Why Did The School Mass Murder In Rio Happen?

Monday, April 11th, 2011

I don’t know where to start this one, folks. I’ve put off writing about it for days.  It’s simply too terrible a story to start itself easily or cleverly, and really I did not want to write anything about it, or give it “power”.  But it’s also very important that educators and homeschoolers come to grips with this sort of thing, so I’m writing.

Let’s begin with the facts as I understand them right now.  A few days ago, a young man in his early twenties walked onto an Elementary School campus in Rio de Janero, Brazil.  He said that he wanted to deliver a talk, and then pulled out two handguns which he apparently secured illegally on the streets of Rio.  Once a student at that school, it looks like he returned for some sort of horrifying “revenge”.  In spite of tearful pleas from very young students, he lined them up faced to a wall – and shot them in the head, killing twelve, injuring twenty.  He then killed himself as authorities finally showed up.

That’s the story, so far.  It has resulted in a dozen grossly premature funerals.  The mayor of Rio claimed that such a thing has never happened before in his city.  That may be, but given the failure of educational systems throughout the world, he and his fellow mayors should face facts.  School violence is dramatically on the upswing, all over the world.  There are simply too many statistics to quote here, you’ll need to take my word on this one.  I’m not saying that this horrific act is “typical”, but I am saying that schools are certainly headed toward such common apocalyptic acts on a regular basis, in many, many places.

To slow down or stop such violence aimed at children, we will need to understand the mechanics of the problem.  Just handling symptoms has proved a disastrous failure.  Metal detectors are a joke only exceeded by “on-campus security”.  Teachers will almost universally refuse to place themselves in the line of fire or danger.  It’s not a part of their job description.  Nor should it be.  Schools should be places of learning, not prisons where the toughest barely survive.  Teachers are not prison guards, and they‘re not armed.  But the one thing every parent who drops a child off at a school depends upon, whether their child is an “A” or “F” student, is that the school will keep their child safe for the hours they are entrusted to do so.

Come on, parents, do you really have that sort of trust in a school, today?  If you do, you really need to reconsider.  Even “nice” schools in “nice” areas are far more dangerous today than almost any homeschool situation.  But we’ve talked about such things before.  Let’s stay with this story.

Why did this happen?  Why would a young man reach out his steely arm and shoot over thirty children?  What happened to this young man that made him hate his old Elementary School to the extent that he wanted its student’s and himself dead?

I have no definitive answer to this question, I have only educated guesses.  I don’t live in Brazil, I live in Los Angeles, California, where I also went to public schools.  I taught for the L.A. Unified School District for one very unhappy year, and what I saw convinced me that schools do not and cannot work.

So, what did I see that might help explain mass murder?  I saw teachers who were inadequate in nearly every respect, one for one, to teach children.  Many of them did not LIKE children!  They almost all saw their position as just that, a “job”.  They did not have any willingness to “walk the extra mile” for their students, and their union backed them up.  For that matter, they had little willingness to rise from their desk, except for lunch and to collect a paycheck.

I worked at a “magnet school”, one which imported students from both the ritzy and expensive part of town, and from downtown and Watts where poorer minority children lived.  There were fights between groups of children almost every day on that campus, and that was in the late 1970s!  I personally broke up two knife fights, and in each case, I was considerably smaller and shorter than the students I stepped between.  Being as I have never been to college, I was technically on campus as a “teacher’s aide”, though I taught 5 classes a day unassisted for the entire year.  I was paid about $5 an hour for my efforts there.  The school was interested in ‘alternative education”, which in this case meant they provided no library or books.  As I was teaching English electives, I was forced to bring in my private library to issue to my students, so they’d have something to read.  (It was all ridiculous, really.)

I think that the story of one of my students may help us to understand what happened in Rio.  No names here, I’ll call him “L”.  L was a very bright young man, 17 years old, who was bussed to school from the Inner City (the poor part of town).  He was inquisitive, inventive, interested in the arts and acting in particular, which I taught.  He was also entirely illiterate.  He was in 11th grade, moving into 12th at the end of the year, and could not even SIGN HIS OWN NAME!  He signed with the legendary “X”.  We tape recorded his lines for shows so that he could learn them, and learn them he did.  He was quite good on stage.  But he never had any chance at a career or a decent life, did he?  Because he could not read.

At the time, I was about 25 years old and I just didn’t know enough about how to educate a person to fix L’s illiteracy. (I have since taught myself to do so by various means, none of them school related.)   At the end of the year, I met with the head of our department.  I wanted to have L held back, and placed in some sort of a remedial program where his reading skills (or lack thereof) could be addressed.  I was informed that under no circumstances could I flunk L, or have him held back.  When I asked why, I was given numerous evasions until the truth forced its way out of her mouth.  The school would not be paid by the state for any student who was held back.  (I do not know if this is still how it is at LAUSD.)

Why was L going to be moved through High School and out into the world as an illiterate?  Money.  I quit LAUSD the next morning.

So, we come to the young assassin in Rio.  There’s no excuse for what he did.  He is responsible.  He will doubtless pay for what he did and in many ways.  The grief and loss he created are shattering.  But WHY did he do it?  Why march into his old Elementary School to make the “statement” that he made?  How had the school failed him?  How would any person come to hate a school so much that he’d walk onto that campus with guns blazing?

How did we fail this child?

We’ve seen this before, haven’t we?  We’ve seen it all over the world, and quite often in the United States, where I believe that schools have utterly failed their students and communities.  As the U.S. is the master at exportation, and as we successfully export our disgusting ideas regarding “standardized education” to the world, I’m afraid we’re going to see a lot more situations like the one in Rio.

Listen world, let’s understand one thing.  THE UNITED STATES STINKS AT EDUCATION!

It’s intentional.  In the U.S., The entire idea of education and what it’s for has been twisted, altered, perverted to serve industry and government and their needs.  It isn‘t about the children, not in our schools.  So for heaven’s sake, DON’T COPY US!

Education should be all about children and their needs, and nothing else.  No child should be “educated” and illiterate.  No child’s interests should be ignored in favor of some imaginary “norm”, some standardized educational lineup.  No two children are alike.  Children’s interests vary from child to child, as do their skills, their insights, their lives.  Each child deserves a chance…EVERY chance…to discover the world and remake it in their own image.  Each child deserves and needs the opportunity to develop their own view of life and the world, and to establish their own skills and values.  An education that does not provide this fails the child utterly, wastes his years and youth, and prepares him for a miserable adulthood of trained servitude and endless questions about ‘what if”.  “What if I had a real education?”  “What if, while I was young, I’d been allowed to pursue my interests?”  And on and on it goes.

How many “what ifs” did this young man in Rio ask before he answered them with carnage and death?  We probably will never know.  What we can know is that the schools he went to failed him.  No one with an attractive future before them does what he has done.

Blame the young man, certainly.  Then, blame the schools.  They are guilty, too.

7 comments on “Why Did The School Mass Murder In Rio Happen?”


  1. Blair Goodman says:

    Your story is quite the eye opener. I taught in a private school in a very privileged district in Vancouver, Canada for a year. I also quit after one year. My situation was far less severe than your L.A. school experience, however, I had and still have many concerns about the education system at is now worldwide. My wife and I decided to home school our children knowing the alarming issues at infest every classroom where teachers are expected to provide the education needs of 15,20,25,30 or more students all at the same time. It is absolutely ludicrous when one thinks about the individual needs of every child.

  2. Hi Blair, agreed. Each child has unique skills and needs, unique interests and prospects, and these should be not merely respected, but worked with with an eye toward the child’s future. Can’t be done in a classroom situation, as you described. Well done, homeschooling! That is the best way.

  3. In many cases, it is all about the money and that is a real shame.
    Steve, when I am subbing I try to make sure that no student leaves my classroom angry. I see the anger in too many faces. Anger that festers within a student and there is no outlet . I’ve seen this anger as early as kindergarten in the inner city and also in the well off suburbs. Many teachers lack the empathetic skills needed to look deeper into the child. I consider it a gift . I taught in NYC for 13 years as a tenured teacher. I took off to raise my family, got a job in the suburbs and was forced to resign six months before my tenure for bogus reasons. The real reason why – speaking up for the kids!

  4. Hi, Peggy. I understand all too well. I taught for LAUSD for one year (all I could stand) in a “magnet school.” I taught English electives in a school without a library or books. No money. But they had money for teacher perks and in-services, those special, little meetings where the school brings in an expert to teach the teachers how to teach. At the end of the first in-service I attended (less than worthless), they asked for questions. I shot my hand up and asked how much the instructor had been paid. He answered. I suggested that next time the school felt the need to do an in-service, they divert the funds to buy BOOKS so that the school could have a library, and reading and English skills could be developed. After that, I was very unpopular with the staff. But the kids liked me because they knew I was there for them, not for the system or to make the other teachers happy. So I do get it. I don’t know how you survived in the system as long as you did!

  5. Steve, I think I survived because I love teaching and was able to reach the kids. The kids know who really cares. They can read through the lines. As like you, there were many teachers that did not like me- you know the envy, competition thing. I am past that now .


  6. Linda Armijo says:

    Alas, your story is similar to mine. My class of 20 4th graders (who all but 3 read at a 2cd grade level) could not do 3rd grade math, and had a 1st grade vocabulary. The final straw was my order to create “passable assessments” to bring up their overall grade so they would pass, and to lie to their parents that they were on grade level. I had 7 ancient science books and 8 social studies books in my room (I borrowed those from the other teachers because they would not teach those subjects) I couldn’t use them though, because sharing among 3 is not conducive to learning. The only good thing I did that year was to get a very smart young man who read at a 1st grade level tested for dyslexia, which he had. But they won’t help him. They will pass him and when he fails his national tests, they will drill him or help him cheat and eventually he will drop out.

  7. Hi Linda, Well, it’s very courageous of you to share the story. And I think yours is not an uncommon tale, I’m afraid. All too common. All typical of a completely failed, misguided educational system that is dragging our children and civilization into the muck. I do appreciate your stepping forward to share this.

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