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Cultural Crisis in Education
by Amanda Chapman, Amy Davidson, and Carey Panet of D'Youville College
"All Jocks stand up. We're going to kill every one of you" (Bayless, 1999). On April 20, 1999, at a suburban high school in Denver, Colorado, two hate-filled students committed one of the most heinous acts of high school violence in U.S. history. The killers, armed with shotguns, handguns and homemade grenades, performed premeditated acts of carnage as they opened fire on fellow students and teachers, killing 13 people before turning the rifles on themselves ("Gunmen laugh," 1999).
Columbine High School appeared to have it all. "Columbine is regarded as a top-notch school, one of the strong points of Littleton, a charming suburb of Denver with an ample supply of large houses with windows that look out on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains." (Dirk, 1999) The school boasted above-average SAT scores as well as champion athletic teams. "There are 35 clubs for students, five separate musical bands, and the school won the state baseball championships in '87 and '91, the soccer championship in '86 and '93, and were the 1997 basketball champs." (Aaronovitch, 1999) The strong pride at this school was unconcealed in the school's motto, "Stretch for Excellence" (Aaronovitch, 1999).
The assassins on this suicide-mission were Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, who came from upper-class homes and 'average' families. They were described as loners and tied to a clique of outcast youths called the "Trench Coat Mafia" ("Teen misfits," 1999). In-depth investigations into the crime revealed that the killers' meticulous plans of retaliation were developed over most of the year prior to the massacre. "In Harris' 1998/1999 academic day planner were lists of things to buy and things left to do." (CNN.com) Like Harris, Klebold also recorded an itinerary on a piece of paper in his agenda outlining the schedule for the day as well as a sketch of the Columbine High School cafeteria. The two murderers left numerous videotapes documenting their plans, including one revealing the weapons they would later use to commit the dreadful crimes (CNN.com). After years of escalating anger and months of fine-tuning their plot, the details of the attack were put into play. "Klebold and Harris both talked on camera about the rage and anger that had built up for years and declared they would destroy the world if they could." (CNN.com)
Shortly after 11:00 am on April 20, 1999, Harris and Klebold came looking for revenge. The massacre at Columbine High School began outside of the school as witnesses watched their friends and fellow-students drop to the pavement as the killers opened fire. They marched into the library and demanded that all the jocks stand up. They shot at everyone they could, hollering as they fired bullets into their classmates (CNN.com). Student Aaron Cohen described the attack; "They were laughing after they shot. It was like they were having the time of their life" (Smith, 1999). Athletes were at the top of their hit list and ethnic minorities ranked a close second. "The shooter turned attention to a black student, saying 'I hate niggers' and then fired three shots" (CNN.com). The school was booby-trapped with bombs and explosives went off in the hallways and other rooms of the building. A police officer at the site accurately described the scene. "It's like walking through a minefield." (Smith, 1999) Some of the luckier students hid in classrooms and closets before escaping with the help of police. After hours of brutal slayings and feelings of helplessness on the part of students, teachers and parents, the killers finally ended the shooting spree by turning the guns on themselves.
The killers, Harris and Klebold, were considered freaks and losers at the school and universally disliked by classmates. "They were the scum of the school - no one liked them." (Smith, 1999) They did not fit into the mainstream and were allegedly members of an abhorred, close-knit group that called itself the "Trench Coat Mafia". This clique of outsiders dressed dark, thought dark and talked dark. "Both favored the all-black attire known as 'Goth', the fashion of the mock-gothic musical subculture known for its fascination with death." (Dirk, 1999) They had vile interests and gloomy outlooks. "This group is variously described as being obsessed with guns, Nazis, the military, the Internet, rock singer Marilyn Manson and goth-rock culture." (BBC News) The Trench Coat Mafia was antisocial, distant and had little contact with nonmembers. Harris and Klebold were members of this isolationist group and, most importantly, they were different.
As at many high schools, athletics at Columbine symbolized popularity. The athletes were idolized members of the school and admired for their physical abilities. The jocks were the majority and they ruled the school. Harris and Klebold despised the mainstream and detested jocks. "They hated the jocks because they thought they could do anything they wanted, walk through life smoothly." (Smith, 1999) The athletes represented everything that they could not be. They chose these envied mainstream members to be their victims. They targeted those students with superior athletic and academic records. One of the victims was Daniel Mauser. "Daniel Mauser, 15, a sophomore, excelled in math and science and earned straight A's on last report card. Ran cross country and joined debate team." ("Victims were all," 1999) Another victim was Matthew Kechter. "Matthew Kechter, 16, a junior, had hoped to start for the football team. Lifted weights. Played on offensive and defensive lines. Maintained an A average" ("Victims were all," 1999). Other victims included classmates of colour. Harris and Klebold held racist views and targeted ethnic minorities in their shootings: "Then he shot a black kid because he was black. He shot him in the face." (Smith, 1999)
Is the violent attack that occurred at Columbine High School an isolated incident? To understand that question, it must be determined if there are other minority or sub-minority groups suffering the hopeless isolation that the perpetrators of this act experienced and acted upon. Review of the past educational trends for dominant minorities, exploration of current population diversity in America, and examination of the current democratic movement in educational reform will demonstrate that as dominant minorities begin to assert their identity in education, conflicts will to continue to arise in the schools for sub-culture groups, such as the "Trench Coat Mafia", struggling to assert their identity in the educational system.
In the past, the struggle for cultural rights in the education system has focused on several prevailing minorities and their endeavor to assert their own culture against the dominant culture in education. Analysis of the dominant culture in the American educational system and the past conflicts of culture in education illustrate the current state of cultural discord. In the 17th and 18th centuries, English colonists came to North America, bringing with them beliefs about the superiority of their Protestant philosophy and the English culture. These colonists felt it was their mission to spread doctrines of political liberty throughout North America. The Protestant ethic emphasized the importance of hard work as a way of keeping yourself busy to protect against sin. Also imperative was the accumulation of property; wealth was considered a sign of God's blessing (Spring, 2000).
In the 19th century, the Protestant settlers created public schools as a means of protecting the ideology of the Anglo-American Protestant culture. Within the schools there was a predominant focus on the republican and capitalist values that permeate the Protestant ethic (Kaestle, 1990). Included in this ethic was the idea that the will of a child needed to be broken in order to assure obedience; the Protestants viewed indulgence of children as primitive and uncivilized.
Much in opposition to these Protestant ideals was the philosophy of Native Americans. America's indigenous people believed in the sharing of property, freedom to enjoy pleasure, and a family that incorporated the whole community. Native American children were doted upon, and the entire community worked only as much as was necessary, reserving their free time for pleasurable activities. The Anglo-Saxon Protestant colonists were appalled by the behavior of the Native people and felt it was their duty to civilize the natives and to instill in them the values of the Protestant work ethic; the desire to accumulate property, the repression of pleasure, the establishment of a nuclear family with a father in control, the reduction of power for women, authoritarian child-rearing, and conversion to Christianity.
The colonists looked to schooling as the way to culturally transform Native Americans; thus was created "The Civilization Fund Act of 1819", which stated that the residential schools would be funded to "... employ capable persons of good moral character, to instruct them in the mode of agriculture suited to their situation; and for teaching their children in reading, writing, and arithmetic." (Spring, 2000) This Act directly contrasted the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which called for a separation of church and state, for "The Civilization Fund Act" allowed government support of Protestant missionaries as teachers of the Native Americans. Boarding schools were developed and designed with the purpose of removing children from families at an early age to isolate them from the language and customs of their parents and their tribes. These 'Indian Schools' were to teach allegiance to the American government and to teach American history and principles. The language in use was exclusively English within the schools in order to further 'Americanize' the students.
Native Americans were not the only ones forced into assimilation with these Protestant values; African-Americans have endured on-going struggles to ensure their equal rights with the American public education system. Two distinct African-American cultures had emerged prior to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862. The enslaved Africans created their own culture; education was outlawed for slaves for fear that educated slaves would cause a rebellion. Thus, the tradition for these slaves was developed through oration and song; many of the stories and songs held themes of the triumph of black over white and they depicted the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture as inhuman, cold and untrustworthy (Spring, 2000). The freed Africans in America also developed their own culture, one of resistance against the discrimination and segregation with which they were constantly faced. Many of these people saw education as their only means of fighting the injustices they tolerated.
The Protestant managed school system viewed education as the means by which they might civilize the Africans and thus contain what was viewed as the threat of African culture in America. However, Africans were still viewed as inferior, thus segregated schools were thought to be a means of civilizing the African-Americans while retaining the racial purity of the Protestants. In 1895, a Supreme Court ruling rendered the segregation of schools constitutional, declaring that schools should be separate but equal for black citizens. However, by 1900 the public expenditures for black schools dropped so these schools were providing an inferior education to the black population that was supposed to be separate but equal.
It was not until a 1954 Supreme Court ruling that Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren declared: "We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does...We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment." (Cozzens, 2001)
This decision required the desegregation of schools across America.
The list of minorities in the United States who have long struggled for integration within the public school system goes on; Asian Americans, Latino-Americans, and others have fought this battle for equality. It may seem that once full integration of the public school system has been achieved, the battle for equality has been won. However, the struggle for equality continued past the Supreme Court ruling of school integration in 1954.
Why is it necessary to look at this struggle for equality of minorities? This is not a problem that can be ignored or overlooked. America is a democracy; everyone is supposed to be equal to everyone else. Investigation of these groups that are struggling for equality of their ideas and philosophies make it evident that there is not an equal opportunity for every one within the American Public Education system.
Perhaps one of the most noticeable differences between people throughout America is race. Examining the statistical figures for dominant racial populations and analyzing the diverse population resettlement on a macro level within the United States, and on a micro level in New York State and the Buffalo area in particular, the need for considerations of multiculturalism and diversity are demonstrated. The concept of race reflects self-identification by people according to the race or races with which they most closely identify. These categories are sociopolitical constructs and should not be interpreted as being scientific or anthropological in nature. Furthermore, the race categories examined here include both racial and national origin groups.
The race categories established by the United States Census Bureau are as follows: White, Black or African American, Asian, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders, American Indians and Alaska Natives, and some other race. A White person is defined as a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa. This includes people who indicate their race as "White" or report entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Near Easterner, Arab or Polish. A Black person is defined as a person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa. This includes people who indicate their race as "Black, African or Negro", or provide written entries such as African American, Afro American, Kenyan, Nigerian or Haitian. This American Indians and Alaska Natives are defined as people having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment. Asian is defined as people having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand and Vietnam. This includes "Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and other Asian." Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander refers to those who have origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa or other Pacific Islands. This includes people who indicate their race as "Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan, and other Pacific Islander." The other race category includes all other responses not in the race categories described above. Respondents providing write-in entries such as multiracial, mixed, interracial, Wesort, or a Hispanic/Latino group (for example, Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Cuban) are included in this category (American Fact Finder, 2001).
The year 2000 estimates for the total population in the United States is approximately 273,643,260. Despite the fact that there are several prevalent races in the United States, the dominant race observed is White; 211,867,275 or 77.4 percent of people are considered White. Although statistics show a dominant race observed, the United States has several dominant minorities; Black or African American groups which make up 32,256,169 or 11.8 percent of people; American Indian and Alaska Native which comprises 2,117,034 or 0.8 percent of people; Asian which make up 10,453,603 or 3.8 percent of people; Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander comprise 436,612 or 0 percent of people; the category of some other race makes up 10,700,143 or 3.9 percent of people (American Fact Finder, 2001).
Narrowing the focus on population diversity to the area of New York State, the estimated total population for the year 2000 is 18,395,994. A similar trend can be noted with regard to the makeup of the population. The White race encompasses the highest amount of citizens with 12,847,241 people or 68 percent. After the White race, the next most populace is the Black or African American race that makes up 2,793,133 people or 16 percent of the total population. The American Indian and Alaska Native race has 59, 814 people or 0.4 percent of the entire population. The Asian race has 1,083,747 people or 5.5 percent of the overall population. The Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander race make up 6,606 people or 0.0 percent of the total population. Those who are identified as some other race makes up 1,172,855 people or 7.1 percent of the total population (American Fact Finder, 2001). When the focus is narrowed even further to the area of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, New York, the composition of the total population of 1,170,111 people is as follows: 980,346 or 83.8 percent of people are White; 137,049 or 11.7 percent of people are Black or African American; 7,824 or 0 percent of people are American Indian and Alaska Native; 15,102 or 1.3 percent of people are Asian; 274 or 0 percent of people are Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander; 14,375 or 1.2 percent of people are some other race (American Fact Finder, 2001).
Examining the diversity index for areas within the United States tells the story of a vast amount of ethnic diversity. The diversity index is an indicator of the percentage of time two randomly selected people would differ by race or ethnicity. Of the fifty states, seventeen show a high rate of diversity. This indicates that in seventeen of the states there is a 49% to 73% chance that two randomly selected people would be of different races. This trend is particularly notable in the Southern and Southwestern states as well as in the Northeastern States (American Fact Finder, 2001). With the statistical evidence given, it is evident that a diverse ethnic population exists within the United States. By looking at the traditional morals and values of some of these dominant minorities and contrasting these with the Protestant values which we know permeate the American public education system, it becomes obvious that the integration of public schools (as imposed by the Supreme Court ruling of 1954) did not mean the end of cultural conflict in Education.
Jewish law, for example, encourages the love of both fellow Jews and strangers. Judaism stresses the need to give aid to the poor and needy and not to do anyone wrong in speech or business. Love and Brotherhood within Judaism is not stated as a general ideal to live up to; the way to approach love and brotherhood is explicitly spelled out in the 613 commandments of Jewish Law. These commandments instruct Jews to give to one another and to help and protect one another. Jews are commanded not only to help those in either physical or financial need, but also to prevent people from being harmed and to help a person whose life is in danger. Jewish law forbids cheating or taking advantage of another. Jews are commanded to speak the truth, to fulfill promises and to not say uncomplimentary things that are true. Most of these laws regarding treatment of others apply not only to our treatment of our fellow Jews, but also to our treatment of gentiles and in many cases even to our treatment of animals (Rich, 2001).
For Muslims, the teachings of Islam indicate a balance between the life of this world and the life of the next. Islam forbids any action that infringes on the rights of others or harms oneself. Also forbidden to Muslims are; dishonesty, theft, murder, suicide, bribery, forgery, interest and usury, gambling, lottery, consumption of alcohol or pork, backbiting, gossiping, slandering, hoarding, destruction of property, cruelty to animals, adultery and fornication. Islam also encourages marriage and stable family life, modesty, generosity, hospitality, respect for parents, honorable treatment of women, and helping those in need. The majority of Muslim families have close extended family ties. Muslims are absolutely forbidden from forcing their faith on others; this negates the very idea of free will and choice. It is up to each individual to investigate religion and personally make a decision as to its validity and their faith in it (Huda, 2001).
In Buddhism, there is no belief "in a transcendent or immanent or any other type of God or Gods, the need for a personal saviour, the power of prayer, eternal life in a heaven or hell after death ..." (Robinson, 2001). Buddhists believe in reincarnation and the attainment of Nirvana after many cycles of birth, death and life. For Buddhists, the correct way to live is to live for others. Finding one's own truths, and following the path of good will lead a Buddhist to a happier, more fulfilled life. Are values and culture intertwined? If values are the principles, standards, or qualities considered worthwhile or desirable, and if each religion or culture teaches different qualities as being desirable, then values and culture are inextricably linked. An examination of different cultures' perceptions of wealth provides a strong example of the differences of values between cultures. As already noted, for the Protestant culture the accumulation of wealth and property is considered a blessing from God; for the Jewish culture wealth is only valid if it can help to benefit the community and society; for the Buddhist culture wealth does not help one find spirituality or the path to enlightenment and so it is of little consequence; for the Muslim culture all things belong to God and therefore wealth is simply held in trust by man; for devout Catholics, the love of money is seen as the root of all evil. Which culture is right in their value of wealth? There is no definitive way to decide, as everyone will have their own beliefs depending upon the tradition in which they have been raised.
In America, we know that "For better or worse, the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant tradition was for two centuries - and in crucial respects still is - the dominant influence on American culture and society." (Schlesinger, 1991), including the public school system. Students entering the American public school system have been forced to subordinate their culture to the moral authority of the public school system. Although several important U.S. Supreme court decisions throughout 1962 and 1963 forbade the forced recitation of prayer in schools and the promotion of one religion over another, the dominance of the Protestant philosophy still holds strong:
Though the outright domination of a particular culture in attempting to assimilate others to a cultural ideal in the school system had been denied, a more subtle form of discrimination and domination took over through the use of specific diagnostic criteria, such as intelligence tests, which isolated those who were unable to conform to the constructed standards of the norm. "Domination is no longer only signalled by overt class exploitation, legalized racial and sex discrimination, or the fascist instrumentation of everyday life. Structures of domination are more difficult to decode, in part because of their hegemonic entrenchment." (Sleeter & McLaren, 1995)
Children can undoubtedly identify the differences between themselves and others around them; they are also able to see that people with certain characteristics tend to be successful, while others are treated with less respect and have less power and privilege. Students often witness intolerance to diversity and learn this as an effective way to deal with differences. Unless students are taught other effective means of approaching diversity, it is likely they will develop behaviours, such as violence, to help them manage their feeling of fear and rejection of those who are different (Schwartz, 2001).
Conflict usually begins with a lack of information. Often, students who face conflict do not know enough about each other to solve the conflict. Misunderstandings, because of differences in cultural background, can increase the conflict. These differences can be described as opposing points of view. People at this stage of conflict will generally begin to argue, and if they are unequipped with non-violent means to resolve conflict, a disagreement may escalate to threats or violence.
Section 280003(a) of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 defines a hate crime as "... a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, colour, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person." People targeting victims because they are different from themselves are perpetrating hate crimes.
However, in some cases, the differences that result in conflict and potential violence are not as blatantly obvious as a racially motivated case. Certain conflicts in the public school system are the result of real or perceived opposing points of view in regard to what is important; style, intelligence, sports, arts, etc. As members of these 'sub-cultures' have opposing viewpoints that may run counter to each other, conflict erupts. Without alternative means of managing conflict resolution, the dispute may intensify to the point of violence.
Modern society is faced with a cultural crisis. "The postmodern consciousness perceives a crisis existing in culture and embraces the belief that no single cultural tradition or mode of thought can serve as a metanarrative, a universal voice for all human experience." (Ozmon, 1999) Cultural crisis can be seen on many levels. It is currently exemplified on a macro level in the conflict between America and terrorists. On a micro level, a cultural crisis is evident in the American educational system, as well as in its schools.
The world was horribly shaken on September 11, 2001, when individuals acted out in rage and retaliated against America. Since this incident, North America has been focused on a part of the world and a set of beliefs that many of us know very little about. The country is Afghanistan and religion is Islam. What drove these terrorists to attack America? We need to consider the social and cultural context from which these people come. The religion of Islam is one of the world's largest religions, with millions of Muslim followers. Islam is influenced by both Judaism and Christianity and has many commonalities with these religions. The commonality is all the essential fundamentals: the same God; the same emphasis on family life; the same set of values; and the same emphasis on justice and tolerance. So, why is America so hated?
"The U.S. is an enemy to barbaric animals who profane a great religion by committing murder in its name." ("Allies begin," 2001) The terrorists who led the recent attack on America are believed to be associated with the Taliban, an extremist group who control Afghanistan. Their attack was on liberty, western philosophy and the American way of life. America is insulting to the extremists of this Eastern civilization. The modern world and its focus on technology is threatening to their civilizations' focus on spirituality. The terrorists and their followers wanted their voice to be heard and they went to extreme measures to assert their philosophy. September 11, 2001, was a symbol of a clash of civilizations. This is a philosophical war and a tremendous example of cultural conflict on a macro level.
Cultural conflict can also be seen at the level of education. Ever since people began to think of how to reform the American educational system, they have also been forced into conflict. Democracy brings groups and individuals with different ideas of how to reform the educational system. In 1983, America became "A Nation At Risk," falling behind Germany and Japan. "International comparisons of student achievement completed a decade ago revealed that on nineteen academic tests, American students were never first or second and, in comparison with students from other industrialized nations, were last seven times." (Elkind, 2001) Through educational reform, America tried to reorganize the American educational system to improve performance. There was controversy about which direction educational reform should take.
At the national level, people are struggling to have resources allocated to certain sectors. At the educational level, there is a fight between the states as to where the money will be allocated. Once the money is in the state, how do we distribute the money on a school district level? Hidden behind the fight for funding is a fight to assert the philosophical expression of a certain group. In democratic America everyone has his or her own philosophy; therefore, the fight continues. The politics of school choice has continued to cause a feud between the Protestants and the Catholics. The Protestants have controlled the public education system under democracy. The Protestant majority, represented by members of the local school boards and many of the teachers, funds the educational system. The Protestant philosophy is ingrained in the walls of the public education system. If the Catholic system is asking for more money, they are fighting for funding to support their philosophy. By not giving money to certain schools or types of schools, we are only supporting one certain philosophy. As dominant minorities continue to claim their rights in the educational system, conflict will continue to arise, as seen in the case of Protestants vs. Catholics.
A cultural crisis is also evident at the school level, as high school violence continues to escalate in schools. The high-profile case of the "Trench Coat Mafia" at Columbine High School is a famous example. The school was divided into two philosophies, sports and knowledge. The athletes were the dominant majority at the school. As a group, they were highly valued and glorified. The academics were the minority and they were ridiculed, alienated and subordinated for their differences. The groups oriented toward knowledge felt discriminated against and devalued and wanted to retaliate. Who were the Trench Coat Mafia and what did they stand for? The Trench Coat Mafia was a clique of nonconformists who did not fit into the mainstream. They held different values and beliefs from the majority of students and did not want to surrender their beliefs to those of the athletes. A photograph of the Trench Coat Mafia was found in the schools' 1998 yearbook. The quote next to the photograph reads, "Who says we are different? Insanity's healthy!" (BBC News). Why should the Trench Coat Mafia have to accept the majority's beliefs or any other sub-cultural beliefs? The Trench Coat Mafia did not want other ideals placed upon them; they had their own set of values. Each subculture wants other subcultures to conform to their way of thinking. The jocks devalued the Trench Coat Mafia because they were different. The result was a crisis of difference.
Harris and Klebold were outcasts in a group of outcasts. Details from both the killers' journals revealed that they felt alienated and unaccepted. "Klebold began his journal on March 31, 1997 during a point he described as 'a weird time, weird life, and weird existence'. He described in his journal about not fitting in, being depressed and generally hating his existence and hating his life. In another journal he wrote, 'I swear - like I'm an outcast, and everyone is conspiring against me...'" (CNN.com). The two loners felt that the majority was uninformed of their beliefs and this made them irate. Klebold expressed these thoughts on the cover of his journal. "Fact: People are so unaware...well, ignorance is bliss I guess...that would explain my depression (CNN.com). The acts of schools violence on April 20, 1999 transpired when two individuals resorted to the ultimate act of terrorism in a fight for their philosophy. Harris described his dedication to his philosophy in his journal. "I will sooner die than betray my own thought." (CNN.com)
Why were the athletes at the top of their pecking order? The athletes represented the dominant culture at Columbine and had both power and popularity. They signified everything that the Trench Coat Mafia could not be. Harris and Klebold held severe hatred inside of them, which was revealed in Harris's journal. "I'm full of hate and I love it." (BBC News) They despised everyone who ostracized them. On April 20, 1999 they acted on their rage and aimed at the athletes and other sub-cultures who did not accept them. The killers took action against what they did not accept and imposed their will on others.
Santee, California, March 5, 2001: Charles Andrew Williams kills 2 and wounds 13 at Santana High School after feeling alienated from the school majority and being mocked as a nerd. Conyers, Georgia, May 20, 1999: T.J. Soloman shoots 6 classmates at Heritage High; he was considered an outsider, a nerd. Springfield, Oregon, May 21, 1998: Kip Kinkel shot his parents, two classmates, and injured twenty-five others; he had feelings of loneliness and isolation from his peers. Jonesboro, Arkansas, March 24, 1998: Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden shot at classmates outside Westside Middle School wounding 10 and killing 5. Peducah, Kentucky, December 1, 1997: Michael Carneal killed three students and wounded five by shooting at them as they finished up their prayer circle at Heath High School; Michael was considered an outsider because he was unsure of his religious beliefs (Juvenile Violence, 2001).
It is evident from these examples that a cultural crisis is continuing to escalate on many levels, as individuals with dissimilar philosophies attempt to claim their rights and assert their beliefs. This holds many problems for the educational system. As dominant minorities begin to claim their rights, conflict will continue to arise in the schools for sub-culture groups such as the Trench Coat Mafia. Can this disturbing trend of violence in America's schools be stopped? Can minority cultures and sub-cultures within the education system be prevented from imposing their beliefs on others in such a tragic manner? The democratic trend of education, the movement towards multiculturalism in schools and allowing students to establish and maintain their own identity, aims to eliminate these types of occurrences.
In the education sector, one hears constantly of the trend of multiculturalism in education. However, each person interprets this phrase in a different manner. Some institutions consider the ethnic composition of their school in the determination of whether or not the school is multicultural. Ethnic composition is not a determination of multiculturalism; it is merely a matter of Affirmative Action. Affirmative Action was:
... the accomplishment of the 1960s and 70s, giving people access to the system. In the 1980s the concern was with "valuing differences." In the 1990s the push is for "managing diversity." But in the 21st century the focus of schools and corporations needs to be on "living diversity". (Rosado, 2001)
Thus, what makes a school multicultural is managing diversity to the extent that the school is living diversity. Multiculturalism is a system of beliefs and behaviours that recognizes and respects the presence of all diverse groups in an organization or society, acknowledges and values their socio-cultural differences, and encourages and enables their continued contribution within an inclusive cultural context which empowers all within the organization or society (Rosado, 2001). Multiculturalism thus means respecting people and their ideas, not rejecting them simply because they differ from the majority. The essence of multicultural education is the ability to work with others in a manner that transcends all barriers and brings about a "unity in diversity" (Rosado, 2001). One of the most dominant problems facing American education is the problem of cultural insensitivity. Historically, the customary mind-set and conduct toward different races and others with biological, physical and socio-cultural differences has been one of exclusion, control, and assimilation to a commonly accepted norm. In order to reach the goal of multiculturalism, the mind-set must be shifted to one of inclusion, tolerance and acceptance of differences.
How do we accomplish multiculturalism or manage diversity? It means encouraging and enabling differences in a safe, inclusive environment. It means celebrating diversity, maximizing the full potential of all students, and having students reject rejection. "Multiculturalism, as the art of managing diversity, is an inclusive process where no one is left out." (Rosado, 2001) Multiculturalism in education means the empowerment of all groups, which includes changing attitudes as well as the underlying culture of a school.
The key to understanding and accomplishing an inclusive environment where all groups feel safe to be different is not just an awareness and sensitivity to other cultures and ideas, but an entire paradigm shift to seeing the world as an inclusive setting where everyone benefits from each other's differences. The basic measure of how well we are managing diversity is this: "If when all is said and done, you look around and notice that everyone looks like you, you have done it wrong!" (Rosado, 2001)
The world is a place of diversity, but it is also a global village. It should be stressed that we should be teaching children not only to respect each other's differences, but to encourage them, for individual differences will help everyone benefit. As the statistics show, America exists in a state of diversity, and unless that diversity is managed to bring about a harmonious multiculturalism, cultural conflicts will continue. Traditionally, the United States has been unsuccessful at implementing a democratic education system, one where all are treated equally. Historical patterns of segregation followed by assimilation, discouraged differences between students and cultures. Tragic instances of school violence, such as that at Columbine High School, due to cultural conflict are a reminder to society that there are differences between cultures. Unless we follow the current trend towards diversity management through respecting and empowering students differences, we will continue to see violence in the schools as members of minority cultures and sub-cultures struggle to assert their identity.
Aaronovitch, David. (1999, April 23). How two Colorado school killers prowled the internet's marketplace for murderous information that spawned their spree of death and suicide. The Hamilton Spectator.
Allies begin a fierce and sustained air campaign against Taliban. (2001, October 8). The National Post.
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Smith, Peter. (1999, April 21). Trench Coat Mafia suspected in rampage. The London Free Press.
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