Friday, January 07, 2011


Bleah. We all agree that the school violence at Millard South High School in west Omaha the other day is atrocious, sad, horrifying and should never have happened.

But I'm suspecting that educators, who lost one of their own in Assistant Principal Vicki Kaspar along with the teenage boy shooter, are going to become defensive as we continue to "debrief" ourselves on this tragedy.

Yes, parents should indeed bear the blame, since we're the ones in charge of our kids. The things they do reflect our choices as well as their own. I don't want to get in to that in this case, since none of us can know the whole truth.

But I do know this:

Schools and educators bear a lot of the blame for this incident, too. And here's how:

-- Schools quit teaching kids how to read and write using tried-and-true, cheap, effective methods about 30 years ago. Kids today, especially lower-income ones, have a very tough time reading and writing at grade level. They are nowhere near good enough at reading comprehension, concentration, vocabulary and all the other subskills needed to understand the Great Books That Build Character. If you can't read, you can't think. If you can't think, you can't control yourself. Therefore . . . they aren't having their characters built in a positive way any more. Self-control and personal responsibility are just not modeled in schoolbooks anymore. It is rare in schools today to have even one student in an English classroom who loves to read, much less is a good enough reader to absorb long books with tough vocabulary about heroes overcoming obstacles and so forth. Instead, the kids read junky teen novels full of sex, violence and crass teen jokes, because the teachers feel it's the only reading material that will keep them "engaged in reading." Right -- like PORNO is OK because it gets people into PHOTOGRAPHY!

-- Schools also expunged references to "right vs. wrong" years ago, when it was decided that Judeo-Christian values, ethics and principles had to be censored from public schools. If a student isn't in outside Christian education with regular Sunday School and youth group attendance -- and few are -- how is the student to learn the Ten Commandments? They are the basis for the American system of government and laws. Why should a student obey a law if he or she has no idea where it came from -- why it was made, thousands of years ago, and still holds true today? Why should a student obey laws if there is, as schools teach, no such thing as "right" and "wrong"? How is the student to learn how impressive is the historical background behind the rule, "Thou shalt not kill" . . . and live by that rule and the other clear, simple rules for living that schools USED to teach?

-- Put that together with the relativism in our schools -- "what's right for YOU isn't necessarily right for ME" . . . plus "values-neutral" stands on abortion, euthanasia and other life-related topics . . . plus the desensitization about human life instilled by violent video games, and you can see the witch's brew that might have led to the Millard South boy's turbulent, confused thoughts.

-- But there's more. The Millard Public Schools were a national pilot for Outcome-Based Education programs, which started in the 1980s and continue today under the name of "standards-based education." That's the national norm for school systems today. Millard educators are experts at it and don't know anything else. Since they have no basis for comparison, they don't seem to realize how OBE is so overly-standardized and programmed that kids who don't feel as though they "fit in" -- like the shooters at Columbine, and apparently the Millard South perpetrator -- often develop exaggerated feelings of "victimhood" because they aren't up to the government "specs" that are the basis for OBE.

-- Note that Columbine High School also was deeply entrenched in Outcome-Based Education, as were several other of the schools -- maybe ALL of the other schools -- where violence has erupted in recent years. That's not a coincidence.

-- The main problem with OBE is that it is based on stimulus-response programmed learning. Educators believe that it is good, but it's very bad. The thought is, we give the kids this content, and then we measure how well they learned it with this assessment. When they reach the standard -- meet the outcome -- we can go on. If the kid learns this one fact or skill, but not these 99 OTHER ones, that's not our problem. We're just bringing the kid up to "specs" on this one thing we're supposed to. See the inhumanity? There's no room for spontaneity, individuality, sidetracking in the area of a student's interest or passion -- it's very mechanized and "professional" -- and extremely dehumanizing, especially to kids who "walk to the beat of a different drummer."

-- And that gets doubly dangerous, because stimulus-response thinkers can only think of ONE response. It comes from computers -- the "1's" and the "0's." Stimulus-response. Stimulus-response. Kids today have little, if any, divergent thinking, which is ironic, with all the talk about "diversity" and "multiculturalism" in our schools today. Balderdash! They're brainwashed! They can only go to the "default" response. If this had happened a generation ago, under traditional educational philosophies, the kid might have (1) chosen to write a letter of apology and persuade the vice principal to let him come back to school, (2) organized a group of students to put on some car washes and dances to help him pay for the damage, (3) asked for counseling to understand why he was feeling so hostile and angry toward his school and why he chose to vandalize the football field in particular (fairly obvious that he was feeling jealous and left out, since the Millard South football team was crowned state champs last fall, but he wasn't part of all of that), or he could have exercised many other options to deal with this problem constructively. But nooooo. All he could think to do was grab a gun and go blow everybody away.

-- Stimulus-response thinkers also are devoid of empathy and values. Of course, educators kicked out any semblance of Judeo-Christian ethics, principles, values and empathy years ago. Into the vacuum moved "values clarification," or "values-neutral" philosophies. Instead of right-from-wrong, kids are taught that "whatever makes SENSE to you, you should do, and no one -- not parents, not teachers, not the law, not police officers, not Sunday School teachers -- can tell YOU what to do." This over-empowerment, combined with a lack of divergent thinking and the suppression of teaching of right-from-wrong, is what is causing kids to erupt in violence, instead of thinking things through for a more empathetic, constructive result.

-- There are tons of other problems with OBE, including the rampant grade inflation, which has destroyed the encouragement and punishment power of grades. It's pretty much Pass/Fail in schools today . . . and that means that both the adults and the students are reduced to comparing each other in terms of minutia. What you're wearing, what you did last weekend, what cool tech toys you have . . . those become the status symbols, not academic achievement. Human beings can't help but constantly evaluate themselves compared to others -- how'm I doing? where do I stand? -- and so in OBE high schools, unfortunately, since academics have paradoxically become meaningless, undue glory is given to the athletes and cheerleaders, and other kids deemed "high-achieving" in a socially-valuable way . . . while the artistic, creative, intellectual and thoughtful kids, especially those who are poor and from broken families, are often made to feel invisible and powerless -- a pain, a flaw, an "aberration" to the "standard." We sure saw that in Columbine, and I think, based on the situation, we might have seen it here, too. And what do they do? They react. And usually, in a very bad way.

There's a lot more to be said, and I hope you'll say it here, as we continue to armchair-quarterback a truly terrible incident, and link arms to do the things most likely to prevent a recurrence. What do YOU think of these ideas, and what do YOU think needs to be added to the discussion?

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