'll ever be inclusive enough to prevent any tragedy
like this.
posted by karenh at 6:03 AM on March 13, 2001

I think there's way too much tension over some misquote, take a breather, I don't want to call the teacher and you could sooooo get suspended.

*sits back in mid-section of class*

Oww! Who threw that?
posted by tiaka at 6:15 AM on March 13, 2001

If you stop paying attention to pop culture, you'll run out of social currency. And then you'll be ostracized for not being hip enough to keep up with the latest cool conversations.
Maybe this was true in middle school, but I seem to manage the adult world just fine without a tv or radio in the last 8 years (maybe this is because Britney Spears is simply being bit-streamed directly into our heads).
Anyway... I so admired Dan Savage's comment on the Columbine shooting, which probably applies here as well. Teachers often ignore or tactily encourage such problems. Some major shifts would have to occur in the entire mindset of the country for inclusion to truly start to happen. I agree, karenh.
posted by methylsalicylate at 6:15 AM on March 13, 2001

Well said, pracowity.

I think there's a definite line. It's really REALLY blurry, but there's a line somewhere. We need to learn to be accepting of differences, and understand others; we must reach a point where understand each other enough to wash away ignorance. As a progressive society, we must progress. (I'd say in some aspects, Europe is doing better than the US.)

Devil's advocate argument, that I can't resolve for the life of me: Being accepting of others' opinions and viewpoints is an important part of liberal ideology. Being accepting racially, sexually, etc. But, why is it that we aren't accepting of those that *aren't* accepting? The people that hate non-whites. Shouldn't we accept that, if we want to be accepting and inclusive of others? Note: whether you love or hate South Park, they have an episode that argues this point wonderfully. Episode summary of "Cartman Joins NAMBLA" is here. Basically, why shouldn't we be accepting of pedophiles?

The only argument I've been able to come up with is that society has to be inclusive, but it must use its values as a guideline. So, if we deem something to be wrong or immoral, we shouldn't accept it. If we don't think it's right to discriminate based on race, then we shouldn't be inclusive of that behavior in society. But then that brings up another question: should our *values* change, or be inclusive? Your thoughts?
posted by gramcracker at 6:20 AM on March 13, 2001

I've never taught in a high school, but I can say from my fairly limited teaching experience -- I spent a couple of years teaching art in a summer program for elementary-school-age kids -- that it can be very hard to tell exactly what's going on between your students socially. I found I could often tell when there was something going on, but it was not so easy to figure out the roots of the problem. Sometimes it was apparent, but often not.

Maybe it's easier if you see them every day for a year, instead of four days a week for a few months, and it's probably also easier if you have the opportunity to chat with their other teachers, which I didn't; I know that with the short course I was teaching, I really only got to know the kids who were particularly interested in coming to me and spilling their guts. I'm sure that indicates that I was a bad teacher, and I think I'd make more of an effort these days, but it's hard when you don't work with the same kids all day long. You see a kid for forty-five minutes, in the company of twenty-nine of her classmates, and then off they go and thirty more come in.

Ugh, as I write this, I'm actually quite horrified with myself -- surely there was some other time when I could have tried to find out more about what was going on in their elaborate social networks, but I honestly don't know when that would have been. There was certainly no time when I could have grabbed a kid and talked to her privately without being very obvious about it and, as a side effect, neglecting the class as a whole. It does seem like means and opportunity for such stuff should be planned into the structure of the school environment, even if not on the massively structured way pracowity suggests.
posted by redfoxtail at 6:21 AM on March 13, 2001

I don't think that the problem of school shootings like this is the bullying and non-inclusion of some kids. This has gone on forever. Only recently has blowing away large numbers of classmates become common.

Instead, the problem is that our society has taught our adolescents that they are entitled to certain things, such as not having their feelings hurt or being ostracized for their behavior. Of course, I don't believe that anyone is entitled to these things.

People in general today feel that they should be accepted for however they act without having to pay any consequences. Unfortunately, this is not the way the world works. Everyone must conform to certain societal norms or they must face the penalties levied by the society.

The problem we have today is that people think that THEY are the victims for having to put up with the scorn and ostracism they bring down on themselves, and feel entirely justified when they open fire. They call it self-defense and wait for everyone to run out and start explaining how terribly the killer was treated in school and how everyone always picked on him. That's just a cop out.

Kids need to learn how to deal with adversity and overcome it without resorting to violence. I think that we need to focus on parenting rather than the interaction of children. Children, no matter how closely supervised, will continue to bully others, ostracize others, and generally treat each other like dirt. However, if we clamp down too hard on them, we'll turn them all into politically correct, mindless robots who have no ability to discern what behavior is acceptable in society and what is not.
posted by CRS at 6:28 AM on March 13, 2001

America is based on individualism, the one-self, there are rights and there are freedoms. And most people like that. Unless we were to do the Communism thing, but get rid of all those killings, huh? School system in Russia under Communism was pretty good, sure there were cliques and such, but they were based on how well you performed academically, because I remember very well trying to excel to be cool. Strange huh?

Religion-based schooling and the ones I attended to in Russia aren't all that much different I suspect. Yeah, I suppose it is kinda hard to punch someone while you're in fear of god all mighty and all that, but, basically the families that bother to send their kids to these schools often times have enough structure in them to establish discipline about the wrongs of this and that, and if that weren't enough they're getting the stuff pounded in them even during school. You can take out the offensive religion stuff and do more moral/ethical education aka 'Character building'. You could take these examples, the shootings and dissect them into issues, find the wrongs of both the bullies and the bullied, show how each one is wrong. It seems like a good idea to me.

posted by tiaka at 6:38 AM on March 13, 2001

Instead, the problem is that our society has taught our adolescents that they are entitled to certain things, such as not having their feelings hurt or being ostracized for their behavior.
And this is a bad thing? (Of course, if what you're talking about is ostracizing bullies for feeling entitled to harass other kids, I wholeheartedly agree.)
posted by methylsalicylate at 6:38 AM on March 13, 2001

Simply put; kids in elementary school and middle school get their feelings hurt by bullies. When they are old enough to post to this site they are or should be sufficnetly mature to separate things out and not to get overly concerned about what twits say to them.
How many posting have a kid in middole or elementary school that has come home and felt horrible or cried because he was made to feel worthless? And how many have kids at this level who would not talk about it till somethow you managed to get the child to talk about it?And how many have had to go to the school to complain because a bully had physically beat up on your child? And how did the school take this news and what was done?
posted by Postroad at 6:38 AM on March 13, 2001

Speaking as someone who was recently a quiet loner in high school, I have my doubts about a kind of structured program. When you factor in my cynicism, whenever I got dragged down to the counselor's office, I couldn't help thinking along the lines of:
These people care about me? Yeah, right. They just want to make sure there aren't any more suicides associated with this school. How can they say they care about me when they know so little about me that they don't even realize my anti-socialness is only a problem for them, not for me--and when they wouldn't even know my name if I were a little less conspicuous?
...So I think that, whatever you do, you have to be careful to make it genuine enough that it doesn't make kids even more cynical.
posted by Jeanne at 6:46 AM on March 13, 2001

Everyone hates the counselors, I mean they are mostly useless. All they do is listen, hug and send you off. I'm sure there are some nice ones but I'd be damned if I met one. I think they most they do is get your school papers when you transfer from the big file down the hall?

I remember being beat up once, I was sent down to the counselor, for I think it was mandatory, and I explained the situation, where as he called me a liar and then defended they kid who beat me up. Apparently he was a good friend of the counselor. Since then I kinda hated even the name itself. Not really useful, but I just wanted to share my little story, and post trice, for fun.

Therapy day on Metafilter, post your painful school memories and get punch and cookies in the corner.
posted by tiaka at 6:54 AM on March 13, 2001,4273,4150005,00.html
posted by Postroad at 7:08 AM on March 13, 2001

As someone who was a geek in high school, and felt all of the pain I read about, I was disturbed by Columbine and all of the other shootings -- not for the typical reasons, but for some dark feeling inside me that saw myself in some of those kids.
I'm an adult now, and know how to 'play the game' and (as I'm sure a lot of people ponder) if I had it to do all over again, I'd probably do it differently.
But that's a joke. I remember being there, and the swirl of emotions that went through me. Yeah, I'll take the easy way out and say "think of the hormones!" but there might be something to that.
In high school, we're "older" but we're still pretty new to the world, and very new to the day to day politics of living. And that has to be considered when you talk about improving the situation. You cannot think of kids as adults. They're not. In some ways, they're immature. But in other ways, that freshness in the world is a powerful tool for moving our culture and society into newer times.
So when we talk about what they're feeling, we have to remember how we felt in high school. Confusion, excitement, interest, boredom, energy, and above all, the feeling that we weren't adults yet.
posted by fnirt at 7:11 AM on March 13, 2001

Andy blew a kid's head off because he was teased about his marijuana smoking and had his skateboard stolen twice?

I don't understand why angry white suburban kids like Andy Williams, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold get so much sympathy.

Do you think Andy's the only kid who ever moved to a new area and was treated poorly, especially when he tried too hard to fit in? It happens every day in every school in the country, and I'll bet dozens of people here went through it (lord knows I did).

None of the abuse that is overdramatized in this story comes close to explaining why he would murder two classmates and shoot a dozen others.

Besides, for someone who was supposedly ostracized, Andy sure has a lot of friends and acquaintances willing to speak up for how he was mistreated.
posted by rcade at 7:17 AM on March 13, 2001

We live in not only an indivdualized society, but a society that encourages, in fact, glamorizes martyrdom. What were most of those teen movies about in the 80's? The geeks getting the upper hand! You're damn right Andy had a lot of friends, because misery loves company. It's not about inclusion, it's about accepting and loving yourself for who you are, and allowing others to get the better of you. Andy was NOT a loner. He was someone who hated himself and his friends encouraged that view.
posted by girard at 7:53 AM on March 13, 2001

Yes, methylsalicylate, it is a bad thing. Social ostracism is a tool used by society to encourage others to conform to society's norms, just as you want to use it to encourage kids to stop bullying. Having group norms and mores is an integral part of creating a community that can live together in harmony.

Unfortunately, our culture of victimhood here in the U.S. has led to people to think they can do anything and not have to suffer any consequences. It's another example of people not requiring others to accept the responsibilty for their actions.

Notice the way the media jumps on the "poor bullied shooter" bandwagon. You don't see any stories on the dead kids. Hell, look at our discussion here. We concentrate on doing something about the ones who poke fun at the little killers and not at why this punk thought killing random kids at school was even an option.

Something is terribly wrong with our society when this type of behavior happens. It's not guns. It's the way we think.
posted by CRS at 7:55 AM on March 13, 2001

It's already been said: we aren't in an inclusive society; it's an individualistic society. The very basis for people coming here was that they didn't fit in, and didn't WANT to.

That having been said, I think that the true goal isn't to try and include everyone, but rather to not care if someone is different and/or doesn't want to be included. Let them do what they want, given a few basic rules, essentially stating that their actions not hurt others or interfere with the happiness of others. Barring serial killers and marketing execs, this doesn't place many limits on most people.

Me, I want very little to do with the majority of people, or their society. I grew up in self-imposed mostly isolation, which eventually grew into a good bit of alienation from others. I find most people to be an uninteresting waste of time, so it works to my advantage. Over time, my presentation of myself now has the effect of causing people I can tolerate to gravitate to me, and I am personally choosy about who I approach. Now, if I could just make the cashiers at stores leave me the hell alone...

Besides, inclusiveness breeds homogenization. I think that simple acceptance is what is needed. In order to define a thing(society here), there NEEDS to be something else/on the outside. Otherwise, we all end up in Abercrombie clothes, driving our 2.5 children and trophy spouse from the picket-fenced suburban house to soccer practice every Saturday. I think I'll pass.
posted by Su at 8:02 AM on March 13, 2001

I realize ever now and again reading MeFi that I'm quite a bit older than most other participants (in fact, to quote CHICAGO, "The fact is, I'm older than I ever intended to be..."). SO: I can speak from a bit of historical perspective (and yes, we had electric lights in my high school; I graduated in 1977).

The difference between "now" and "then" with regard to kids like Andy Williams or Dylan Kleybold or Eric Harris is pretty simple: these kids have been given the sense that they have the right to determine how others feel about them (and when others don't respond, have somehow adopted the quaint notion that firearms are an appropriate method of dealing with that intrasigence, although an increased awareness and access to firearms isn't the point of this discussion).

Ostracism based on real or imagined differences isn't new (said Grandpa m.polo, speaking from experience) - it is as old as Cain and Abel, the progenitors of sibling rivalry. What America has become, particularly in the last 20 years, is what I think of as a "cake-and-eat-it-too" culture: we demand to be allowed to do and be whatever we want, AND demand that everyone else APPROVE our choices. We've decided disapproval is unacceptable - regardless that in requiring others to conform to OUR world view, we risk compromising THEIR world view. And so here we are at the logical end of that particular ego path, FORCING inclusion of everyone and everything.

But the inherent assumption in forced inclusion is an insidious one: that the round pegged group or ethos or credo that's being forced into the square holes available in the social fabric ARE too weak to survive on their own. As a former gay teenager (formerly a teenager, still gay) who survived "fag" and "queer" and what have you, I find that somewhat offensive. Telling kids who are different that they NEED to be protected would seem to reinforce not that they are different, but that they are ABNORMALLY different. Simply telling these kids "You're just like everybody else" when they already know they're NOT "just like everybody else" does them a disservice. Telling these kids, "You're NOT just like everybody else, but that's OK, so long as you recognize it and accept that not everybody's going to like you because of it" might better prepare them for a world that will never, at its heart, accept and include them so long as that world is populated by human beings.
posted by m.polo at 8:22 AM on March 13, 2001

rcade wrote:
> Do you think Andy's the only kid who ever moved to a
> new area and was treated poorly

Nope. And because it's such a widespread problem, we should try to reduce it, not ignore it.

This 'I walked twenty miles in the snow to school each day' attitude makes no sense. Because things were bad for you, they have to remain bad for every kid that comes after you?

And whatever made the kid shoot somebody was bound to be relatively trivial -- what's bad enough to justify shooting another kid? It makes no sense to complain that Andy was some sort of wimp, not like the tough schoolroom killers back when you were a kid.

CRS wrote:
> Social ostracism is a tool used by society to encourage
> others to conform

Leaving aside whether it's a good tool for adults, you have to agree that it isn't good to allow a few little kids to use humiliation and ostracism and bullying and beatings to make even littler kids act like the bigger kids.

Or you don't have to agree. To be perverse, you could claim that it's good for kids to hurt other kids for the sake of enforcing the fashions of the forceful.

But I think it's better to minimize such forces. You won't make all social pressure go away and you don't need to do so, but you shouldn't be content to let school become hell for some kids just because they are fat or short or smart or black or whatever it is that the ostracizers think is out that year.

CRS wrote:
> Something is terribly wrong with our society when this
> type of behavior happens.

Not necessarily, or at least not in the way I think you mean. The killer was one violent kid out of many, many non-violent kids. The schools aren't suddenly teeming with killers.

What's wrong with things in general is that not enough of these kids are noticed and helped before they snap, and that too many of them are running around with Daddy's guns when they do snap. You don't read about kids going berserk and punching a dozen kids to death. They shoot other kids.
posted by pracowity at 8:36 AM on March 13, 2001

It makes no sense to complain that Andy was some sort of wimp, not like the tough schoolroom killers back when you were a kid.

I'm not comparing experiences, but the tears shed on behalf of this kid are completely misplaced. Save it for his victims.

People are too eager to believe that these teen-age shooters are bullied kids who snapped, lashing out at their tormenters. Williams shot people at random for ludicrous reasons -- according to a story today, he was angry about being disciplined for tardiness three days earlier. Harris and Klebold killed randomly too -- if you are gunning for school bullies, I can't imagine a less likely place to find them than the school library at lunchtime.
posted by rcade at 9:25 AM on March 13, 2001

"Instead, the problem is that our society has taught our adolescents that they are entitled to certain things, such as not having their feelings hurt or being ostracized for their behavior."

Amen to that. The problem in Santee was not ostracism, it was that Andy Williams was a spoiled, spineless, coward.

The problem has nothing to do with inclusion. It has everything to do with (1) media violence, and (2) people's assumption that they are entitled to be treated well.

These two things combine to produce children who think that they have a "right" to be treated kindly. They have a "right" to be respected. And if they don't get that, it's acceptable to shoot people. This is the message they are getting. Well the right doesn't exist, and shooting people is the selfish cowards way.

"As we know now, Andy was treated like dirt ..... He was bullied regularly....." etc. etc.

So was I. So were a lot of people. The difference is that I knew life is hard sometimes. Andy knew that his life was hard and that was unfair and someone would have to pay. Whining about inclusion only bolsters such mind-sets.

The sooner we stop treating Andy Williams, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold like victims and start treating them like the spineless, coward, dumbshits they are the better.

Living in San Diego I hear a lot of students interviewed about this. All of them (and the media) are presenting Andy as a poor, poor loner who got pushed over the edge. This perpetuates the idea that people who are picked on resort to violence.

Now lets turns back the clock and have students and the media start portraying him as a selfish, viscous coward who would rather murder other people than deal with his own life.

I think that's the way to stop school shooting. Let's cut out the "poor Andy" bullshit.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:36 AM on March 13, 2001

Weird that so many students (who were presumably there, or at least understand the circumstance better than us adults) seem to think he was picked on when we obviously know better, eh y6?

And Rcade: true, Williams says he was pissed off for being locked out of school after beginning to skip school repeatedly... that he's begun to show 'behavioral problems' for some time prior to the shooting...

Kids who do this may or may not be acting out of revenge on individuals, but they sure as hell are telling us loud and clear that there's a problem in their lives.

We can probably spend a relatively small amount of money and catch most (more than 50%) kids who are giving subtler warnings about this kind of thing.

Please don't forget that this problem isn't limited to children.

We can probably spend a much larger amount of money and improve school culture in the united states. Doing so will probably have major positive public health outcomes. I seriously doubt the US as a society has the fortitude to do this.

If you're looking to treat the problem rather than the symptoms, might I suggest that we stop talking about kids who 'blow up', and start considering the bullies in the same group -- they're kids who use violence (at a lower level) to tell us a bit about how they're doing in the world (among other things).

There are better ways than 'sink or swim in the cruel waters of life' to bring kids into adult society. If we decided to do this in schools, I'd suspect we'd need about a 10-1 ratio of students to adults in schools. The adults would need to be charged with caring for children's well being as well as their education, and education would need to be focused at least on part on getting on in society.
posted by daver at 9:55 AM on March 13, 2001

"seem to think he was picked on when we obviously know better, eh y6?"

Of course he was picked on. I thought that was established. When did I say otherwise? And why are you apologizing for him?

Bullies aren't the problem. The problem is people who think a selfish murdering dipshit is somehow the victim because we weren't nice enough to him.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:04 AM on March 13, 2001

Yeah, but if we're actually talking about preventing this kind of thing, calling an abused indivual a selfish murdering dipshit hardly solves the problem, does it? Being proactive means looking beyond merely slapping somebody in jail for doing something wrong, difficult though that may be to comprehend.
posted by DiplomaticImmunity at 10:29 AM on March 13, 2001

Y6 -- do you think the media is creating the students who think Williams was picked on? Do you think it's the media's responsibility to shame Williams as a detergent?

My guess as to your answers are:
"No -- the media is creating the image of students who think he was picked on, to the exclusion of reality which is most students think he was a dipshit." (Well... where are they?)

and "No -- the media has no obligation to shame the kid, they just have an obligation to show reality, which is that..."

Am I off base here? For the record, I agree that using media interviews of students is basically a bad way of understanding the situation.

My real question is: who knows better about what is happening for students -- students or adults? You seem to be implying that adults (you and me) do.
posted by daver at 10:30 AM on March 13, 2001

y6 does have a point, imo. It seems like just about any fight or shooting that occurs (at least in my part of NY) has something to do with respect, wounded pride, whatever.

That's just my view on that.
posted by Cavatica at 10:32 AM on March 13, 2001

y6: spend more tax dollars on feel-good programs with zero results? No thanks. How about we as a society showing that the Baby Boomers were too lax with their kids, and the GenXers are getting worse.

Instill some discipline in kids, make him understand that he is a kid and will receive the full respect of an adult when he earns it. I shudder to think of the spawn of these 15 year olds who think the world owes them everything.
posted by owillis at 10:44 AM on March 13, 2001

"calling an abused indivual a selfish murdering dipshit hardly solves the problem, does it?"

I disagree. I think it goes a long way towards solving the problem. I think we need to spend more time teaching people that they need to take responsibility for their own lives and less time talking about how mean "bullies" are. We need to make children understand that murdering people because you are unhappy is the cowards way.

"do you think the media is creating the students who think Williams was picked on?"

No, I think the students actually feel that way. That my point!!! They know he was picked on and they think that's what caused the shootings. I disagree. I think it was caused by the notion that people have the right to be treated kindly and with respect. That's all well and good, but it is in conflict with reality. If you encourage a high school student to think that they are entitled to respect then you leave them in a position where they should feel outraged and victimized by harsh treatment. High school has been harsh for some people (myself included) since high school existed. It will always be harsh for someone. Trying to do that is pointless.

"Do you think it's the media's responsibility to shame Williams as a detergent?"

No, I think it's their responsibility to not portray him as a victim who we should have helped. None of the reports I've heard are saying, "How do we make children understand that killing is wrong?" All of them (yes, all) are asking, "How do we keep loners from feeling excluded?"

And I don't have any expectation that the media will change, or report my view of reality. That would be silly.

"to the exclusion of reality which is most students think he was a dipshit."

No. No. No. I don't think that at all. In fact I feel exactly the opposite. I think he is a dipshit. I feel that part of the problem is that students don't think he's a dipshit. I think the world would be a better place if they did think of him as a murdering dipshit.

Let's be clear then - I think the problem is that people don't think he's a spineless, pathetic coward.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:04 AM on March 13, 2001

Oddly, I agree more with y6. There's a risk in giving people, especially children, the idea that they are entitled to happiness and kindness and light. Mostly I'm a liberal on education issues, but I do believe some folks go too far with the whole self-esteem thing. Kids gotta learn at some point that not everyone is going to like you. I'd rather teach kids to be resilient and self-reliant than teach them to be always seeking acceptance.

I say this having no kids, but as someone who had a hard time learning this lesson himself.
posted by dhartung at 11:06 AM on March 13, 2001

Should we, as members of a caring, progressive society, have an obligation to be an inclusive society?

This is a pretty boneless question, which makes it hard to approach in a rational way. Are we caring? (Were we ever?) Who will enforce the obligation? What is, and isn't, inclusiveness?

It's an idealistic question; it suggests that aaron is unhappy about the state of the world; it suggests that we might be able to reform the world by adhering to some prescription, such as "You shall love your neighbor as yourself".

Simply put, the problem is that we don't recognize that we're all one. We approach one another (after infancy begins to discover the ignorance that surrounds it) as potential threats. The world trains us to view distinctions as differences, and belittles compassion, and rewards aggression.

In short, the problem is universal, and part of the solution is a change of mind, seizing control of how you interact with others, overcoming the Ignorance. Read the Beats. Explore concepts like self-respect, self-mastery, responsibility, care, courage, wisdom, delight. Welcome to the fray.
posted by Twang at 11:07 AM on March 13, 2001

I think the problem is that people don't think he's a spineless, pathetic coward.

Congratulations. You've succeeded very well in capturing the entire "bully" mindset in a single sentence.
posted by kindall at 12:12 PM on March 13, 2001

Twang: Howzabout instead of reading the Beats, we read the Buddhist literature from which they derived their lame ideas?
Now, I enjoy Corso and Kerouac a lot, but the "Beats" were a bunch of deluded suckers just like the hippies and the Transcedentalists and every other bohemian "movement." Feh. A pox on them all.

posted by sonofsamiam at 12:20 PM on March 13, 2001

I'm bothered by the arguments I'm reading here to the effect of "it's Andy Williams' own fault that he was picked on, cuz he's just a wimp." (Such as: "Bullies aren't the problem. The problem is people who think a selfish murdering dipshit is somehow the victim because we weren't nice enough to him.")

The fact that this kid, or any kid, is in any way "different" (loner, skinny, fat, gay, wimp, geek, nerd, comic-book collector) does not give anyone the right to beat him up. And I don't care that "there have always been bullies" - sure there have, and they've always been in the wrong for being so; and that's no reason not to attempt to stop them.

Teaching kids that they deserve respect (which they do) is not antithetical to teaching them that they're not always gonna get it, and what to do when they don't.
posted by dnash at 12:20 PM on March 13, 2001

Y6 -- I see what you're saying now: Highschool is Nasty, Brutish and Not Short Enough. Kids need to buck up to reality. What are your thoughts on how kids who can't take it anymore should do?

You're asking us to believe that schools will always be (and in fact have always been) a place where you will be disrespected and treated cruelly, and to teach kids that this is normal.

Have a little hope: think that maybe, it would be possible to improve school environments.

I can compromise on this: we should teach kids to have more grace in the face of adversity (I definitely agree, William's reaction was not graceful). However, I'm not really willing to give up on the idea that there's nothing wrong with an environment that produces these reactions.

I think humans learn most of what they know and do before the age of 20. Learning to expect cruelty from your fellows isn't likely to create adults who treat other adults well, let alone their kids.

One more thought: What Y6 and some others are talking about is Shame -- however much guilt Williams was feeling, he overcame it to do the shooting. After the fact, we can as a society choose to shame him by publicly indicating it was a bad thing to do.

The phenomenon of the Amok (which is basically what these kids are doing) is widely recognized in shame based societies. I'm not saying that a bit of shame might not cause this to happen less frequently, just that it doesn't solve it.
posted by daver at 12:26 PM on March 13, 2001

William's reaction was not graceful

That's one way to put it.
posted by rcade at 12:38 PM on March 13, 2001

I do not support the position taken in this link. However, it appears to be a defense of shooting bullies at schools!
posted by Postroad at 12:45 PM on March 13, 2001

What some people seem to forget is that juveniles are by defination unfit for society. You can't expect them to magically know how to cope with a situation just because you went through the same thing and was able to pull through (myself being someone who did).

This boy is a product of his communities. His communities failed him. They failed him because they failed to correctly teach him and his peers the proper rules for social interaction.

There are rules for social interaction just like there are rules for driving. Green means go, red means stop. If children are taught these rules and respected them, there wouldn't be any problem.

His peers, by tormenting and abusing him, showed him just how much they valued him as a person. He gave them the same in return.

I'm not saying that he should expect acceptance, or expect happiness. He should expect to be treated civilly or to be ignored by the people who do not like him. He should expect to be able to pursue an education in an environment that is not hostile to his well being.

Cowardly and stupid are words you can apply to an adult. This boy is a child and should not be condemned by adults as readily as his peers condemned him. Adults who should know better.

posted by Wong Fei-hung at 1:14 PM on March 13, 2001

What's an 'adult'? Someone over 18? This is an arbitrary distinction. If 14-year-olds are merely the product of society, then so are adults.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:21 PM on March 13, 2001

An adult is someone who is a contributing member of society that knows how to and does interact with others for their own benefit as well as the benefit of the society as a whole --- my defination on the fly.

I didn't attach an age to my defination on purpose.
posted by Wong Fei-hung at 1:27 PM on March 13, 2001

"Have a little hope: think that maybe, it would be possible to improve school environments."

My parents were high school teachers. My ex-wife is a high school teacher. I applaud your optimism. Unfortunately you are wrong. It is not possible to improve high school environments in this context (bullies, respect, etc). Sad but true. Prove me wrong. I dare you.

"What are your thoughts on how kids who can't take it anymore should do?"

I don't have a solution. I was reacting to the original post - "Is lack of inclusion the problem?" I don't think it is. I wish I had a better answer to your question. I'm sorry that I don't.

I tend to feel the answer lies in a more developed sense of personal responsibility and peer pressure in that direction, but I understand how trite that is.

[shrug] I'm just a loud-mouth programmer.

"..... does not give anyone the right to beat him up."

Agreed. But it will happen anyway. Quite frequently even. I agree it's wrong and should be punishable with expulsion. But if I stop there I don't help kids deal with it. Because generally it won't result in expulsion, if fact typically it won't result in anything. For some people bullying will be a part of life. I don't condone it. I think it's awful.

"Teaching kids that they deserve respect (which they do) is not antithetical to teaching them that they're not always gonna get it, and what to do when they don't."

Agreed. My point is that I hear people taking about how Andy deserved respect. I don't hear anyone (I'm generalizing) talking about how wrong his actions were.

"This boy is a child and should not be condemned by adults as readily as his peers"

Agreed. I think his actions should be condemned by his peers. Having me condemn him won't do jack. I can't imagine teens thinking that my opinion means anything.

I would prefer to hear students saying something like - "Ya he got bullied all the time. But the way he dealt with it was really stupid." Which it was. If he thinks he got picked on in school I don't think he'll like prison better.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:05 PM on March 13, 2001

y6y6y6, i think you're wrong about bullying. my school is a really good example of how to make things amicable. the staff-student dynamic is such that everyone feels pretty safe, and when there are problems between students, they're usually really petty - no one is being beaten up, no one is getting shit thrown at them. and don't tell me that's how it seems on the surface either because i've been there four years and it's a damn good environment. what is my school doing that these weren't? i'm not sure. it could be an area thing, it could be a staff thing, it could be any number of factors. but don't tell me you can't make shit better.

as a student, i have to say that i don't give a shit what you would prefer to hear us saying. for one thing, i haven't heard any students saying that he dealt with it well, but i think we have a lot more sympathy for "our kind" than y'all seem to have for us. this goes back to columbine, too. those kids had bottles thrown at their heads regularly, for chrissake. four years of that (or three or however long they were there; it had probably been happening their whole academic careers and what do you want them to do? it's no excuse for what they did, but when i pointed that out as a factor to my teachers after columbine i got the weirdest are-you-going-to-shoot-me looks. and the students agreed with me. i don't think the question is "what makes kids go so nuts and snap and crack?", i think it's "what makes kids become so cruel to fellow kids that they can no longer deal with reality?"

i'm not being a school-shooter-apologist, but the blame doesn't just lie with whoever did the shooting. yes, they should know how to handle it better, and yes, it's still absolutely abominable, but i'm not sure how much better i'd be able to handle such outright cruelty and hatred from my peers.
posted by pikachulolita at 2:38 PM on March 13, 2001

I think this whole topic is just another example of our society falling a part. I also believe that nothing can be done, we are trying to bail the water out of the titanic with a glass as she goes down. I personally think the faster our society collapses the better, maybe a better one will spawn somewhere in our souls. I wish I could, but I'll never live to see this. I guess these things just take time...
posted by bytecode at 3:00 PM on March 13, 2001

"but the blame doesn't just lie with whoever did the shooting."

Real cool.

Like you I use to think that adults just didn't get it. Now with a little perspective I understand how much I didn't "get." And how much they did. Sometimes you can learn from people who have lived through all this.
posted by y6y6y6 at 3:00 PM on March 13, 2001

Dang, bytecode, you are cynical.

My view of the future looks just like Blade Runner :)
posted by sonofsamiam at 3:03 PM on March 13, 2001

My parents, and grand parents were also educators. Infact, almost my whole family has an educational background, excepting my mom's dad who worked at a prison.

I'm not really sure what you would accept as proof of making highschool a better place in regards to bullies. Would you accept a highschool where there's never been a school shooting? How about a highschool where students haven't reported bullying to the school counselor in the past 5 years?

My wife graduated in a class of 4 from her high school here in lovely Seattle. I'd bet both of those conditions were satisfied there, but I don't really suspect that'd work nationwide.

I'm not so naive as to think you're going to remove all conflict from the highschool environment. However, I do suspect that with some careful thought it'd be possible to create a highschool environment in which respect for self and for other students (and inclusion is a part of this as I see it) is consciously demonstrated to and inculcated in the culture. I'd bet that in such an environment incidence of school shootings would happen at a greatly reduced rate compared to how things are happening in the U.S. now.

Now all I need is a 40 million dollar grant. Anybody?

But what do I know? I'm just a loud mouth QA type.

Thanks for being so reasonable and civil, Y6...
posted by daver at 3:08 PM on March 13, 2001

When I say condemned by adults, I mean condemned as cowardly and stupid. What he did is wrong and it should be emphasized as wrong. No one should have to think twice about it. He's going to prison and thus will be punished for his crimes.

What should be looked at is what type of respect for self and others is being taught in high school and how the lack of any kind of guidence in this area is pushing children towards insanity. How are the attitudes of teachers and the "popular" kids influencing this problem?
posted by Wong Fei-hung at 3:14 PM on March 13, 2001

Like you I use to think that adults just didn't get it. Now with a little perspective I understand how much I didn't "get." And how much they did. Sometimes you can learn from people who have lived through all this.

don't pat me on the head. don't treat me like i just told you i was gong to go shoot up a school. it's not that i don't think adults get it, it's that they're very removed from it. when's the last time you had a bottle thrown at your head? i'm not saying the students are even right. but i'm saying that we feel a lot more sympathy because we know what happened. hence: don't tell me what you think students should be feeling. you're not a student right now.

as for the blame not lying simply with the shooters, a lot of people believe that. some think that that extra blame lies with the media, some with other cruel humans, some with the moral disintigration of the country. but there has to be a further reason than "these kids are evil and weak and stupid", because this is happening to smart kids who weren't previously beating up raccoons in their basements. they weren't necessarily mentally ill kids. what made them snap? obviously it was something. if i underwent the kind of cruelty some of these kids are subject to and i shot up a school, i'd be pretty pissed off about all these people telling me i'm weak and stupid because i can't handle a few fucking bottles to the head and violent threats and near-rundowns. so tell me, why do you think the solution to cruelty and taunting is more cruelty and taunting?
posted by pikachulolita at 3:56 PM on March 13, 2001

That was such a lucid comment until the last sentence. What?
posted by sonofsamiam at 3:57 PM on March 13, 2001

>How are the attitudes of teachers and the "popular" kids influencing this problem?

How is the lack of basic parental responsibility influencing the problem?
posted by owillis at 3:58 PM on March 13, 2001

I will now be uncivil, but just to make a point.

"How about a highschool where students haven't reported bullying to the school counselor in the past 5 years?"

My high school and junior high experience was almost exactly like Andy's. My parents had moved because I'd been bullied so badly in a previous school. Nothing changed in the new school. Only I learned no one could help me.

Every day for six years I was picked on. Every fucking day! Did I tell my counselor? No. Would I have gotten support if I had? Sure. But it wouldn't have made things better. It would have made them worse.

Every day it was something. Shoving, stealing, verbal abuse. All taking place out of sight. All easy for people to dismiss. The idea that bullying doesn't take place where counselors or pikachulolitas don't hear about it is silly.

The only reason I didn't shoot anyone (and I really, really wanted to) was that I knew it would be the stupid act of a coward. I had guns. I had bomb making recipes. And despite the fact that I was pushed to the edge on a regular basis I knew better.

My advice for Andy would have been to be responsible for his own life and develop some inner strength. Taking shit from bullies doesn't make you a coward. Giving up on life and killing people does. High school and what happens there doesn't amount to jack when you compare it to who you are as a person and how you live your life.

Find some principles and live by them. Don't think anyone will help you no matter what they say. You can only count on yourself. Living well and being a good person is the best revenge. Once out in the real world bullies end up living really sad, unhappy lives.

I am content in knowing that the people who pissed on me in high school now work dead end jobs, live in trailers, and only socialize in bars.

"We need to stop bullies" What a happy smiley feel good.
"There's no bullying here." Dream on sunshine.
posted by y6y6y6 at 4:05 PM on March 13, 2001

The problem isn't the loners, it's the bullies.

Extreme bullying is usually a symptom that there is something terribly wrong with the culture of the institution where it thrives (schools, military colleges, work places etc)

Deal with the institution and the people who run it.

The other thing that is wrong is the easy access to weaponry but let's not go there again...
posted by lagado at 4:13 PM on March 13, 2001

pikachulolita - I've enjoyed reading your posts and I've usually agreed with most of the things you've said. In this case I just strongly disagree. So...... I don't want this to be personal and I do respect your opinion. I'm glad you're willing to share it.

"don't pat me on the head."

I do that to everybody. It's a personality flaw. I really didn't mean it that way. I apologize. I hope we can argue and still remain friendly.

"don't tell me what you think students should be feeling. you're not a student right now."

And don't tell me you know what Andy should or was feeling. You come from a school where there is no bullying. I'm sorry, but I think I have a much more relevant perspective than you do.

"when's the last time you had a bottle thrown at your head?"

Well....... I took an elbow to the face in the pit at a Rage concert last year. But then I rather enjoyed that.
posted by y6y6y6 at 4:23 PM on March 13, 2001

The lot of you sound like the bullies you are condeming. Everytime somebody puts up a comment suggesting lack of respect, compassion, love, patience etc. we feel we need to follow it up with an apology for being warm and fuzzy or else its about hippie culture or being happy and smiley. I believe that positive attitudes from parents passed on to their kids will help in the future and a little positive attitude here wouldn't hurt either. I am not a hippy, loner or a poof and no bottles to the head please.

posted by tuesday at 4:59 PM on March 13, 2001

I finding this thread a smidgen maddening, since several questions haven't been answered. Is bullying at all preventable? Yes? No? Then why make any kid put up with that any of that? Oh, that's just life? I'm not talking about just verbal taunts, although that's bad enough in itself. Verbal taunts combined with violence can scar a kid for life, even if in largely unconscious ways. So, are the verbal taunts OK? Is the violence to be accepted? From all that I've read here so far, it's either a tacit "yeah, it's OK to have folks beat the crap out of them, because that's life and every society discriminates" or, "No, they're top-of-the-line victims." Maybe I'm oversimplifying things, but that's how it comes off. Not a very enlightening debate.

How's about this? Tolerate each other as much as possible, demand tolerance, without necessarily advocating inclusion. But do not under any circumstances accept violence of any sort, from bullies or troubled loners, at any time or under any circumstances. Simple enough? No?

I'll save the "no one ever says Ted Bundy was a troubled outgoing person with enormous charisma" talk for another day.
posted by raysmj at 5:00 PM on March 13, 2001

You were picked on in school? What a coincidence. Me too! Not as badly as your description, but HS. and Jr. HS. weren't (sic) no pic-nic for me either.

It sounds like what you're saying is that no matter how much a school person becomes involved, it's much easier for a determined bully to cause trouble in areas that are out of bounds for the teachers (or counselors, or whatever). True. And, having adults 'step in' to a situation is no guarantee that it'll get better -- it may get worse as you noted.

I know it sounds namby pamby in the face of the type of abuse you suffered through, but I do believe it would have helped Mr. Williams out (I'm not going to speculate for you, Y6) just to have somebody hear him. And after hearing, assisting the student in thinking well about how they're gonna deal.

As you mentioned, your advice for Andy would have been... Well, he didn't get that advice. At least not from anybody who he trusted well enough to give it a go. He couldn't think clearly enough about his situation to figure that out on his own (this is part of being a kid -- not knowing it all). Sounds like you did, but many don't.

I don't actually think you'll get a school w/o bullies. I don't think you'll be able to 'enforce' a no-disrespecting policy.

I do think that schools are woefully under-staffed and under-prepared to even begin to make a real difference in these areas. I do think it is possible for adults to make a difference. I don't think we're going to make it by just writing off the kind of abuse you tolerated in school as part of the ride.

Anyway, I think I'm finished for the day. Glad you made it through Y6...
posted by daver at 5:01 PM on March 13, 2001

Teachers have been rendered useless in these situations because they can't ever punish anyone. Yell at a kid (bully or otherwise) and they catch high holy hell. But then when the parents don't do their damn job, the teachers get blamed.

Maybe it's a cultural thing for me. Growing up in Jamaica, spanking (not beating) is an acceptable form of punishment in school - up to around the middle school level. Get spanked in school? Your parents are going to know, and... Kids don't do bad things because they actually have something to fear, and learn a valuable lesson.

In America, it seems the attitude is non-existent. There's the problem. Fixable? In some ways. Parents need to do a better job of parenting. How do you do that? Society needs to start speaking up.
posted by owillis at 5:13 PM on March 13, 2001

Like you I use to think that adults just didn't get it. Now with a little perspective I understand how much I didn't "get." And how much they did. Sometimes you can learn from people who have lived through all this.

Oh, don't even try that shit. I'm so sick of people on their little elitist "silly little kid, I used to think that, but I'm too mature now, you'll grow out of your outrage." People do grow out of their outrage, maybe, but they shouldn't, because then they get stuck in the trap of "if schools had more money, they'd be ok" (the biggest lie in education reform) or "kids should just talk to their counselors." My guidance counselor couldn't even handle signing me up for dual enrollment, how do you expect her to handle emotional crises? Her attempts at relating to me were stuff like seeing my Dr. Strangelove t-shirt and saying "That's one of those Holland movies, isn't it?" ... I guess they have a movie theatre in Holland that plays alternative films, other than that I couldn't find a connection with the city of Calvinists and tulips.

I don't know what the solution is. Our public school system is seriously screwed, and I know I could never live with the guilt if I ever had kids and sent them there. I don't think there are problems that can solved with such small measures as have been proposed.

Our society is screwed. I want to move into the woods and cut myself off from it. Of course I won't, I'm not a person of action, I'll just sit here and bitch, but it's better than complacency.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:57 PM on March 13, 2001

if i underwent the kind of cruelty some of these kids are subject to and i shot up a school, i'd be pretty pissed off about all these people telling me i'm weak and stupid because i can't handle a few fucking bottles to the head and violent threats and near-rundowns.

If you shot up a school, I wouldn't care about your feelings or how bad you were treated beforehand. Why should anyone else care about Andy Williams at this point, when a million kids in America go through the same or worse and don't kill anybody? Shouldn't we focus our attention on them and stop crying for the poor mistreated murderer, who by all accounts wasn't bullied severely and had friends?
posted by rcade at 6:11 PM on March 13, 2001

Look, I think we're all kinda missing the point of the question here. It's not just the teachers who are to blame, or the bullies, or negligent parents, or a media that glamorizes victimhood, or violent escapist imagery in popular entertainment. It's a little bit of everything--what a friend of mine described as "butterflies individually flapping their wings, creating many small storms of which one, every once in a while, given enough careless butterflies, grows into a hurricane."

There's something gone horribly wrong and toxic about a society that has an epidemic of high school shootings, and there's no one thing to blame. You need a maladjusted kid. You need parents and teachers who didn't notice how desperately he needed help. You need a high school culture in which bullying is rampant and tolerated. You need to provide easy access to firearms. You need news and movies and music to plant the idea in some kid's head that he's only got this one way out. Then you need something to set it all off.

It's defeatist to say that you're never going to get rid of bullies in high school. It's negligent to say the only one with a burden of guilt here is the gunman himself. This is a complex problem, and it shouldn't reduce to simple finger-pointing quite so easily.
posted by shylock at 6:34 PM on March 13, 2001

I do that to everybody. It's a personality flaw. I really didn't mean it that way. I apologize. I hope we can argue and still remain friendly.

it's all good. actually, after i went back to read it again i noticed that maybe you weren't being as condescending/sarcastic as i had previoiusly thought. someone needs to make an irony/sarcasm emoticon is what needs to happen, not a verb. :)

anyway, of course we can remain friendly. i took too much attitude from your post and i appreciate your taking the high road on this one (something i probably should have done in the first place). thanks much for understanding where i was coming from and not letting this escalate. i have a quick trigger when it comes to being patronized, and i overreacted. i am sorry. :)

posted by pikachulolita at 11:24 PM on March 13, 2001

pikachu and y6, you both rock. Earlier in this thread, I got ass-backwards and stupid over a perceived slight. If I had acted with one tenth of the civilty and restraint that you both have displayed today, I wouldn't be eating plateloads of crow in Metatalk right now. Apologies to all who read my little screed. Especially to aaron, at whom it was directed. Hopefully, I've learned a little from ya'll....

From the mouths of babes......
posted by Optamystic at 1:22 AM on March 14, 2001

sonofsamiam: Howzabout instead of reading the Beats, we read the Buddhist literature from which they derived their lame ideas?

Good idea! except the Beats are much more readable. I dig Buddhism, but the texts glaze me over. Of course, there's always Alan Watts and Paul Reps.

Now, I enjoy Corso and Kerouac a lot, but the "Beats" were a bunch of deluded suckers

Hmmm. You enjoy them but they're deluded? Or you swallowed the bad press and got a tummyache? Well anyway, this thread reminds me of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" a whole lot. It's the same complaint. Except noone seems to have picked up on the Moloch factor here yet.

just like the hippies and the Transcedentalists and every other bohemian "movement." Feh. A pox on them all.

Tell your doggie I said hi.

posted by Twang at 8:48 AM on March 14, 2001

"but the blame doesn't just lie with whoever did the shooting."

Real cool.

y6, if this is the only part of pikachu's earlier comment that you saw, I can't blame her for thinking you're being a bit patronising.

Sad but true. Prove me wrong. I dare you.

She did. Refute it. I dare you.
posted by swell at 12:32 PM on March 14, 2001

swell, man. I think the fight's over...
posted by Avogadro at 12:38 PM on March 14, 2001

I mostly agree with y6. One of the things wrong with being too sympathetic to the people who open fire on their schools is that it creates a climate of fear, or at least unease, towards kids who get picked on all the time and don't really fit in, even the ones who have absolutely no intention of killing anybody.
I clearly remember one instance of being told exactly in the words y6 mentioned, about having the right to be respected and treated nicely--and I remember actually starting to cry at that point, because it was ridiculous to talk about nebulous rights that nobody ever does anything about.
You can say "they couldn't take it any more," but people can take a lot when they don't see any other options. Or they can come up with better alternatives. A kid I know who was under a lot of stress at school dropped out and got his GED. Would it have been better if the school environment had been less stressful? Sure. But, barring that, at least he did something to make it better without hurting himself or anyone else. Would it be better if people stopped bullying each other? Of course. But since only the people doing the bullying can do anything about that, you need to focus on the people who can do something, too, even if it's a non-solution like trying to tolerate it a little longer.

posted by Jeanne at 7:35 AM on March 15, 2001

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