A Comment About The Gardena School Shooting

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

I live in California. In fact, the first school district I attended when I was very young was Gardena. And that’s where the latest shooting in a high school took place, just days ago. This time, a boy brought a gun to campus. He got it past the school’s mandatory metal detector, you know, those incredibly expensive machines schools now buy to ineffectively protect students from the violence that these schools and their approach to education tend to propagate.

You may be thinking “how can he say that? Schools help build up the violence? That’s wrong!” I wish that it was wrong, but it’s not.

And how do schools propagate violence? To understand how, one must understand the anatomy of violence. It has been said that “violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”. (Isaac Asimov, science and science fiction writer.) It might just as easily be said that “violence is the last resort of those without hope.” And a child in a school often has very little hope or sadly enough, competence.

The lack of competence part is easily enough explained: schools are miserable failures at education. They shove unrelated information down student’s throats, factoids without any relation to life or any foreseeable use or value to the student. They test on the basis of memorization rather than understanding or improved skills. In fact in almost every case, developed skills are not the criteria that schools have any interest in, they’re just not a part of “the system”. They don’t study toward skills, and they don’t test for them as a usually obeyed rule.

The school steals any “free” time the student might have used to develop competency in areas of his own interest through long school days and ridiculous homework assignments. It has been statistically evaluated very recently, and the nationwide results in the United States showed that the upcoming generation, for the first time in our history, is less capable, and has less of a likely future than the last generation!

How would you feel if you knew that your potential and your future were being stolen from you, hour by hour and school day by school day? Month after month – year after year? Why, perhaps you might wish to do some violence as well. This is not an excuse for the insanity that took place in Gardena this week. It is only an explanation. I do not mean to let the student who brought the gun to school off the hook. But I do mean to put the school and the school system on the hook with him.

So, how about hope? “Why”, you mutter, “these students are young! They have their whole future before them! They should have nothing but hope!” And you’re right, they should. But they don’t. Their only hope is to survive over a decade of enforced “schooling”, which they understand all too well is providing them almost nothing of value. They are told that college is a better place, a place of “higher learning”. But colleges essentially offer more of the same. A very recent study showed that most students in college did not do a single course last year that demanded of them that they read more than 40 pages of any single book! Students are skipping out on college courses in record numbers. One friend sticks around to record a lecture, the other students work a job, party, you name it. Colleges are failing their students in record numbers. Why shouldn’t they? They use the same miserable methods and tools as lower schools, and pack on top of them the weight of more information to memorize (but not evaluate or use), and more complexity and responsibility. And the cost of failure in college is enormous in terms of finances and personal esteem.

What can a student hope for? That things will change? They do change every day, but not necessarily for the better. And if the student himself is not in some way empowered, how will he ever be able to change things for himself? Is the student likely to find himself empowered by a system designed to box him in, demand that he conform, make him like all the other “good” children his age? Not bloody likely.

Of course, violence is a sort of power. Violence draws attention. We listen (at least for a moment or two) to the man waving a gun in our face, and we take his demands and needs very seriously until he’s disarmed. But once disarmed, what is our reaction to the violence just committed? Generally it’s horror, disgust, fear. The only people who use violence who retain our attention and any power over others are dictators. Violence is, after all, a rather incompetent response to life. How horrible then that there are those – children – who believe that violence is their only available response.

The stories I read about Gardena’s school district reminded me of my own brief experience there. At age 5, I went to Kindergarten in Gardena. I had a teacher who spoke not a word of English. She was from Korea. I learned less than nothing from her. We did not speak the same language. I had a step-father who would ask me what I had learned that day in school. When I told him the truth, “nothing”, he would occasionally strike me. He was quite a large man, I was quite tiny, and it hurt. Then one day, the Gardena schools held their open house and my step father met my teacher. He discovered that I’d been telling the truth. Being a child and without authority, I could not convince him, he had to see the truth for himself. Until the open house, he chose to believe “them” rather than a child. I understood. After all, I was just a child, and they were adults and teachers.

To my step-father’s credit, we moved out of Gardena a month or so later, to another school district. But as can be imagined, my own recall of the Gardena school district is colored by horrific inadequacy and violence – as far back as 1961. The problems of school are sadly old problems. We have done very little to fix them over the decades, and a problem unsolved gains weight, like a stone rolling downhill. The Gardena school system would appear to be an avalanche. But they’re not alone. From where I’m sitting, the national educational system looks a lot like the Rocky Mountains crumbling down.

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