Lessons From Littleton
By Melissa Tulin
May 2, 1999
Millions of words have already been written about the nightmare in Colorado and millions more will probably be written. While the nation debates what could have prevented this tragedy -- tighter gun control laws, the banning of violent video games, and even dress codes -- one issue has received little attention: that of school harassment.
While officials at Columbine High School paint the institution as a suburban Shangri-La, others tell a different story. Not only did the different cliques battle one another, students were harassed because of their racial and religious background. Michelle Shoels, the sister of Isaiah Shoels, the only black student killed in the bloodbath, reported that both she and her brother were the victim of cruel racial taunts at the school. One Jewish student was taunted so much that his parents threatened a lawsuit, and at least two students were targeted for murder because of their Christian beliefs.
While children of all ages will often tease one another, parents and school officials should be alert as to when this teasing becomes torment. My daughter attends is in fourth grade at an elementary school that includes children from many cultures and ethnic groups. Samantha is an excellent student who enjoys school, but one day she came home in tears, reporting that a classmate had called her a "nigger." I was devastated, as this brought up painful memories of my own childhood, when my siblings and I, the only African Americans at our suburban school, were often the target of racial epithets. However, the next day, I accompanied my daughter to the office of the vice-principal and reported what had happened. She not only promptly disciplined the student; his parents were informed of the incident. My daughter has not had any more problems with this boy; in fact, she even reports that he has said "hi" to her on occasion.
Of course, the situation at Columbine High School was much different and more complex than at my daughter's elementary school, and would require different interventions and solutions. But the lesson is clear: harassment of students because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, handicap, or appearance should not be tolerated, and when it does occur, it should be dealt with swiftly and forcefully. In my hometown of Philadelphia, the schools have declared "zero tolerance" for drugs, we should also strive to promote a learning environment where students are free from fear and harassment (of course, schools can't do it alone; parents must also be involved in their children's' lives and teach them the value of tolerance).
It is difficult, if not impossible, for anti-Semites, racists, and other bigots to change their misguided way of thinking. But we can teach them to respect others' right to exist. If this lesson had been taught at Columbine High, things might have turned out quite differently.
This article copyright © 1999 by By Melissa Tulin and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.