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Columbine, Friend of Crime?
I've written to you guys before to congratulate you on your investigative reporting and was moved to write again after reading Alan Prendergast's "Doom Rules," in the August 5 issue.

The sympathy-and-blame-fest the rest of the media enjoyed for months after the Columbine shootings made me wonder about the IQ of the average journalist. Suddenly we all need tips on what to look for in our teenage children to detect signs of rage. Suddenly we need gun control to make our schools safe. Suddenly every idiot on television has the answer to America's social disintegration. As with most social commentary, the emotion-fest surrounding Columbine lacked any sense of historical perspective. I went to high school in Walla Walla, Washington, back in the early 1970s. Our little white-bread community was not so different than Littleton is today. We had our school subgroups: the hoods (kids from the wrong side of the tracks), the geeks (loners who might be found playing chess or reading during lunch hour), the freaks (the dopers), the jocks and the socies (the beautiful, popular people). I was in with the guys who played chess and were on the debate team. I got pushed around a little but developed the survival art of being invisible in school. Others who weren't so lucky got kicked around--both literally and emotionally--on a regular basis.

I recovered from my own psychological traumas and enduring sense of social embarrassment by leaving town, taking martial arts and working hard, but the emotional scars never completely go away. Now, twenty years later, nobody messes with me, but I still feel a sense of regret when I reflect on my teenage years and what my high school experience could have been. It seems that I endured some senseless joke at the hands of adolescent bullies simply because I had no sense of self-worth or awareness of my alternatives.As Prendergast put it, "the world [Columbine's] students inhabited... was a place of long-simmering resentments and pathology, wrapped in a bright lie of communal achievement and mutual respect." It was the same twenty years ago and will be the same when these high school seniors are my age unless we make some meaningful change in the institution of public education itself. For my money, the best alternatives are the charter schools and the movement to privatize the public schools. That would let the geeks like Eric Harris, Melissa Sowder...and me vote with our feet and find a school environment where we wouldn't feel punished or threatened by our classmates.

Rob McGregor
via the Internet

Easily the best writing I've seen yet on the Columbine shootings. Thanks for not taking refuge in easy answers, because there are none. We need to look everywhere for the answers, not just point to the media, lack of family values, guns, etc. Above all, I think we have to instill in our kids a belief that as adults, we want and need to hear what is going on with them. And when kids are giving us signs, we need to have the courage to listen instead of pretending we're somehow insulated from the kind of horror that occurred in Littleton.

Paul Jacobson
via the Internet

Well, it is good to see someone is on the right track!! Through all the lies and crap, you are starting to find a ray of truth!! One thing, though--you need to know those kids were tormented by the so-called jocks. At work and at school. As work and school took up five days of their week, I hope you can see the torment they were under. I am not making an excuse for what they did, but many things (separately but wholly) corrupted them. It would appear that your descriptions of both Reb and Dylan are fairly accurate. Thank you for this article.

Name withheld upon request

It seems to be the American defense to look for quick, simple, unequivocal answers to complex, poorly understood social dilemmas. As a current Jeffco school psychologist who has also worked in other public schools in another state, I feel compelled to offer a few observations, some of which, I hope, are so obvious as to be ridiculously apparent.

Public schools are microcosms of society. Although the pre-shooting Columbine atmosphere may have, as Prendergast suggests, uniquely contributed to what happened, societal expectations, values and prejudices are manifested every day on public-school campuses. Secondly, as a society, we are too sports-dependent to acknowledge that athletes and the competitive winning spirit are over-valued. Thirdly, we're too smugly complacent in our own insular worlds to recognize the rejection we dole out to those different from us. Finally, we're too afraid to examine the ways in which the veritable, cherished institutions (especially schools and churches) we love to laud actually perpetuate the kind of intolerance that eventually contributed to the tragedy. Such an exhaustive self-examination would be too painful and disturbing for us. Judging from what has been reported thus far, we are, unfortunately, not ready to open Pandora's box.

Steve Smith
Denver

Alan Prendergast's article is the best writing I've seen to date on the horror that was April 20, 1999, at Columbine High. How much better informed would we be as a society if cooler heads such as Mr. Prendergast's had prevailed in the immediate telling of that story? In a rush to entertain and titillate, the brain-dead "news" combine left us all seriously under-informed and allowed the most strident voices to twist, obscure and manipulate what little was known as fact--and a lot that was merely wild speculation--into a sad fabric that served only as a dense curtain between us and the truth, which was adroitly exposed in this piece.

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