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North American Rumble - 

and How to Avoid It

On 20 April 1999 two Unites States teenagers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, shot thirteen fellow students and then themselves at their high school in Littleton, Colorado. It was their aim to kill more people, but that did not happen. There have been more school shootings, a sad list - North American rumble.

Counter Balance has gathered views on this subject. We pose the questions:

What's the matter with teens?

Might it have to do with the North American culture?

How can we avoid a rumble here [in the Netherlands?], or:

Which counter balance is needed?

Our main source is not what many school principals, police officers or politicians have said about it, but what youngsters themselves have said about this issue.

It's not a dangerous subculture, 
but the suppression of deviant subcultures,
which is the problem.

"Back to school"

The Motives of Dylan and Eric 
The United States Schools 
School Shootings in US Are Especially Happening at the Start of a Semester 
Kids Speake Out  
Schools Need Smaller Classes 
Counter Balance 

The Motives of Dylan and Eric 

The boys have explained their motives on videotape. A Dutch magazine (De Nieuwe Revu, 19 January 2000) gave a report.

They were not against their parents. 

The tapes show that their parents are the only people to whom Eric and Dylan express their regret. 'It's shit I had to cause them this grief', says Harris about his parents. 'They will go through hell when we have done it.' He says directly to his parents: 'There is nothing you could have done to prevent this. Klebold tells his parents that they have been 'great parents' who taught him 'self-consciousness and independency'. 'I have always appreciated this.' He adds: 'I apologize for my temper tantrums'. (De Nieuwe Revu, p. 29)

The motive is mainly revenge on their fellow students. Eric and Dylan felt themselves humiliated, nagged and excluded, especially by the jocks on the football team. The school principal denies this, but one of the football players confirms it. He said,

School is a good place for normal people, but not for zombies like Klebold and Harris. Most kids would have nothing to do with them. They [Klebold and Harris] were busy with black magic and voodoo dolls, and such kind of things. Of course, we fucked with them now and then. Don't you ask for it if you come to school with crazy haircut and goat horns on your cap? They were targets; the whole school hated them. 
And they were a queer pair; they continually touched each others' asses. 
If you want to isolate someone, you start pestering him. Thus, everybody said they were queer, and if they did something sick, everybody said that.
(De Nieuwe Revu, p. 29)

Both boys belonged to a minority group at school. This group was called "Goths", "Geeks", as well as "Nerds" or "Freaks". This refers to a more or less 'female' style of living, and it refers to special styles of music and opinions. They wear black clothes, tattoos and piercing, and the read Sartre, Shelley and Poe. They frequently roam the Internet, where they play games, among which also violent games like Doom, but in real life they are not violent.

The United States Schools 

They have reacted massively by opening a witch hunt against students with black clothes, t-shirts with certain symbols, Goth music or who are known to play particular video games. Hot lines  were opened so people could anonymously report fellow students who appeared deviant. Then, those students were summoned by a 'counselor'. 

This sounds friendly, a 'counselor', but in fact it operates more like a staff sergeant to maintain discipline. Many U.S. schools are already like military barracks with metal detectors, gates, fences and security guards. Students have scarcely any freedom or rights; their subcultures are not respected.  

Thus, the reactions of the Goths, Geeks or Nerds were the opposite of what was aimed. Moreover, they felt themselves humiliated and controlled, not respected, shut out and aliened - and resentful.

School Shootings in US are Especially Happening at the Start of a Semester

Most murders take place at the start of the first school semester and at the start of the second semester. During the semester, the number of violent acts with fatal outcomes gradually diminishes. 

This appears in an analysis of murders and suicides from September 1991 - June 1999, prepared by the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in cooperation with the US Departments of Justice and Education. The researchers hope that this knowledge may help to prevent massacres at schools. 

School massacres, like that in Littleton, Colorado,  have lead to much soul searching in the US. In total, the CDC has found 209 fatal incidents at schools, including suicides. Concerning the suicides, another seasonal trend was observed: suicides had taken place more frequently place in the spring semester, than in autumn. A possible explanation of the murders peak at the start of the first semester is that the offenders had more difficulties with adapting to the rules and the social climate of the school after the holiday season. 

NRC (Dutch newspaper), 1 September 2001

Kids Speake Out

Internet journalist Jon Katz posted an article on slashdot ( He received 4,000 reactions in a couple of days. We cannot include them all, but we have prepared a summary.

There appear to be many thousands of people who play the same games as Harris and Klebold, but who are able to differentiate between fantasy and reality. None of the reactions called up for violence, although some people acknowledged sometimes fantasizing about committing violent acts. One youngster mentioned this during a religion class - he was immediately removed from school.

About school, not any of the reactions we read was positive. Instead, there were a lot of accounts of physical or verbal violence against anyone who differed, even slightly, from the norm. Subcultures are not acknowledged as such, not respected, but are only suppressed. Students don't experience any rights or respect, only a zero tolerance and an enormous pressure to conformity.

The security guards at the schools are diligent in sending everyone with deviant clothes or caught playing certain games to the school principal. The latter forbids them to attend computer classes or use the Internet, and orders a psychological evaluation. In other words: the student is declared to be sick. 

Remarkably, many of the accounts said the same security guards are absent a 'deviant' is attacked. The principals do not know such incidents occurred and when they do, they view the attacked person as the problem, not the attackers, who tend to be the school jocks.  

To quote only one reaction: 

"Given: The killers were motivated in no small part by alienation. Reducing a person's contact with like-minded people increases their alienation. Reducing a person's sense of identify increases their sense of alienation. Geeks tend to communicate with each other via the Internet and online games.

"Conclusion: Cutting geeks off from each other (Internet access) and their identity (choice of clothing) will increase rather than decrease the likelihood of violence."

Counter Balance

The U.S. schools have reacted precisely the wrong way. If there is one rule that must be imposed, it is not conformity, but respect for all, however they are dressed. If there is one thing that must be guarded, it is the safely of all, including the "deviant" minorities. Respect must be the basic norm, not conformily.

Judgment should only be on scholastic achievement, never on looks or opinions.

Subcultures must be acknowledged as such, and should be respected. Beethoven, Rembrandt and Van Gogh were onece seen as mad deviants. All cultures start like this. Participants of new subcultures have the same rights to hang out and to play games as the jocks. As far any 'counseling' may be needed, it should should only be used to help a student develop his or her own identity, and not only to achieve adaptation and conformity.

By so doing, a school does not become a military barrack, but rather a fascinating place for knowledge, as well as to help students define their identities and to help inculcate human values and norms.

Schools Need Smaller Classes

Scaling down is urgently needed in education. Only by doing so, will schools be able to perform their educational task. In a clear environment with smaller classes, the chance that youth will badly go off the rails will be less. This is the advice of the Raad voor Maatschappelijke Ontwikkelingen (Council for Societal Development) to Prime Minister Kok and Dutch government. 

The Council observes that the task of bringing up children has moved increasingly from the family to other institutions such as schools and sports activities. This is on bad terms with the coming of mega-schools. According to this trend, more and more schools and sport activities disappear from the old center city neighborhoods and move to the outskirts. This affects the quality of life in the neighborhoods of the center city, according to the Council.

WD (Dutch Newspaper group), 25 September 2001.


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