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Ten Years Ago: Remembering Columbine

Ten years ago today, I was still working as a teacher at the Cambridge School of Weston. Around 3 pm or so (EDT), I got into my car to drive home, and as usual, the radio was tuned to WBZ news radio 1030 on the AM dial.

What I heard as I was pulling out of the school shocked me. There had been school shootings before; indeed, the threat of school shootings had formed the basis of my first published story just four years before. But the reports coming out of Colorado felt unprecedented in their scope. The idea that two kids had managed to acquire enough weaponry to kill thirteen of their classmates and teachers, and to place the entire community under siege – it just seemed unreal.

It especially hit home for me. The early reports coming out of Littleton implied that the two killers had been picked-upon outcasts getting their revenge, and like many of us, I knew what it felt like to be an outcast in school. Furthermore, as a teacher I tended to advise kids who felt like outcasts themselves, and so I couldn't help but wonder if someone close to me might – no, the very idea was unthinkable. It had to be.

I don't recall much of the afternoon once I got home. Nomi tells me that she came home from work to find me glued to the television set, trying to eke out every possible detail from the evening news. Like the rest of us, I was trying to make sense out of the horrific event, and getting nowhere.

(In all seriousness, over the next month I looked into the possibility of getting a gun license that would allow me to carry secretly at a school, for protection. I soon gave up the idea, but that should tell you how much the tragedy affected me from over a thousand miles away.)

Ten years later, Columbine has faded for many of us slightly, as Virginia Tech has now supplanted it in both intensity and currency. But for some of us, it will probably remain as fresh a tragedy as it was on that day in 1999.


Recent FBI reports show that the killers were actually not picked-upon kids looking for revenge, they were popular, charming, fairly normal-seeming kids, one of whom was so charming because he was a genuine sociopath, the other of whom was severely paranoid. They appear to have pretty much made up the "picked-upon outcasts" self-image out of their own psychoses.
Just to clarify: I'm not saying it was any less of a tragedy, or that such a thing couldn't have happened by kids who were always oversensitive and went completely unhinged from long bullying and lack of support. I'm just saying that according to the more thorough examination of the facts, that doesn't seem to be what happened in this incident.
Which is why I made it clear that what we heard were the "early reports." Later reports have clarified that the original conception was not the case.
What upset me about the tragedy's aftermath was how it transformed the way misfits are perceived by teachers and school authorities. When I was in middle school and high school, I was told that the fact that I was picked on and had a lot of anger and pain over how I was treated meant that I was going to grow up to use that as fuel to be a creative genius. Four years later, kids who were picked on and ostracized, instead of being comforted, were hit with a second gut punch when the fact that they were teased was seen as proof that they were walking time bombs who had to be expelled before they shot up the school. They were punished for being punished. I couldn't stop thinking of how different my life and my sense of identity would have been if I was just a few years younger.
The one that affected me most was the elementary school takeover and shooting in PA. It wasn't a student, it was an adult who felt a need to extract revenge from children completely unrelated and unbeknownst to him before that day. It has been followed by similar episodes in Ireland and in Germany.
Does anyone else remember reading John Brunner's "The Sheep Look Up" and his prophecy of the rise of "muckers"?
I was in college in MA and freaked out when I saw the headlines. I couldn't recall whether my brother's lacrosse team was scheduled to play against Columbine that week or the next - and no-one in my family was answering phones or pagers.

Of course, it turned out I'd remembered the wrong school - he wasn't playing against Columbine, but some other school. Thank goodness.


I'm trying to remember--was it Maimonides' The Guide For The Perplexed you were looking for once?

If that's right and you're still looking, Amazon has a new inexpensive copy for sale:


Re: OT

I might have mentioned it, but I'm not sure if I was specifically looking for one. However, now I'm interested in finding one....

December 2016

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