Overambitious but challenging condemnation of schools as learning grounds for hatred.

THE BULLY SOCIETY

SCHOOL SHOOTINGS AND THE CRISIS OF BULLYING IN AMERICA'S SCHOOLS

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.

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8147-4888-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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INSIDE AMERICAN EDUCATION

THE DECLINE, THE DECEPTION, THE DOGMAS

American schools at every level, from kindergarten to postgraduate programs, have substituted ideological indoctrination for education, charges conservative think-tanker Sowell (Senior Fellow/Hoover Institution; Preferential Polices, 1990, etc.) in this aggressive attack on the contemporary educational establishment. Sowell's quarrel with "values clarification" programs (like sex education, death-sensitizing, and antiwar "brainwashing") isn't that he disagrees with their positions but, rather, that they divert time and resources from the kind of training in intellectual analysis that makes students capable of reasoning for themselves. Contending that the values clarification programs inspired by his archvillain, psychotherapist Carl Rogers, actually inculcate values confusion, Sowell argues that the universal demand for relevance and sensitivity to the whole student has led public schools to abdicate their responsibility to such educational ideals as experience and maturity. On the subject of higher education, Sowell moves to more familiar ground, ascribing the declining quality of classroom instruction to the insatiable appetite of tangentially related research budgets and bloated athletic programs (to which an entire chapter, largely irrelevant to the book's broader argument, is devoted). The evidence offered for these propositions isn't likely to change many minds, since it's so inveterately anecdotal (for example, a call for more stringent curriculum requirements is bolstered by the news that Brooke Shields graduated from Princeton without taking any courses in economics, math, biology, chemistry, history, sociology, or government) and injudiciously applied (Sowell's dismissal of student evaluations as responsible data in judging a professor's classroom performance immediately follows his use of comments from student evaluations to document the general inadequacy of college teaching). All in all, the details of Sowell's indictment—that not only can't Johnny think, but "Johnny doesn't know what thinking is"—are more entertaining than persuasive or new.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 1993

ISBN: 0-02-930330-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1992

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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

COLUMBINE

Comprehensive, myth-busting examination of the Colorado high-school massacre.

“We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened,” writes Cullen, a Denver-based journalist who has spent the past ten years investigating the 1999 attack. In fact, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold conceived of their act not as a targeted school shooting but as an elaborate three-part act of terrorism. First, propane bombs planted in the cafeteria would erupt during lunchtime, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of students. The killers, positioned outside the school’s main entrance, would then mow down fleeing survivors. Finally, after the media and rescue workers had arrived, timed bombs in the killers’ cars would explode, wiping out hundreds more. It was only when the bombs in the cafeteria failed to detonate that the killers entered the high school with sawed-off shotguns blazing. Drawing on a wealth of journals, videotapes, police reports and personal interviews, Cullen sketches multifaceted portraits of the killers and the surviving community. He portrays Harris as a calculating, egocentric psychopath, someone who labeled his journal “The Book of God” and harbored fantasies of exterminating the entire human race. In contrast, Klebold was a suicidal depressive, prone to fits of rage and extreme self-loathing. Together they forged a combustible and unequal alliance, with Harris channeling Klebold’s frustration and anger into his sadistic plans. The unnerving narrative is too often undermined by the author’s distracting tendency to weave the killers’ expressions into his sentences—for example, “The boys were shooting off their pipe bombs by then, and, man, were those things badass.” Cullen is better at depicting the attack’s aftermath. Poignant sections devoted to the survivors probe the myriad ways that individuals cope with grief and struggle to interpret and make sense of tragedy.

Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

Pub Date: April 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54693-5

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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