Friday, February 08, 2008

And Then Along Came Eric Harris And Dylan Klebold

Journalism Prof Stephen Kimber laments the treatment of Brendan Jones, a grade 12 student at Heart Lake Secondary School in Brampton, Ont.

Jones wrote an essay as part of his final exam for his creative-writing class. The five-page, handwritten essay was titled Schools (sic) Out.

His equally unnamed protagonist is a 16-year-old girl who, at the end of the story, traps her science teacher in the basement of her house, picks up a baseball bat and says, "Sorry, Mr. Adams, but schools (sic) out."

Brendan did not get into serious trouble for mixing up his plurals and his possessives, or even - as his teacher was careful to note in her teacherly way in the margins - for using cliches and violating the inviolate "show-don't-tell" rule of composition.

No, Brendan's real crime, as it turned out, wasn't literary. It was that he'd chosen "inappropriate subject matter."

Sure its too bad that Mr. Jones suffered through a visit from the local police for nothing more than the crime of writing bad fiction. Sure the odds are that he's a fine kid working out a bit of teenage angst through creative writing.

But the world changed when the two above-named kids walked into Columbine High School and murdered a dozen or so of their classmates, and it was later discovered that the massacre had been prefigured in some of their high-school creative writing projects.

Similarly, Seung-Hui Cho's propensity to violence was apparent from his writing projects a year before 2007's Virginia Tech Massacre. If the school had acted on these signals, who knows what might have turned out differently?

Given events such as these, the people at Heart Lake Secondary School would have been crazy to act in any manner other than the way they did. You don't play around with this kind of stuff anymore.

16 comments:

rabbit said...

I agree that the school had to investigate the matter. But the issue here is what the appropriate response is by the school in these cases.

Rather than suspending him, they should immediately have arranged a meeting with him and his parents. A quick interview would likely have convinced the authorities that there was no threat. They could have then warned the kid not to submit such material again, and everyone would get on with their lives.

Anonymous said...

There is no such event 'X' that "changed the world".

It still operates on the same principles.

The statistical reasoning behind "bad guy X did action Y before started to commit crimes" is only valid if you know how many times the act was done and what percentage of people doing action Y went on to become bad guy X.

Since you obviously have no idea how many deranged teenagers (in a different country, no less) wrote silly essays of violence there is no way for you to draw any conclusions that the cops need to be brought in.

Anonymous said...

"it was later discovered that the massacre had been prefigured in some of their high-school creative writing projects."

That's false. An intensive google search turns up evidence that they wrote some violent stuff in school, but nothing about a high school massacre.

They did make snuff videos which could reasonably be described as "preconfigured" "massacre", but that's not what you wrote, and video != creative writing. Here is the relevant info from wikipedia:

Despite these outward appearances of calm, as time went on, the boys' rage continued to grow. The two made a video for a school project that showed them pretending to shoot fake guns and "snuffing" students in the hallway of their school as "Hitmen for Hire". They both displayed themes of violence in their creative writing projects for school; his teacher said of a Doom-based tale by Harris, written on January 17, 1999, "Yours is a unique approach and your writing works in a gruesome way — good details and mood setting."

Doom is a first person shooter video game that has nothing to do with schools or shooting children, FWIW. You can see a gif of his school writings here:

www.acolumbinesite.com/eric/writing/ehcw.gif

We don't ban writing about violence in first world countries, BCL, if that's where you are going with this. Children are citizens whether you like it or not and freedom of expression is their birthright.

Why not call this what it really is: the latest salvo in the war on boys. And kindly amend your post to reflect the accurate information I have conveyed to you.

Ti-Guy said...

Why not call this what it really is: the latest salvo in the war on boys.

I was on your side until I came to this dreary whine.

Bush with genitals trussed up, strutting on the deck of a warship. Traditional married man, Larry Craig, solliciting sex in a airport washroom. Good Christian Bill Bennett blowing 8 million dollars on gambling...

...that's the war on boys...Crappy "traditional" men.

By the way, since when is a grade 12 student a boy?

bigcitylib said...

I used "prefigured" for a reason, anon 6:37. If you had a better command of English, you wouldn't quibble so much.

And yeah we do allow writing about violence, but when teenage boys write about shooting teachers and classmates, these days you take precautionary measures. It works a little better than waiting until the guns go off and then sending in the SWAT team.

Anonymous said...

"Bush with genitals trussed up"

That's poetry right there. I guarantee TiGuy has a secret Bush porn stash.

"I used "prefigured" for a reason, anon 6:37"

Because it was the weaseliest possible word you could think of?

The plain meaning of your words is that the individuals in question wrote about school massacres in school projects, when in fact they did not. But now I'm more interested in this ban on writing about violence that you speak of:

"And yeah we do allow writing about violence, but when teenage boys write about shooting teachers and classmates, these days you take precautionary measures."

You're contradicting yourself in one breath. By taking "measures", we are, by definition, *not* allowing writing about violence.

What a remarkable specimen you are.

Raphael Alexander said...

I don't think that isolated incidents like Columbine should reflect a reason for mass hysteria in Brampton. This was over-blown and indicative of what's wrong with thinking there is a reason for every aberration in life. By your logic, BCL, the proper response to a bad term paper on economics should result in checking bank records.

In fact the "measured" response of this school reminds me of the same measured response the U.S. took after 9/11 in arresting 800,000 Americans, wiretapping phones, and invading Iraq.

Raphael Alexander said...

Schools are places of insanity now anyway. You don't even want to know the kind of insignificant and irrelevant excrement I get called to school over regarding my six-year old. Oh and I don't know if you're aware of this, but children are literally not allowed to touch other children any more, and that touching another child's ass could be considered a "sexual assault".

NOTHING that schools do anymore could be considered measured and calm responses. I just pray my children can survive the public school system before it becomes illegal to harbour independent thought and display human emotions and feelings.

Ti-Guy said...

That's poetry right there. I guarantee TiGuy has a secret Bush porn stash.

Now why did you go there, Mr. War on Boys?

The only people who sound like you are defrocked priests.

bigcitylib said...

Anon 8:13,

You are indeed a pin-head. When I say we allow writing about violence I mean we in general let adults discuss violence, let film makers fake simulated violence, write novels in which violent acts occur (horror and crime fiction, for exampe). Nothing about doing that prevents us from having the good sense to worry about kids in schools writing about killing their teachers or one another, given recent history.

The logic is inductive, not deductive.

Raphael...this is a pretty lame example of "mass hysteria" if I've ever heard one. And if it reminds you of invading Iraq and etc. you are entirely lacking in a sense of perspective.

Raphael Alexander said...

Raphael...this is a pretty lame example of "mass hysteria" if I've ever heard one. And if it reminds you of invading Iraq and etc. you are entirely lacking in a sense of perspective.

Not really. I have a child in the school system and my parents are school teachers so...I just know the reality of how the system is completely and utterly a perfect example of mass hysteria all the time.

Anonymous said...

The whole thing is silliness. One wack job goes postal and now we can't make veiled threats. Sheesh. Pussy ass motherfuckers.

900ft Jesus said...

What action the school or even the teacher should take depends on the tone of the essay. I've seen teachers wrongly reject work due to content - religious beliefs, not a happy ending, too ethereal...

Just writing about violence or a violent incident isn't reason to ban it if the point of the essay is to show dangers that lead to violent acts, that the violent act is wrong, etc.

If the piece glorifies violence, yes, that's a warning sign and teachers should report it.

Unfortunately, despite some very good teachers who can distinguish between meaningful studies of violence and glorifying violence, there are those uptight idiots who just want to ban anything distasteful, anything that goes against their prejudices, even anything too unusual. And there are those who just want to put in their hours and get paid.

I'd rather see young people writing about issues that disturb them and have group/class discussion after than simply ban certain types of writing without clear criteria and teachers trained to understand that criteria. Attempting to silence teens is as bad for them as for adults, and it doesn't work.zbhjgx

Anonymous said...

These kids just need a whipping. Spare the rod and spoil the child. Naked buttwhippin' in front of their schoolmates. Mmmm....

Anonymous said...

But if he was a Hollywood screenwriter, it'd be worth millions. Strange how you'll protect the fantasy writings of a pedophile as 'free speech' but yet you can't see the problem in merely writing about something which HAS happened. Doesn't mean the kid is going to act on it, just like playing violent video games doesn't mean he's going to act on it, just like a duck hunter in Manitoba isn't going to go on a shooting spree because he has a gun.

You logic is about as backwards as it can possibly get.

Anonymous said...

ti-guy, what do you know about boys?

OOPS! Silly me!