In her first book, Klein (Sociology and Criminal Justice/Adelphi Univ.) presents an exhaustive and sure-to-be-controversial examination of school shootings, and, more broadly, the culture of violence, intimidation and exclusion that typifies the school experience in America.
“[O]ur children,” she writes, “feel terrorized and tormented on a daily basis.” Boys and girls in school, and increasingly out of school through cyberspace, are subject to a rigid and unforgiving hierarchy based on violently enforced norms. Any deviation from these norms—of rigid heterosexuality, of the proper status symbols signifying wealth, of being strong and able-bodied—is met with a barrage of violent and aggressive behavior, ceaseless bullying and ferocious isolation. In what Klein terms a culture of “hypermasculinity,” cruelty is not only expected but deemed necessary—to not bully is to be bullied. In such a context, school shootings are not so much aberrations but the ultimate act of bullying and affirmation of masculinity by students, mostly boys, marginalized beyond endurance. Students learn bullying behavior from adults, who engage in the same type of individualistic status seeking or simply look the other way in tacit approval of bullying as the norm. In turn, the whole of society sanctions such aggression and cruelty as unbridled capitalism makes life a zero-sum game in which the terror of not making it becomes a war of all against all. While we may not be able to transform the overall culture, Klein provides numerous examples in which compassion and cooperation become dominant values. While the author writes with clarity and compassion—this is hardly a dry academic tome—it is a big leap from the murderous actions of a few to the condemnation of an entire economic system. Still, it would be a mistake to dismiss Klein’s thesis out of hand, as she offers an opportunity for us to examine, discuss and consider the world we have created for our children.
Overambitious but challenging condemnation of schools as learning grounds for hatred.