Getting to the Heart of Safety

The legacy of the Pearl, West Paducah, Jonesboro and finally Littleton, Colorado has been a call to arms. Zealots demand stricter gun control laws, more severe penalties for juvenile offenders, and screening measures for walking adolescent time bombs. Equally zealous advocates counterattack with pleas to guarantee constitutional rights and liberties. Meanwhile administrators tighten security, hire more off-duty police officers to patrol hallways, and scramble to devise crisis action plans. Yet, something fundamental is missing.

A climate of cruelty in school is a consistent thread running through most of the incidents over the last eighteen months. Time and again the shooter outcasts attempt to explain their actions by saying they were being teased, tormented, and rejected.

In today's middle and high schools there is a hidden curriculum: humiliation and intimidation. It's far more malicious than yesteryear's pigtail pulling or bra-strap snapping. Girls are groped and called "slut." Cliques sadistically initiate countless young girls into a cycle of shunning and being shunned. Boys are ambushed and subjected to having their pants pulled down to their ankles. Verbal abuse that would be rated R if used in a movie, echoes routinely in cafeterias and locker rooms. Many young adolescents are called "faggot" or "gay" and are physically abused for their suspected sexual orientation. Both genders are bullied, become bullies, or become part of a silent majority. Passive onlookers watch demeaning episodes as if they were video games. Rarely does anyone intervene, either because they've become desensitized or fear becoming the next object of torture.

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