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News & Views - Dec, 1999 Issue #64

By Suzanne F. Scott, Ed. M., Educational Consultant
Rydal, PA
(215) 884-0656
June 2, 1999

(The following is an essay by educational consultant Suzanne F. Scott, written in reaction to the media coverage of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Among the impressions I got from reading it is that the problem causing these tragedies will never be solved as long as society looks only for superficial answers, trying to find someone to blame. –Lon)

The New York Times’ provocative cover story on the suit being brought against the beleaguered Klebold and Harris parents leads me to express my dismay at the pillorying of these parents. Aside from the intrinsic, heartbreaking tragedies of Columbine and all the other outbreaks of school violence, one of the saddest side effects has been the passing around of blame: on the Schools, the NRA, the HMOs, Teenage Cruelty, Peer Culture, the Media, the Internet, Society and the Parents.  Aside from the fact that blame is the last thing we should be doing, blaming the parents seems to me the unkindest cut of all.

In the Columbine cases, I do not know if there is some justification for the accusations. However, the blame being directed at the parents seems only to compound these tragedies and, despite my deep compassion for those heartbreaking losses, bringing suit seems somehow incongruous.

As an Educational Consultant and trained psychologist, I have been working with parents for over 25 years, helping them explore good educational options for their children. Recently, I have seen a tragic growth in the number of those who seek my counsel not merely in the search of the right private school or college but in search of solutions to the failure of their community resources to yield effective interventions for the recognized complexities of their child’s learning or emotional problems.

Most of these children are not openly aggressive. While they tend to march to the sound of their own drum, often appearing immature and at times defiant, they seem themselves as different, misunderstood and unable to fit into the system. These parents diligently but vainly pursue help from many sectors. Their children receive diagnoses ranging from low self esteem to ADD, ODD, OCD, Depression, Bi-polar, LD and the newly coined non verbal learning disability.  The schools offer few or inappropriate solutions. The HMOs offer only limited or no support for their travails. The parents’ efforts to discipline and guide these challenging youngsters are often met with blithe, even sincere, but empty promises to do better next time, or they encounter the all too typical teenage disdain and resistance to accepting the socialization that is the norm.  Many of these children are bright, in mentally gifted programs, but they generally see themselves as different, misunderstood and unable to fit into the system.  Most, while displaying some areas of maturity, tend to be emotionally arrested at a younger age level. They are unable to objectively understand the impact of their behavior on others, and cannot experience empathy or remorse, though they can be kind and caring to relatives and other children.

The parents come to me, often in tears, describing what they see behind these behaviors: their child’s depression, passivity, anger, anxiety and almost always, low self-esteem. My heart breaks for the many parents I have known who have diligently tried to find someone to pay attention, to give them some clues as to paths to follow. The parents were right there.

While there is blame enough to go around, both in Columbine and other situations; it accomplishes nothing. More prudently, we need to find out how our communities can prevent such alienation.

We need to take a cold look at what has happened to our society in these post-Sputnik decades.  Having the most impact was the consolidation of school districts in an effort to beef up science programs and compete with the Soviet Union. This consolidation removed the neighborhood schools concept: teachers and parents no longer knew each other, and the school could no longer watch two or three generations of a family proceed through its doors.

The greater mobility allowed by our affluent society caused the the nuclear family to all but disappear, disrupting the family’s natural support system (it DOES take a village). Our health care system’s change of focus from the desired outcome, to efficiency as the requiste bottom line, threatens us all. There are NO simple solutions or panaceas and we must grow up and stop seeking them.

Sadly, there will always be the aberrant individual who, even if all the supports were in place, will commit the unthinkable, unpreventable act. And until we can be 1000% certain of the means to identify this minority, we fail miserably if we identify every computer nerd, white faced, black clad adolescent as “The Enemy.” Perhaps, as Pogo would say, “the Enemy is Us.”

The purpose of this letter is not to assign blame or outline solutions. It is to say we are all in this together. Let us use Columbine as a stimulus to evaluate how our society values its youth, to look at priorities in funding not from political, but from community-centered perspectives.

Finally, let us, especially we professionals, not get caught in the trap of blaming the victim. These parents need us. Let us be there for them.

Copyright © 1999, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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