The Corner

Jackson Toby on School Shootings

Jackson Toby, the noted sociologist and criminologist, wrote an article for The Weekly Standard in 2001 about school shootings. His piece of course doesn’t address the Newtown massacre or other recent tragedies, but I think his ideas are worth considering: 

Why do white middle-class kids from seemingly normal families kill their classmates in suburban high schools like Columbine, Santana, and Granite Hills? How can these crimes be stopped? For answers, we should look to the schools where such crimes almost never happen — bad inner-city schools. For although mass murders inside of American schools are statistically very, very rare, when they do occur, they are more likely to take place in good suburban schools than in bad inner-city schools.

Why should excellent schools incubate mass murderers? Because the more exalted the reputation of a school, the worse it is for a student who feels trapped in such a school. Trapped? Yes, students in excellent schools are learning what they need to know to get in to selective colleges and, ultimately, to land well-paid jobs in our information-oriented society. But still they can feel miserable for what adults may consider trivial reasons. . . .

A more practical approach to preventing some mass murders at school would be to give children who are miserable at school for whatever reason more options. For those old enough to drop out and go to work, make it legitimate to stop school for a while and try a job in the real world. (The Swedes speak of kids being “school-tired” and do not stigmatize those who leave for a time-out; most eventually return a year or two later.) In the torrent of words commenting on the murders at Columbine in Littleton, Colorado, an obvious question was not raised: Why, if Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were so miserable at school, didn’t they simply drop out and try a job in a nearby ski resort? [Emphasis mine.]

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