Schooling Monsters

Here’s another dark and dusty item from my draft closet.

I’ve been engaging in a little approach/avoidance dance with Sue Klebold’s new book “A Mother’s Reckoning”, trying to decide if it is in my best interest to sit still and look it square in the face.
I point no blame at Sue Klebold, just as I have never felt Nancy Lanza was to blame for what became of her son. It’s just that I’m afraid reading her book will raise intense feelings that may batter my sensibilities without leaving me any better equipped to move forward.
Still, I suspect I will be reading it soon.
In the meantime, the interviews and articles that have come into my view as a result of the book’s publication have brought up some memories.
After the Newtown shooting I found myself feeling intense compassion for Adam Lanza and his mother. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, something easy to admit to in this town, but I did venture to explain it to one friend. I told her I could imagine it being my own son. She was aghast, because it sounded to her like I had just said something horrible about my own son, but she missed my point. My son is doing just fine, and there is nothing monstrous about him. That’s my point. When I looked at Adam Lanza’s situation, and thought about the nature of our culture and our school, it looked to me like we created the monster. I don’t believe that Adam Lanza or Dylan Klebold were monsters until they were driven into hopelessness, and I think our culture – especially our dehumanizing system of schooling, is the biggest culprit.
Saying it outright like that is likely to make people angry, but I’m angry too. Everyone was so anxious to point fingers at the mothers, but these mothers didn’t act on their own. These mothers were both trying to create successful lives for their children and I don’t think any of us can assume we would have done any better. It makes us feel good to think we would, but the truth is that all of us are fallible. If fate has delivered less horrible consequences to us for our own mistakes then we should count ourselves blessed, or just lucky.
I think the very act of pointing fingers and then shoring up security to keep out the bad guys is every bit as bad as anything done by these mothers. It pretends we have no responsibility. It pretends that these children didn’t come out of the very system of schooling we’re purporting to be protecting.
It is easy to say that the shaping of children is the responsibility of parents, and therefore the blame for children gone wrong rests on the parents, but the truth is that the role of parents has been reduced to fulfilling the requirements of schooling. The public campaigns spouting education as the highest of all priorities, and urging parents to be involved in every way has been focused on getting parents to facilitate compliance with school requirements in order to meet the systemic measures of success – largely in service of the school. “In loco Parentis” has grown to become an almost literal description of both the role and authority of schools “in place of parents”.
So why aren’t more people angry at the schools involved?  Why don’t we see that the value system created by this mandatory system of personal judgment creates enormous conflict in the center of those children it’s judging? It is damaging to the children it claims to care for. The unstated implication is that both the children and parents who don’t conform to the blueprint set out by school policy are somehow defective. The children who perceive themselves as defective according to this judgment haven’t been given the tools to reconcile their conflict. The damage it does is deep. For some, the conflict is irreconcilable. My biggest fear about Adam Lanza is NOT that other monsters like him might surface. My biggest fear is that we’re continually churning vulnerable children into damaged adults, and some are damaged beyond recognition.

It is probably a good thing that no one reads this blog. A post like this would probably make a lot of people angry.


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