15 April: Columbine generation lost innocence not humanity

“Columbine Generation” lost innocence not humanity

One of the most vivid snapshots-in-time of my days in the classroom, as it is likely for every teacher, is the event of April 20, 1999: Columbine.

With one word, the connection is made.

We can analyze, speculate, and opine about the causes and what might have been done to prevent the shootings. But one thing for sure, there was a complete lack of respect on the killers’ parts for their peers and of human life. How much was given to them prior to the killing, we can only surmise.

Recently, Ramin Setoodeh wrote a piece in Newsweek titled “The Columbine Generation” about his experiences that day as a sophomore in Fresno, CA and the consequences of the shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and elsewhere.

He posits that having lost their innocence with the Columbine shootings kids seem to accept school violence as a “matter-of-fact part of their lives.”

I disagree with Setoodeh’s thesis, believing all of us are horrified anew when violent acts are perpetrated, on or off campus. If we weren’t, it would signal an increasingly callous attitude about life, our de-humanization such as what happens in war zones.

No doubt for twenty-somethings, Columbine is seared into their psyches. But the Class of 2009 was in second grade in 1999, and today’s freshmen were in pre-school.

Yes, we have more heightened security in our schools, but that is true everywhere. Psychos and hate-filled, angry people don’t honor the sacred, the reason schools, places of worship, and cemeteries are frequent targets of vandalism and destruction.

Rather than a Columbine Generation, our current one is very much like their parents’ generation, but, nevertheless, very different in the ways they learn in and of the world due primarily to technological advances.

Over the past several generations, the story of teenage angst and struggle has been retold in the medium of film.

Recall the line in “West Side Story” one of the Jets delivers to the police lieutenant: “When you was my age? You was never my age, not you, not my parents!”

Moderns don’t have a monopoly on concerns about youth.

This gem ostensibly comes from Peter the Hermit who in the 13th century got us on the path of permanent conflict with the Muslim world by organizing the First Crusade:

“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.”

And 2,000 years before him, the Greek poet Hesiod supposedly proclaimed, “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.”


Essentially, youth today do what the 1500 generations that have passed since Hesiod uttered his despair did: rebel and experiment, grapple and struggle. It comes with the territory. But in the end, they crave respect through discipline, guidance, and an education that will allow them to lead meaningful, dignified and happy lives.

At our last Board of Education meeting, the BOE met with a contingent of high school students to talk about where the school is and the direction it ought to go.

The first message I got was the moving of the middle school program to the high school campus is no big deal. In fact, students are looking forward to it in terms of additional bodies that will bolster class sizes of endangered programs.

Another message was “we want more!” They offered thoughtful suggestions for new and restructured classes in the arts, including keyboard so even non-artists can participate, foreign language, and additional Advanced Placement courses.

The students also saw the move as an opportunity for mentoring, both within the context of one-on-one relationships—restarting the Link Crew—and activities.

Later, Cheryl Holmberg of the Clear Creek Rock House, which serves as a safe place for students after school, gave an overview of their program that includes mentoring, tutoring, participatory activities, and assets development.

In both settings, a young man gave testimony to how his participation in the boxing program lead by SRO Beau Campbell got him on the right track personally and academically. Both said their grades have risen markedly and are set on positive courses in their lives, one volunteering with Clear Creek Fire and Rescue.

Prior to the meeting, Principal Jeff Miller commented to me that he believes the students of Clear Creek are “good kids.” What I heard and saw affirmed his perspective.

In the end, it is about respect—having, giving, and receiving—and that should be the lesson of Columbine.

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