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May 1998, Volume 5 Nr. 9, Issue 57

School Shootings

On October 18, 1995 three students were injured in a school shooting in Montclair, California. On December 1, 1997, in Paducah, Kentucky, a shooting left three students dead and five others injured. On March 25, 1998, a 13-year old and his 11-year old cousin open fire on a school in Jonesboro, Arkansas where four girls and an English teacher die. Ten other students and a teacher are injured.

The latest such incident occurred in Springfield, Oregon, where a 15-year old kills his parents at home and then two students, wounding twenty-two at the school cafeteria.

Such events are no longer isolated incidents in the United States. Other recent incidents include:

  • May 19, 1998 - one student killed in Fayetteville, Tennessee.
  • April 24, 1998 - a teacher shot dead at a dance, two other students and a teacher wounded by a 14-year old in Edinboro, Pennsylvania.
  • December 15, 1997, two students injured in a 14-year old sniper shooting in Stamps, Arkansas.
  • October 22, 1997. Boy shoots and kills girlfriend on high school campus in Norwalk, California.
  • October 1, 1997. Two are killed and seven wounded when a 16-year old opens fire in the school cafeteria in Pearl, Mississippi.
  • Feb 19, 1997. A school principal and a classmate are gunned down by a 16-year old in Bethel. Alaska.
  • January 27, 1997. A 13-year old shoots and kills another student on the sidewalk in front of his middle school in West Palm Beach, Florida.
  • October 31, 1996. A student is critically wounded in the school hallway in Saint Louis, Missouri.
  • September 25, 1996. A student shoots and kills a teacher in an Atlanta, Georgia school hallway.

And, the list goes on.

While the end of May found the United States citizenry focused on Springfield, Oregon, there were actually three separate gun incidents involving students that had taken place that day nationwide. It would take too much space to list the more dramatic events, let alone all the guns incidents. Then, there is the gang and drug related violence. Something is clearly amiss.

Jumpy Citizenry

I wish to use a personal incident to illustrate how these events have made the nation jumpy. I teach an amateur radio class to six students. In order to illustrate the line-of-sight travel and refraction of radio waves through the Earth’s ionosphere, I borrowed a low power laser from the school’s physics laboratory. Using chalk dust to make the laser light visible, the students were enchanted with the laser and the lesson.

One of the students wanted to know how far away the small, brilliant red spot at the end of coherent light could be seen. We devised a simple experiment where in broad daylight, we pointed the laser out the window of the third-floor amateur radio room. We easily produced the red spot onto a notepad on the assistant headmasters’ desk, three stories below. Almost immediately, the assistant headmaster looked out the window in our direction. We waved at each other.

One of the students went down to his office where he discovered that our little experiment, "was not very funny." Later, I learned why.

Being a hunter, which I (as a vegetarian) am not, the assistant headmaster’s immediate reaction was that the red spot was a rifle laser scope. He quite correctly and instinctively checked out the source. Nonetheless, it is sad, that as a standard operating procedure in today’s schools, teachers, staff and administration, must operate under the premise that the worst is not only possible, but probable.

Consider the press release of the Department of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services, dated August 11, 1994, where it was stated that every school day more than 150,000 students stay home because they are "sick of violence and afraid they might be stabbed, shot or beaten." In 1993, the Children’s Defense fund reported that, "a bullet cuts down an American child every 92 minutes." The same report concluded that from 1983-1993, there was a 94% increase in gunfire deaths among children. No wonder everyone is jumpy.

SchoolNet, in a report entitled, "School Violence is a National Epidemic" states that, "increasingly school violence is indiscriminate and random." What’s worse is that accurate statistics on schoo violence are not kept. Why not?

Perhaps, if the truth were known about school violence, there would be a flood of parents who opt not to send their children to public school. Perhaps, students would flee the public schools in such large numbers that it would affect funding. That in turn, might hasten the demise of what is quickly becoming a failed educational public school system. Some would argue that it already has failed.

National Debate

Following the Springfield, Oregon tragedy, the CNN interactive website made the attempt of polling visitors trying to determine the sentiments as to the cause of the violence in our schools. In a rather simplistic approach at determining blame, CNN asked, "Who or What is Most Responsible for School Violence?". Choices offered as answers include: kids, parents, schools, media, access to guns, all of the above, none of the above.

As of May 26, 1998, the breakdown of respondents was: Kids 8%; Parents 29%; Schools 2%; Media 15%; Access to guns 24%; All of the Above 19%; None of the Above 2%.

The causes of the school violence are deeper than anyone wants to admit. Perhaps, some possibilities include: societal greed, skewed national priorities, alienation, globalization, abandonment, hopelessness, mass depression and countless other conditions endemic of the adult population that have, not so surprisingly, finally made their way down the pike to the youth of America. I do not expect however, a debate on these will be televised anytime soon.

An Explanation

There are those traditionalists who will continue to cast blame for the sad state of affairs on the breakup of the so-called nuclear family or on the absence of prayer in our public schools. The latter explanation appears to be a non-sequitor as anyone so-inclined can pray, anytime, anywhere. The late conservative Republican, Barry Goldwater, called those who would push for prayer in the public schools, "religious nuts."

I’ve been teaching for twenty-seven years, in religious, public and private schools, and have yet to find myself in a situation where I could not say a prayer in my body, heart mind or spirit. Was is not Jesus who cautioned: beware of the person who prays in public.

Blaming the breakup of the family for school violence might have some merit. However, if we choose to grant it any credibility, then the means by which the breakup is fostered requires consideration.

I wish to postulate one possible explanation for consideration. Drawing from both the philosophy of Erich From and Karl Marx, could it be possible that the effluent of global capitalism has flowed downhill to such an extent that it is affecting our youth?

Are not men and women’s alienation from themselves, each other and their work, a major contributor to the breakdown of that family unit? Does not the excessive pursuit of wealth, possessions and career, or, for that matter, the daily struggle of trying to make ends meet in today’s necessary two-income family, contribute to its breakdown? And, does this not contribute to alienation?

Most people find themselves working more hours just to stay even. Most families find that two or more breadwinners holding two or more jobs are required just to pay the bills. The US House of Representatives, in its research on growing voter anger, has amassed an informative sampling of opinion. A few examples from participants in focus groups conducted last spring for the National Issues Foundation follow:

I'm concerned about a breakdown in the family as far as values. I don't know whether it's due to families where both husband and wife and maybe a child need to be working outside the home in order to maintain some semblance of a lifestyle -- not an extravagant one but just survival. (Raleigh, NC)

I have three jobs and my husband has three jobs. (San Diego, CA)

So there is no more job security, there is no more vested pension funds. Those people who have worked for 25 years are nervous. Their families are constantly nervous. I have seen personally the results of big business restructuring and putting people's jobs in jeopardy. (Des Moines, IA)

It would be nave of us to think that the stresses of the American family at the end of the 20th century do not impact upon youth violence. The Natural Law Party in its well thoughtout platform states,

When stress and frustration increase in society, the harmony and integrity of family life, so important to the growing youth of our nation, is severely undermined.


Critics of Marx’s philosophy contend that his concept of alienation is an outdated nineteenth-century, industrial age phenomenon, out-of-date in the soon-to-be twenty-first century, post-modernist world. Their reality, enamored and immersed in the pursuit of wealth at the expense of the less fortunate, perhaps, is different from those who struggle daily to simply get by. Imagine, if you can, the reality of the 384 richest people on Earth who own 40% of all the planet’s wealth. I’d suspect that their reality is somewhat different from those who earn the minimum wage or the female child laborers who make sneakers for $1.00 per day.

Most critics of Marx have never read him. And, those that have, read little or have come to a conclusion in defining Marxism, which if Marx were alive today, would have him not be a Marxist. Eric From suggests that the worst thing that happened to Marx is Marxism and popularity. Indeed, Cyril Smith contends (Common Sense, April, 1994) that ten years after Marx’s death (1890’s), Marxism was invented in the name of dialectical materialism. Smith contends that Kautsky and Plekhanov extracted Hegel’s dialectical method, transplanting it into a materialistic world-view, labeling it falsely as Marxism.

Marx’s writings contend that alienation is a condition of man where dominating forces, not of their creation, confront them as alien powers. If Marx were alive today, perhaps he would point to the sale of Prozac and other anti-depressants as further evidence that alienation does appear common enough. Marx’s critique of school gun violence might have him conclude that alienation appears to be everywhere.

Even in Sports

On the morning of April 27, 1997, a Vermont Public Radio station broadcasted a National Public Radio sports commentary, speculating that the world champion Florida Marlins baseball fans are "alienated" from "their" team and the team players with which they identify. The alienation is so great that a few fans have even sued the team’s owners.

The basis of the suit revolves around the fans’ contention that they, the fans, are unable to develop a closeness with the players because of frequent player trading with other teams. Imagine! The baseball fans are complaining that they are alienated as a consequence of the team owners treating their favorite baseball players as commodities! What else would one expect from sports corporations which place profit before fans or people?

The sports fan’s alienation is but, one example. Voters, too, are commodities - bought and sold in the soft money marketplace of maximum corporate contribution. Everything and everyone, in the age of globalization, is caught up in the new world order hysteria of commodity fetishism. In Das Kapital, Marx writes of "fetishism of commodities." Coser explains that,

Commodities are alienated products of the labor of man, crystallized manifestations, which in Frankenstein fashion now dominate their creators.

And, Lukacs in History and Class Consciousness states,

The commodity can only be understood in its undistorted essence when it becomes the universal category of society as a whole. Only in this context does the reification produced by commodity relations assume decisive importance both for the objective evolution of society and for the stance adopted by men towards it. Only then does the commodity become crucial for the subjugation of men's consciousness to the forms in which this reification finds expression....

If people are commodities, such as the baseball player, the downsized factory worker, the teenage employee of McDonald’s, the teacher, carpenter, dentist, doctor, truck driver, temporary worker, etc., then the fetishism of commodities suggests that we are the alienated products of our own labor, dominating ourselves with the products of our own alienation. Our value of ourselves to ourselves is incomprehensible and hopelessness is a result. We are, as Marx would put it, forever stuck in our own reflection of self and the conditions under which we are mere agents of production.

Since we unconsciously accept ourselves as the commodities of our own production, we enter a vicious cycle of accumulating alienation that inevitably leads to breakdown (in one form or another).

More and more youth find it necessary to work in order to afford college, buy a car, a pair of Nike sneakers or otherwise live the images of mainstream America as depicted in the media. More and more youth are commodified at an earlier age. And, as a consequence, more and more youth breakdown. School shootings and violence is just one symptom of that youth breakdown. It is as Lukacs puts it, reification finding expression.

Where To?

I watched Pete Seeger on CSPAN at the National Press Club. In a response to what the future would be like, Pete replied that he does not see humanity surviving much beyond 100 - 200 years, if action is not taken sometime soon to change course, i.e. Earth’s resources are being used up and replaced with waste and pollution by-products. Globalization and the New World Order seem bent upon placing all the planet’s resources up for unmitigated sale and profit regardless of consequences. If you are rich, and accept humanity’s demise as inevitable, then what imperative exists to not have it all now?

The objectification and commodification of everything that exists, from tomato and human genes to our inner secrets and personal life, is the implementation of the ultimate alienation of mankind from all existence in the universe. And, it is happening right before us as we speak, write, read, work, go to church, garden, etc. We are, in fact, all of us, creators and coconspirators of that objectification.

The is good news is that we more than just sense that something is drastically wrong. There is no longer any need to convince the vast majority that, if I might coin a phrase from Wall Street, a major correction is about to happen. The spate of school shootings are tragic witness of the response to massive alienation by those least able to cope with it - the youth.

Perhaps, with more vision, the social conditions contributing to this alienation can be reversed. In 1996, there was the, "Republican Revolution." Though short-lived, this revolution remains a major contributor to universal objectification and commodification. Instead, universalism is needed, i.e. freedom at the point of production or the locus of labor, a freedom which eliminates alienation.

Universalism begins with rearranging the relations between people and with the realization of political consciousness and organization with the working class. The capitalist class does not appear destined to save humanity. Working class people must.

There is much to hope for and much to look forward to, in the quickly emerging enlightenment of the masses. The New Party and the Labor Party are but mere beginnings of what there is yet to come. The struggle requires bringing working people, those who produce everything into positions of power. It is after all, the capitalist class that needs the working class for survival and not the other way around.


Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules.

  • William Blake

They accuse us of class warfare. It was they who for the past twenty-five years have declared war on working people.

  • Bernie Sanders

Too many of us look upon Americans as dollar chasers. This is a cruel libel, even if it is reiterated thoughtlessly by the Americans themselves.

  • Albert Einstein

What we see depends mainly on what we look for.
  • John Lubbock

A free America, democratic in the sense that our forefathers intended it to be, means just this: individual freedom for all, rich or poor, or else this system of government we call democracy is only an expedient to enslave man to the machine and make him like it.

  • Frank Lloyd Wright


CNN Interactive. U.S. News Story page. "Quick Poll." Internet. 
Accessed, 26-May-98

Coser. Karl Marx. "Alienation." Internet. 
Accessed, 30-May-98.

Gill Enterprises. SchoolNet. "School Violence is a National Epidemic." Internet. 
Accessed, 30-May-98.

Join Together Online. "Trio of Shootings Raises Tempo of Gun-Control Debate. Internet. 
[http:// ReadNews.jtml?Object_ID=26491
Accessed, 26-May-98.

MSNBC. Hotmail from Microsoft - News. "Recent Shootings at U.S. Schools." 
[http://www. msnbc. com/news/wld/iframes/school shootings.asp
Accessed, 26-May-98.

Natural Law Party. Natural Law Party Platform. "Family Values." 
[http://www.geocities. com/Capitol Hill/7958/platform_family values.html
Accessed, 30, May-98.

Slaughter, Cliff. Marxism and the Class Struggle. "Marxist Theory and Class Conscioussness." 
[ slaughte.htm
Accessed, 30-May-98.

"Smith, Cybil. Science and Humanity - Hegel, Marx and Dialectic.
[ ~gaffcam/phil/smith.htm

United States House of Representatives. "Voices from Across the American landscape." Internet. 
[ research/2voices.html
Accessed, 22-May-98.

1998 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

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