Government Failure of the Year

by Jeffrey Tucker

There’s tough competition for that title, given that we’ve come to expect government failure and criminality at every turn. But my nomination is the April 20 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

What brought it about? What could have prevented it? The usual answers revolve around various social-therapeutic theories about how we need more school counselors to deal with outcasts. But when we look at the details of the case, what we find is human evil exacerbated by government at every turn.

For starters, consider this little-reported fact: Classmates say that killer Eric Harris was inspired by Clinton’s bombing of Serbia. "I hope we do go to war," he told a friend. "[I want to] shoot every one." He even tried to join the Marines, but the recruiter wouldn’t have him because Harris was taking anti-depressants. So he fought the war on the home front.

In the home videos Eric made with fellow murderer Dylan Klebold, they come across as lacking a moral sense, drained of mercy, disdainful of parental and school authority, enthralled with taboos, trapped in a system they despised, and desperate to make a mark in the world even if it involved doing evil. They led double and triple lives, and were disgusted at those who let them get away with it.

The trouble is that these characteristics are hardly unusual these days. They apply to millions of kids in American public schools, even run-of-the-mill mall rats. Given the sheer size and structure of public high schools-which look and operate more like prisons than centers of education-and the millions of kids consigned to them, perhaps it should surprise us that there aren’t more murderous rampages than there are.

Yet in all the commentary on Columbine, only a few have dared place the blame on the public school system itself, which, in its present form, is structurally incapable of dealing with students as individual human beings with unique needs and interests. It’s not necessarily the teachers’ or the administrators’ fault. They are running thousands of kids through their classrooms, and they are doing well just to keep some semblance of order.

The curriculum and discipline code is dictated from on high, and their inability to take careful notice of special kids is imposed on them by the constraints of their profession. As Phyllis Schlafly has emphasized, Columbine was a model of progressive educational experiments, complete with pc politics (Eric followed a class assignment and wrote an essay against "hate" only a week before the killings), counselors around every corner, sex and death education, and more electives classes than kids in college used to have.

What’s more difficult to understand is the parents’ failure to understand what it means to place their children in such a school. Of course the price is right, and perhaps that is the decisive point. Many parents, too, remember the public high schools of their youth, and, not having kept up on the radical changes afflicting American education over the last two decades, recall them as pretty good. Or perhaps the parents just enjoy the luxury of letting someone else, teachers or administrators, take over their job.

If Eric and Dylan had been homeschooled and had shot up the town square, you can bet there would be a national reassessment of homeschooling taking place. It would be said that home school created social isolation that is pent up and releases itself in violence. Parents would be warned by all civic authorities that their child will end up the same way if they try homeschooling. And yet public school education is not even considered as a contributing factor in the Columbine killings.

Even more bizarre is how the killers got away with their deed. Once they decided to start shooting, they had the run of the entire school for 46 minutes until they turned their guns on themselves. It’s a wonder that more than 15 did not die. All the while, the unarmed teachers and administrators hid under their desks in fear, and the killers shot whomever they decided needed to die.

It was the Clinton administration that imposed a national rule against guns anywhere near the school. Eric and Dylan didn’t obey the rule, but everyone else did. All it would have taken was one coach or one assistant principal with a .22 caliber pistol to save the day. But in conformity to the federal government’s rules against arms, everyone was at the mercy of the killers.

And yet where is the national movement to reassess the absurd rule that schools must disarm? Quite the contrary, the Columbine massacre is being used by the anti-gun lobby as a case study in why we need even tighter restrictions on gun ownership.

And what about the cops at the scene? Here is the truly disgusting part of the story, buried at the outset but slowly emerging as the decisive factor. Nearly 800 law enforcement officers would eventually amass at the scene, but not one of them charged in to protect the kids from the killers. For the most part, they stood outside barking orders at the fleeing students and adjusting their gear.

As Time puts it, "the TV audience saw SWAT-team members who stood for hours outside, while, as far as everyone knew at the time, the gunmen were holding kids hostage inside." What were they doing? "Securing the perimeter," as they say. Meanwhile, the kids inside did what they were supposed to do: they called 911. Again and again. Dispatchers were getting so many calls that they began to disconnect the students.

Then there was Evan Todd. He was shot, but struggled outside, figuring he could brief the police on where the killers were. "I described it all to them-the guns they were using, the ammo. I told them they could save lives [of the wounded still in the library if they moved in right away]. They told me to calm down and take my frustrations elsewhere."

The killing began at 11:17am. The police found the dead bodies of the killers at 3:00pm. How many lives would have been saved if they had done their jobs?

Stepping back from the bloodshed, we can see that Columbine demonstrates that all of the claims of government are lies. It said it would provide a moral example; instead its wars have taught a generation that killing innocents is fine. It said it would educate the kids; instead it created monsters without remorse. It said it would create schools; instead it set up a situation that led to the equivalent of a prison riot. It said it would protect the children; but it disarmed the teachers and administrators, leaving them vulnerable to attack. It said it would stamp out criminality; instead it let the criminals run free to kill others.

And to this day, there are no apologies from the federalized cops for doing nothing, none from Clinton for disarming the schools, none from the military which showed the killers that life is expendable; none from the administrators and teachers for failing to accomplish the first job of education: instilling the basics of an ethical code of conduct.

And to this day, only a few parents have withdrawn their kids from Columbine. The rest sent their kids back. After all, public school is free.

Jeffrey Tucker is editor of The Free Market.