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Responding to Littleton

Americans had hoped the string of school shootings that marred recent academic years was over. But Tuesday's violence at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., was the worst such incident yet.

It fills the nation with compassion for the victims and their families. And it compels each of us - as teachers, students, parents, church members, public officials - to give renewed attention to the problem of deeply disaffected young men with ready access to deadly weapons.

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Practical steps include stronger controls on access to guns. Such controls are only one small facet of a solution, but they're emblematic of a society that rejects violence.

School-safety measures are another step. Many schools, including Colorado's, have zero-tolerance policies on bringing weapons to campuses. Guards and security systems are increasingly common in schools. They may become necessities, even in the rural and suburban schools such incidents seem to affect most. But they have to be weighed against giving schools too penal an atmosphere.

All these steps, however, fall short of addressing the basic need - helping all young people discover constructive ways of dealing with frustrations, feelings of rejection, and anger. Most of the teens involved in these incidents have shared those attitudes, hardened into hatred and violence. Their actions have often mirrored the darkest side of current popular culture.

Countering such tendencies requires deep reflection in homes and schools. Conflict-mediation courses may help. Encouraging students to tell teachers, parents, and administrators about disturbing subcultures in schools would help. Persuading children that kids they label "dweebs," "nerds," or misfits need a lot more than scorn would definitely help.

Religious communities have basic resources to offer. They can reach out - both directly and through prayer - to kids tempted to be part of this evil. They can also guide countless others to use compassion and spiritual insight to help right young lives veering toward destructive behavior.

It's work that every American should take up immediately.

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