Jon Katz articles on Littleton

Michael Shell BrightCrow at InfoAve.Net
Wed May 5 17:54:33 JEST 1999

Dear Friends, has two more articles by Jon Katz, chronicling and commenting
on the abusive over-reactions of school administrations across the country
following the Littleton killings.

The first one, "More Stories From The Hellmouth," posted on Tuesday April
27 at


is more e-mail messages from teenagers, parents and teachers, distressed at
the kneejerk reaction which is targeting "different" students as dangerous,
rather than protecting them from danger and harrassment.

The second article is "The Price of Being Different," posted on Thursday
April 29 at


Concerned Friends may wish to read and share the entire article.  I'll
excerpt some significant sections below.

Katz himself has been quoted several times in the NY TIMES over the past
two weeks, and he says he finds it somewhat encouraging that the Internet
itself has been a vehicle for concerned people to share this issue with
other concerned people.  In other words, along with the backlash on the
part of some is the real awakening of others.

May the awakening continue.

Blessed Be,

Excerpts from "The Price of Being Different"
by Jon Katz

"Since Littleton, the cost of being different has gone up. Thousands of
powerful e-mail messages have chronicled an educational system that
glorifies the traditional and the normal, and brutalizes and alienates
people who are or who are perceived as different under various names --
geeks, freaks, nerds, Goths and oddballs. One of the powerful messages
coming out of Colorado is that so many of these 'different' kids say they
find school boring, oppressive, and utterly hostile, feelings echoed by
educational survivors, many of whom are now parents. The hysteria over
Littleton has only made things worse. It's time geeks defined and lobbied
for some new rights. From their own messages, here are some places to start. 

"Joan McDonald has been a teacher in a New York State suburban public high
school for nearly three decades. 'While deeply saddened by the tragedy in
Littleton,' she wrote Tuesday, 'I am appalled at the resulting backlash our
students are forced to suffer' in the wake of the Littleton massacre. 

"The last thing we need in the 20th Century, she wrote, is another witchhunt. 

"But that's what we're getting. McDonald described what hundreds of other
teachers, administrators and students have been reporting all week - an
assault on speech, dress, behavior or values that the media, politicians
and some educators deem uncomfortably different a/k/a geek, nerd, Goth, the
usual labels. 

"In a Gallup poll this week, 82 per cent of Americans surveyed said the
Internet was at least partly to blame for the Colorado killings. And
schools across the country were banning trench coats, backpacks, black
clothing, white make-up, Goth music, computer gaming shirts and symbols.
They installed hotlines and 'concern' boxes for anonymous 'tips' about the
behavior of non-mainstream students. Kids who talked openly about anger and
alienation, or who confessed thoughts of revenge or fantasies of violence
against people who'd been tormenting and excluding them, were hauled off to

"Thus the students already at risk, already suffering, have become
suspects, linked in various thoughtless ways to mass murder and -
consequently - more alienated than before....

"One of the educational system's pervasive responses to Littleton was to
lecture oddballs and geeks about the importance of not slaughtering others.
One thing geeks and nerds hardly need is patronizing, offensive lesssons
about the importance of not committing massacres. They're probably one of
the least likely cultures in American life to commit homicide; their
weapons of choice are electronic flames, not machine guns. 

"Of the thousands of e-mail messages I got this week (4,000 between Friday
and Wednesday is my best guess), not one advocated violence or supported
assault, murder or revenge. 

"Although many expressed sympathy for the killers as well as the victims in
Littleton (unlike, say Time Magazine, which accompanied cover photos of the
killers with the headline 'The Monsters Next Door'), no one threatened
violence, supported it, or approved of it. 

"But the stories of physical, verbal, emotional and administrative abusive
that came pouring in were stunning, a scandal for an educational system
that makes much noise about wholesomeness and safety, but has turned a
blind eye for years to the persecution of individualistic and vulnerable

"One of the clear messages from all of the e-mail was that it's time for
geeks and nerds and the assorted 'others' of the world to assert
themselves, to begin defining and asserting their long overdue rights,
perhaps with the help of the communicative possibilities of the Net. And to
begin the work of re-structuring American schools - barely changed in
generations despite the ongoing Information Revolution - and their
frequently warped procedures, infrastructure and value systems. 

"At the very top of the agenda: Freedom from abuse, humiliation and
cruelty. Geeks, nerds, and oddballs have the right to attend school in
safety. Teachers and administrators have an obligation to make dignity for
everybody - not just the popular and the conventional -- an urgent
educational concern, in the same way they've taken on racism and other
forms of bigotry....

"Adolescence is a surreal world: kids who don helmets and practice banging
into one another for hours each week are deemed healthy and wholesome, even
heroic. Geeks are branded strange and anti-social for building and
participating in one of the world's truly revolutionary new cultures - the
Internet and the World Wide Web. 

"Or for being isolated or lacking school spirit. Or for listening to
industrial music or wearing odd clothes. But perhaps geek kids are isolated
partly because schools don't provide them with any means of connecting. 

"Educators need to radically expand their notions of what culture is, and
to re-consider the messages of disdain they continuously send some of their
potentially most creative and students....

"Schools need to provide choices. Educators love to talk empowerment, but
few seem to grasp what it means. Geek kids are not, in general, docile and
obedient; their subculture is argumentative and outspoken. Online, each
person makes his or her own rules, goes where he or she wants to go.
Increasingly, it's a difficult transition between free-wheeling cyberspace
and the oppressive, rule-bound Old Fartism that dominates American

"Geeks are used to choice, a landmark cultural and political issue for
them. It's the responsibility of schools to create more challenging and
interactive environments for its students - a benefit for all younger
people who need to learn how to analyze, how to question, how to reach
decisions, not just how to take notes and then check the right boxes on the

"And: freedom. Why does the First Amendment end at the school door, when
many kids, especially geeks, have spent much of their lives in the freest
part of American culture - the Internet? Online, people can speak about
anything: dump on God, talk about sex, flame pundits, express themselves
politically and rebelliously. In school, no one can. 

"Geeks, perhaps more accustomed to free expression than their non-wired
peers, increasingly and disturbingly refer to schools as 'fascistic'
environments in which they are censored and oppressed. All kids can't have
absolute freedom all the time but many kids, especially older ones raised
in the Digital Age, need more than they're getting. Without it, they will
become increasingly alienated....

"Finally: access to popular culture and to the Internet isn't a privilege.
It's a right. For many kids, the Net isn't alienation, but its alternative;
it's their intellectual, social, cultural and political wellspring. They
need it to learn, to feel safe and connected, and to function economically,
socially and politically in the next century. Obviously, no rights come
without responsibilities - and those should be spelled out both in schools
and in families. But access to the Net and to other facets of one's culture
ought not be a toy that parents and teachers are willing to dispense to
"good" and "normal" boys and girls. For many kids, it's their lifeblood,
and it shouldn't be restricted, withdrawn or used manipulatively except
under the most serious circumstances....

"Reading all these messages from the Hellmouth this week, I've been
overwhelmed by the outpouring of suffering generated by the experience of
going to school, and by the brutal price people have paid and are paying
for being different. Few people commit violence in schools, but way too
many have fantasized about it. 

"These messages were, in different ways, all saying the same thing. A
humane society truly concerned about its children would worry less about
oddballs, computer games and clothing, and more about creating the kind of
schools kids would never dream of blowing up."

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