Aiming for Unfeigned Hope
San Diego State University
Tales Out of School
There is no fluoride in the water in San Diego. Fluoride was always identified by the John Birch Society as part of a communist plot to destroy the will of good US citizens to resist communism. The town that once profited from hosting political conservatism and the Navy as its primary employer now lives with the remnants of that legacy: grisly dental carries among children in an area with more than 100,000 youths without medical care. Overstretched school nurses serve as family physicians but in, “America’s finest city,” dental care goes untouched.
The Navy and the Marines still maintain a powerful presence in San Diego County. The defense industry is second only to manufacturing in the area Gross Regional Product, at around $10 billion. San Diego is still port to 48 ships, 200,000 acres of military land, and around 100,000 military personnel. Officers complain daily about the treatment of enlisted people, many of whom are so poorly paid they are eligible for food stamps. The enlisted corps cannot find affordable local housing near bases.
The other booming factor in the economy, drugs, goes unmentioned in Chamber of Commerce brochures, but the 2000 film “Traffic,” makes the issue difficult to hide.
“Don’t buy south of 8,” is a realtors’ slogan indicating that people of quality should not purchase homes beneath I-8, a moving border that slowly shifts north as the Hispanic, black, and Asian population grows in the south. Although segregation and poverty is not as glaring in San Diego as it is in many northern industrial cities, it is still in force, at every level. Even in liberal wealthier public schools that encourage students to come from poor areas, children are repeatedly reminded that they are visitors. 55% of San Diego County citizens are white, 9% black, 23% Hispanic, 13% Asian/other.
San Diego is relatively prosperous, or at least many of its citizens are. There are nearly one million families in the area with an average household income of $70,000. The city keeps its truly poor completely outside: in Tijuana. There the maquiladora plants replace the North American industrial work force with wages sometimes under $20 per day. Families, babies in arms, can still be seen dashing down local expressways, surging toward hope, with the Immigration and Naturalization Service in hot pursuit. That pursuit reverberates into daily life for all San Diegans, as the INS sets up check points on major highways, exacerbating the massive traffic jams that already plague the area, and interrogates the occupants of cars identified in their profiles as suspicious. While the targeting is clear, it remains that the mass of the citizenry are all under surveillance. Even with purportedly severe oversight, the border remains a sieve of drug trafficking.
The former head of the INS, who made his reputation by separating people by nation and race, is now the head of the local school board, implementing standardized curricula and tests with the same vigor he applied to border-crossers in his last position. His father-in-law is a major land developer in the area, the good wife’s dad standing in line to profit handsomely from the sell-off of school-owned property. In a recent election, area billionaires like the owners of Qualcomm, the baseball Padres, and a local discount chain spent nearly $3/4 million trying to drive a critic of the land deals off the local school board. They lost.
The INS commissioner nevertheless continued his Skinnerian school campaign. The upshot is in part that San Diego area schools are extraordinarily regimented, marching children between classes, stressing phonics-based literacy programs and abstract Chicago Math projects, designed to drill kids and de-skill teachers. In-class reward systems that pile on top of one another to a degree that is hard to follow are common in city schools. Gifted and talented programs in most schools select the white and affluent, suggesting that five to ten percent of the kids in a school can be truly gifted–at everything, and they are better than the rest.
Students in systems like this are fearful of freedom, unaccustomed to guessing or lively chatter, commonly whining and tattling–all symptoms that experienced educators know reflect deeper problems. Test scores that measure parental income and race fix self-worth for children, teachers, and schools. The teachers’ union has, for the most part, battled the commissioner on bread and butter grounds, but rarely challenged his curricular edicts. San Diego boasts that if the city were a state, it would be ahead of New York, Number One in the USA for test scores, although even the test writers admit that the way to raise scores is to recruit richer kids; teaching seems to only have a secondary influence.
Central San Diego is the home of the thriving San Diego State University, more than double its undergraduate size just ten years ago, and planning to become a prestigious graduate research university. The campus is following the entrepreneurial lines of many universities: naming key buildings after big donors, and seeking more. One campus building is: Gateway. The SDSU president faced his toughest test early in the school year of 2000. A handful of students in a Native American organization suggested that the campus mascot, “Monty Montezuma,” was offensive. Monty is the embodiment of the campus symbol, a caricature of a red-faced cartoon Indian, the Aztec. Monty, though, takes life form at football games when, historically, a fraternity boy plays Monty in red paint, chasing sorority “squaws,” around the stadium, carrying a spear and spitting fire. At a campus rally, one county board member screamed, “If the students of SDSU want a fire-breathin’, spear-chuckin’, squaw-chasin’ Monty Montezuma, then they should have him!”
At the rally, a lonely critic pointed out that, “there is no Mad Priest running around chasing nuns on behalf of the Padres.”
Initially, the student government, after considerable research and judicious discussion, voted to ban Monty and the Aztec from campus. Faced with an alumni and student outcry, the student council backed off, called for a vote, and tossed the decision to the university president. More than 90% of the student body voted to keep the mascot and the symbol. The faculty voted to offer that the name Aztec be kept without the Monty caricature, suggesting that the name Aztec did not necessarily represent people. The president, “after much research and study of the matter of the Aztecs,” decided to keep the name and to fob the question of Monty to a committee. Monty lives.
To the north, the city of Oceanside butts up against Camp Pendleton. It is a crew-cut city of tattoo parlors, check-loan agencies, motorcycle sales lots, and bars. Farther north, as LA comes into view, the public signs along the highways are strung with razor wire to ward off gang tags, graffiti, an indicator that the softer background of San Diego is fading from view.
Between Oceanside and downtown San Diego is Miramar, a huge military air base that, due to cutbacks, is not nearly as busy as it once was. The mayor eyes this area hungrily as a possible site for an expanded airport, a supplement to the local Lindbergh Field, named after the ocean-crossing fascist aviator. Nearby residents, however, include the NASDAQ- investor crowd. They have launched a series of counter-attacks, suggesting that the airport be located near Mexico.
Political life in San Diego is almost hushed. Candidates for public office never mention party affiliations. Few people know if the mayor is a republican or a democrat. One reporter who covered local politics related, “In most cities the people know the bosses are corrupt, and in some cities that makes them mad. In San Diego, they don’t even know what corruption is. The bosses just file their reports as if taking bribes was not corrupt, and the citizenry just can’t tell a bribe from a bid.” It was a small scandal when a local council- person was driven out of office, convicted of taking bribes from a local businessman in order to gain her vote on a downtown stadium. But when she was removed, the project simply moved forward. The city officials never broke their deal with the football Chargers either: to buy every unsold seat at their stadium, an agreement which cost the city a million dollars in 2000 as the Chargers charged for their mediocrity. Dick Nixon called San Diego, “My lucky city,” visiting often. Ronald Reagan lives just an hour north.
The city government, apparently benign, takes no notice that gasoline prices in the county, fixed by a small cabal of energy-owners, range about 25 cents per gallon higher than in Los Angeles. The leader of local consumer group, UCAN, says it is hard to organize in San Diego.
San Diego struggled out of a recession in the late 1980's by highlighting its existing base in research and development–and supporting Nafta. The 1994 trade agreement tripled the export market for the region. Now, 8 million legal border-crossings are made monthly at the Tijuana station. Hispanic activists claim that an average of one person a week dies trying to make an illegal crossing into California. The movement of the free market does not apply to people. The hyper-competition that is the basis of Nafta’s outlook is seen as good for the region’s economy. San Diego is home to an entire corridor of bio-tech companies and research institutions like Qualcomm (of Eudora software fame), the Salk Institute, the University of California at San Diego (third only to Harvard and Stanford in federal research funding in 1998), and Scripps Research Institute, focused on synthetic vaccines and autoimmune diseases–all engaged in entrepreneurial work aimed at combining knowledge and the commodity market. At every level, education is seen as key to regional economic development.
Near downtown San Diego is Balboa Park, home of world-renowned museums and a zoo housing, among other species, two Pandas bought at a cost of $1 million from the Chinese. The zoo is famous for making its fences almost invisible, providing homes to the animals in near-natural environments. The museums were the site of recent protests. Dozens of Christians complained that the museum’s exhibit, “Torture Instruments and Their Symbols,” was offensive.
San Diego’s police force is hard to spot. The city, in 1990, adopted a policy of “community policing,” meaning self-policing, and maintains a fairly low crime rate while employing about ½ of the police officers as other cities of comparable size.
Led by liberal local politician Steve Peace, San Diego was the first of California’s cities to deregulate the public utilities, thus leading the way to one of the most massive transfers of wealth in history, what could be the entire $10 billion budget surplus of the state shifting to millionaire Texas energy owners. A quick citizen boycott in the area drew some action, and brief price caps, but the leading local consumer advocate believes further boycotts simply will not gain support. The local unions have joined with the energy companies in supporting the rate hikes and shift of wealth, which they believe may benefit their members working on energy-related jobs. Heating and electricity costs in homes in San Diego in late 2000 multiplied by a factor of nine in many cases, forcing San Diego State students to leave apartments to quadruple-up with friends, and teachers to begin to raise demands for the next contracts.
Memories of resistance in San Diego are nearly obliterated. Few people know that the anarchist Industrial Workers of the World were big players in town in the early 1900's, that they led free speech fights for the right to form unions–and that they were taken out on the desert on boxcars and dumped. Many of them died. Few students are aware that one of the most militant student strikes of the 1960's happened at SDSU, under banners demanding affirmative action, military off the campus, and black studies programs. Nearly no one in town remembers that in the early 1970's sailor uprisings on aircraft carriers stationed in San Diego kept those ships from entering the Vietnam war for months, one not at all. History in school is a test item, not a question of reading and acting on the world.
The west side of San Diego County boomed in the last decade, primarily on the back of NASDAQ prosperity. In La Jolla, a wealthy community of cliffs by the sea that uses its local art galleries in preference to museums, professors at the prestigious University of California at San Diego, once home base to Herbert Marcuse, cannot afford to live in the community. In fact, the local paper estimates that less than 30% of the county residents can afford to purchase local homes. The NASDAQ boom also blew up housing costs as high-tech millionaires bid up once middle-class housing, as an investment hedge.
East County San Diego has a similar, but not so harsh, reputation as the area south of 8. West County gentry sometimes call the East County folk: Goat-Ropers, trailer-trash, meth-makers, haze-suckers (the air pollution that tamps down the horizon gets locked in the high hills to the east) and Klan-fans. East county is a much cheaper place to live. In Julian and to the northeast, it snows in the winter–drawing crowds of thousands of residents for a moment of snow-boarding, and a taste of hot apple pie. An Indian reservation east of Alpine is home to a small casino, usually full of unsmiling gamblers under heavy surveillance, and a discount shopping mall designed to look like a pueblo village, complete with piped in sounds of coyotes and desert birds. This reservation, like others in the area, now donates sports equipment to poor kids in the city.
South and west of the reservation, north and east of the city, lies Santee, also known by its own residents as “Klantee,” a long-time bastion of white supremacist activity and part of a school system that since 1999 has been home to a high school teacher who, with her husband and son, long operated a Nazi web site. The son is now in jail, for fascist threats. The mom is still teaching.
There is no center city in Santee; just a scattering of desert strip malls and a Walmart on the outskirts of town. The city limits buttress one of the largest city parks in the country, the eight square miles of rolling hills inside San Diego called Mission Trails Regional Park. Coyotes roam out from this park at night, eating pets nearby. The San Diego River, usually a trickle, runs through Mission Trails. Water rights, as a question of property rights, have underpinned regional wars since the Gold Rush. Park Rangers at the visitor center welcome newcomers and say they wish more than 10% of the area’s population would stop by for a hike each year. The daytime trip from San Diego to Santee runs under typically blue skies through the middle of the park, the road lined on both sides by the mountain ridges that create the region’s micro-climates, neighboring domains that vary from seashore to mountain to desert. Santee is desert, only incorporated after irrigation in the early 1980's.
With 60,000 residents, and streets named Pleasant, Carefree, and Magnolia; Santee was seen by many as a suburban nirvana, upper-middle class and trouble free. It’s about 85% white, 14 % Hispanic, 1% black. In Chamber of Commerce documents, Santee is portrayed as the site of the lowest crime rate in the area, “a solid well-ordered community...with elementary test scores in the 70 to 90th percentiles.” In one Santee-based San Diego State University class for pre-service educators in the winter of 2000, a young white woman felt comfortable to rise and say, “Look, I am a racist. Racism has been around forever. So get used to it. Why don’t you stop talking about racism and teach us some methods?”
Santee is home to many poor and working class people. Geographically and economically set up to be a racist area, the city houses people who also struggle against racism–and its cohorts. They swim upstream.
Santana High in Santee is home to the Sultans, presumably precursors to the Aztecs for many grads who go on to college. Santana High is typically California-modern. The school is nearly windowless. It needs a fresh coat of paint. However, immediately adjacent to the school is a fully equipped football stadium, complete with irrigated green grass and a full lighting system and stadium seating, not crude bleachers, but stadium seating. The geography of power for the Sultans is etched in the contrast of the stadium and the school.
It’s Only Me
On March 5th, Andy Williams, a small thin freshman white boy who arrived in the fall of 2000, opened fire with an unusual German Arminius eight-shot 22 revolver, available on the internet now for $55, in Santana High School in Santee. He killed two people, wounded 13 more, 11 students, a student teacher, and a security guard. Ensconced in a boys bathroom, a good defensive position for a shooter, he had reloaded four times. Faced with a one-man police assault, he dropped his fully-loaded weapon, fell to his knees, and said, “It’s only me.”
Andy Williams’ Arminius killings followed these other white kids shooting white kids: Jonesboro, West Paducah, Springfield, Littleton. In some cases, the shooters lived in an area where open racist activity was commonplace. In others, they did not. Some shooters had connections with the NRA. Others did not.
Santana High, in 1998, had a California API (Assessment Performance Index--weighted scores for five subjects, with scores ranging from 200 to 1,000) of 636, considerably higher than the less affluent El Cajon High (526) and lower than the more moneyed Valhalla High (710). For comparison, the truly affluent La Jolla High got an 812. Truly impoverished Hoover High inside San Diego averaged 444. Test scores are consequential to administrators in every California district. Their sense of importance sifts down in the form of fear and greed. Schools and school workers are financially rewarded and punished by the state testing system. Soon, students will not graduate and teachers will be fired, based on test scores. There is little room to take off for simply being sixteen, planning to catch up in a year. This quantification of learning, which most know is based on inheritance, and regulation of the curricula, rooted in the politics of inequality and exploitation, strikes at every level of the school system, creating pressure and despair at levels previously unseen in US schools.
In the San Diego schools, the board voted 3-2 on March 11 to de-fund magnet and performing arts schools, in order to pay for the hundreds of students predicted to fail standardized exams in the spring. Those students will now be grade-retained, and forced into summer school. The money saved from stripping the arts schools will not be enough to cover the costs of the summer schools. The board is looking for other possible cuts.
Teacher contract disputes have been growing bitter in Santee and nearby areas. In Cajon Valley, teachers picket nearly every day demanding a contract and a fair wage hike. Similar if less militant actions have been building in Santee.
Beginning early in the school year, Pastor Gary Cass, a trustee on the Santee school board, held demonstrations outside Santana High, holding up pictures of aborted fetuses and signs opposing abortion, accusing fornicating students of devils’ lives. He was, according to his statements, frequently ridiculed by passing students. Later, Pastor Cass suggested that an atmosphere of contempt for life in Santee pervaded every move in the community.
On the same day Andy Williams opened fire, an auto accident in San Diego county killed three people. A day later, a child committed suicide inside Hoover High. The latter incident was deliberately silenced by the media, according to a manager at the San Diego Times Union, in order to prevent copy-cat suicides. The auto accident got third-page coverage, then vanished. Andy Williams’s gunfire drew media coverage from all over the world. It became a spectacle, a commodity to be sold.
Contrary to one of the key messages of standardized high-stakes tests: ruthless competition is the key to success; several youths and a security officer risked their lives in order to try to stop Andy Williams from continuing to fire his weapon.
A 22 caliber revolver is a peculiar choice for someone who planned his murders carefully, as much of the media has portrayed Andy Williams. The Ariminius is a shabby weapon, low-power, and not deadly but for well-aimed shots at close distance. While two people were tragically killed, a higher powered gun would have likely killed many more, with greater accuracy. Since Andy Williams chose this weapon from eight in his father’s locked gun closet, it would seem that, accepting his internal logic, Andy Williams made an irrational choice. While concealment may have been an issue, along with the 8-shot capacity rather than the typical 6-shooter revolver, Andy Williams had other concealable choices, and he picked the Ariminius.
Andy Williams’s father and mother separated, bitterly, about ten years ago, and later divorced. There are continuing court battles over his child support. His mother was in the military. His father accepted a job with a defense-related industry in the fall, 2000. Several of the previous school shooters had, in these instances, similar backgrounds, including living in a milieu with a background of racist or Nazi activity.
Depression is anger turned inward. The people who have been abused become the abusers. Andy Williams, after his move to Santee, became the brunt of tormentors from Santana High and began to hang out with kids who call themselves the “burnouts,” on a block not far from the school where they shoot baskets, drink beer and smoke dope. It was at this location that, finally, Andy Williams’ skateboard was taken, and his shoes stolen off his feet, by a fellow who threw him to the ground. This fellow was among the first shot in Andy Williams’ shooting spree, giving lie to reports that what he did was utterly random. For weeks before the shooting, a depressed Andy Mitchell had emailed his girlfriend in Maryland, Kathleen Seek. He promised suicide.
John Schardt, a Santana high school student, had what the press calls the, “presence of mind,” to first photograph, and then videotape, the shooting in progress. He turned his tapes over to the police, became a CNN commentator, spoke on Good Morning America, and then chose to step back and wonder about what he was becoming. Still, John Schardt says, “Well, this may be my break. It could be a career in journalism.”
On March 6th, the day after Andy Williams opened fire, the students and parents and school workers of Santana High were urged to go to the SonRise (sic) Church, where a team of nearly 200 therapists, some of them corporate grief counselors, had been hired to intervene between the students, and real community grief. The corporate grief counselors come from at least two different companies that have been formed since these school shootings popped up. Capital’s replacements for feudalism’s priests, they complained about having to vie for a meager pool of public funds. There are 12 school counselors for the 1900 students of Santana High.
Santana High and its principal, Karen Degischer, were prepared for Andy Williams. There was a written plan in place. It included the grief counselors, a SWAT approach pre-tested by the police, staging areas, and a federal guidebook on, not just school violence, but school shootings. The district had received nearly $1 million in state funding to prepare and prevent school violence. Two educators had attended workshops in 2000 on managing the school in case of a shooting. Degischer has an excellent reputation in the community as a caring and concerned educator, interested in curriculum, instruction, and the learning community. According to the plan, she immediately made herself available to parents and students, circulated a letter to them, and remained available throughout the week.
The school front on March 6th was quickly lined for two city blocks by huge TV vans and trucks, spearing up into the sky with a variety of antennae. Huge traffic jams surrounded the school. The fences of the school were covered with large prayer banners from Christian sects, and even the three competing local Christian schools. Each proclaimed God’s concern. Flower shops did a booming business and dead flowers lined one fence by the school. Children hung out on nearby corners, making themselves available for unparked members of the press.
One radio station carried a program produced by 'professional' kid-shooter-spotters who urged people to take note of young people who are being picked on, as adults and others should be wary of them, and perhaps authorities should be notified about people who prefer to be alone, and are teased, as they may pose a threat to the school community.
The Mayor urged people to pray for Santee. The populace soon grew angry at the media and tried to drive them off by running honking car caravans past the media trucks, making it nearly impossible to broadcast. The citizens began to scream at reporters who tried to interview them. Many residents vehemently expressed hatred for the reporters, and even a university researcher, saying that, “They are just here to make us look bad.” One older man in a tailored suit said, “Property values here are tied to our image, and they are destroying it.” The community appeared ready to circle the wagons. In a meeting closed to the public in a nearby church, one citizen told a researcher that a part of the discussion was to seek guidance from God, and to stop speaking to the press. However, some students continued to pose for interviews. One, a Brittany Spears look-alike, smiled through tears at a line of reporters waiting for her words, as her heavier and less marketable classmates walked by unnoticed.
Each morning, students and local ministers held prayer vigils on the property fronting Santana High. Teachers, who do not enjoy the historians’ luxury of a ten-year wait before analysis and action begins, sought to reach out to their students, to try to bridge the fear and anger that many clearly felt. One teacher told a researcher, “There are so many gaps between us now, so many divisions, that it is hard to have a trusting relationship with a kid. And they can’t trust us either. This was not what I wanted when I started to teach.”
On the morning of March 7th, Wednesday, a huge simulated card, folded but open in two parts, appeared on the fence in front of Santana High. It read, on one side, “From the students of Santana High to God: How could you let this happen in our school?” On the other side: “To the Santana Students from God: I am not allowed in your school.” The next day a fourteen year old girl opened fire in a Catholic school in Pennsylvania. Bishop James Timlin of Scranton, who is a pilot, flew into the Williamsport airport in his private plane to console relatives.
Two thousand teens commit suicide every year in the US. In Michigan and California the incidence of teen suicide has tripled since 1995. In the week of March 7th 2001, more than 50 fires were set in the Oakland California school system. In San Diego that week, 124 death and bomb threats were received in various part of the school system, tracked by the internal police force. Testing on one of several California standardized tests began the week of March 12, with some freshmen segregated for four hours, taking exams that could determine, already, whether or not they will graduate.
Estimates are that Andy Williams will get about 90 years in prison. Under a new California law, he will be tried as an adult, but he cannot get the death sentence. He will, if the police are correct, get 25 years for each of the deaths, and another 40 for a series of gun charges. He has little to bargain with but his youth and his mental state.
At his arraignment, Andy Williams appeared in court in an orange prison jumpsuit. He kept his eyes down, only occasionally glancing up at the judge. His father could not afford an attorney, so he was represented by a public defender who had not had the foresight to put his client in a child’s suit, or even a t-shirt. Andy Williams’ lawyer did not raise the question of bail, so the prosecutor, feeling a need to preserve the procedure, suggested that the judge ask the defense attorney about it. The judge asked the PD if he wanted bail for his client. The PD simply said, “No.” He did not point to the freshman Andy Williams next to him and point his finger and say, “this is an insane child and he should not be tried as an adult.” The PD said, “No.” Andy Williams was bound over for trial, likely to begin in two weeks. He shuffled from the room.
Immediately after his arrest, the police interrogated Andy Williams. It is unclear as to whether he was offered Miranda warnings, or if a minor can waive those warnings. In any case, Andy Williams is quoted by the police as saying that he opened fire because he hated Santana High and was frequently late, then locked out. He had planned to kill himself with a final round from his Ariminius. He was aware that the killings were wrong, but, “if people die, they die.” Mayor Randy Voeple of Santee said that Andy Williams is clearly mentally disturbed.
At least four youths were subsequently expelled from Santana High. They are alleged to have had knowledge about Andy Williams’ plans. Never given a hearing, they were told they were being transferred to other, unnamed, schools and the public was told it was for their own safety. The public was not told that these students cannot return to those schools until next year. No students who were involved in the repeated hazings of Andy Williams have ever been disciplined.
On Friday March 9th more than 3,000 Santee residents and a hoard of reporters, gathered at the SonRise Church for a locally telecast service for the dead and wounded. California Governor Gray Davis, the engineer of the shift of public wealth to the utility owners, attended the ceremony and offered a brief prayer. His wife, who attended Santana High, joined with him.
Dr Folio of the SonRise Church spoke at length, in front of a robed choir of about 100: “Jesus said, ‘Believe in me. I will come again and where I am you can be also. I am the way and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.’ There are several lessons here. We all die. Death for Randy and Byron is happiness and peace. They are in heaven, a real place with streets of real gold. Imagine Randy and Byron arriving in heaven on March 5th and magnificent angels come to greet them. ‘Come in! They say, and you can pick out a beautiful outfit!’ And they get all dressed up, never looked better.
“Randy and Byron wonder, ‘How did we get to this great place so fast?’ And there is a parade of their relatives who gather around them and they approach the throne of God and God steps down and says, ‘Well done, my servants!’ (The audience burst into applause).
“The boys then say, ‘If you could see me now, I am walking in streets of gold. I am in a perfect place. I’m with that gang of mine. If you could only see me now.’” This in rhyme with the song.
“Jesus Christ, is the ONLY way to heaven and the entry fee is Jesus Christ, who is coming back someday. We will see Randy and Byron again. That means comfort for us today, and joy for us tomorrow. Randy and Byron can see us today. Students I tell you to trust in the Lord. Teachers you teach the Lord. Do not leave this room without knowing Jesus Christ.”
A cowboy singer followed with a rendition of, “I Can’t Believe I Can Really See You Now.”
One of the deceased boys had wanted to be either a stuntman or a doctor. The other dreamed of being an FBI agent.
ABC Channel Ten in San Diego had promised to carry the church service commercial-free, then to go blank for an hour so families could talk to each other. They would not commodify the tragedy. Directions on how to hold a family discussion were posted on the screen. The service ran ½ hour late though, so, promptly at 9:00 p.m., the station picked up with, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”
On Monday, March 12th, the March Madness basketball tournament, the biggest gambling event of the year, began at SDSU. The school cancelled its usual academic year, rescheduled spring break, in order to bring the playoffs to the university. The SDSU president hopes to propel the school into academic respectability by pumping the basketball program. The basketball team provides no competition in town. There is no professional basketball team. It is important in San Diego to be positioned as a friend of those who own the football Chargers and the baseball Padres.
On March 13th , a principal from a nearby school appeared on the local NPR affiliate to argue in support of the state standardized tests. Confronted with a myriad of opposing data, including a local Chamber of Commerce report that links the test results only to income levels, the principal replied, “That is all we have, the standards that were established for us and the tests that came next. I have to find hope in something and I prefer to find hope in following the rules.” She added that getting elementary children accustomed, “to sitting still for hours, bubbling answers, is going to provide good employees for business, and that is our job.”
The 10 March New York Times, which covered Andy Williams and his lonely gunfire in ways far more extensive and sophisticated than any local news source, carried an op-ed article by a neurologist attesting that Andy Williams’ brain was, like all kids his age, a “biologically immature brain,” and hence people his age are likely to open fire. The Associated Press of March 12 also carried an article covering Education Secretary Rod Paige comments, “Alienation and rage at the heart of this. What is needed is more character education.”
The San Diego Times Union, managed by former Nixon aide Herb Klein, assigned its religion and ethics editor to the question of the repeated school shootings of white children by white children. Whiteness did not enter her discourse. Sandi Dolbee wrote in favor of several solutions: better anticipation, less guns, more self-surveillance and reporting from kids, cherish life–stop killing. “Try to be a little kinder.” Her thesis: We are all together.
U.S. schools are very safe. The children in them are in far more danger, intellectually, from the standardized tests that are demolishing their education, physically from the Coke machines installed, in many cases, to gain funds to buy needed supplies, than they are in danger from any intruder with a gun. Even so, kids are killing kids in schools.
The commodity market requires processes which drive people apart: exploitation on the job, alienation of people from their labor and from others by class and race, intellectual work made meaningless by disconnecting it from rational action, spectacularization in many forms like casinos over meaningful work, surveillance disguised as protection for the common good, a focus on things over people, consuming and selling over honest human relationships. At the same time this process is met by equally requisite forces uniting people world-wide through systems of production, exchange, and distribution. Underlying this tension are the lingering competing ideologies, “Every man for himself,” vs “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or perhaps more on point, Acts 4-4, “From each according to their ability to each according to their need.”
The struggle for what is true within these contradictions, and acting on that developing understanding, is a reasonable approach to forging social justice; building caring democratic and egalitarian communities that recognize the existence of an opposition that is often ruthless.
This opposition has its heart and mind in a frantic commodity-market system ever on the prowl for cheaper labor, raw material, and markets. The market is expert at denying its own reality. Unable to tolerate the interaction of democracy and equality, the market deepens the invisibility of a Master-Slave relationship that remains as a good metaphor to explain many of our present-day social relationships. Confirmed shoppers do not notice the cameras, or the people who worked to fill the designer bags–or the Man Behind the Screen.
The key to understanding education and the movement of ideas in the US today is to grasp what the Master desires in such a relationship, and what the Slaves need. Above all, the Master wishes Mastery to be unobservable and when it is not imperceptible to appear inevitable, to teach the slaves that they cannot comprehend or transform their circumstances. The Master will offer the Slaves every kind of conceivable division, language, race, nation, gender/sex; except the key division: Master and Slaves. The Slaves, per the Master, need an inner cop, and a priest.
What transforms this relationship? Work, Knowledge, and Love, all interacting as they do in life. As Hegel and Marx recognized, the Master has no interest in labor (the relationship is rooted in the Master not working, but owning), the fullness of knowledge (mysteries like racism serve the master, understanding racism serves the slaves), and Love (for while the Master can say that we should give peace a chance, the Master cannot live it.) The Master has no interest in movement, change. He is trapped standing on the slaves’ throat. So, the interest of the Master is to promote: This relationship does not exist, nothing changes. The Master cannot Love. He can only exploit. His view of the relationship is wholly one-sided, top down.
In contrast, the Slaves have an interest in overcoming this relationship, intellectually and materially. Through engaging and examining the processes of work, and acting on deepened understanding, the slaves not only have an interest in transforming the world; it is the only thing they can do. Work is the negation of the way they must live, and it is the way they must live. The secrets of Oz are hidden inside understanding labor and sexuality (love, not exploitation), the key absence in most standardized curricula and exams.
Labor alone will not do. The relationship of labor to what can be revealed by understanding the social relationships that the unjust positioning of the Master and the Slave create is equally significant. Why do we work and he alone owns? Why does he use the government as a weapon against us, and then tell us the government is a neutral in which we all have a share? The struggle for what is true, like labor, is the impetus of history.
Labor and Knowledge alone will not do. Only the Slaves have a view of the totality of the relationship of the Master and the Slaves. Only the Slaves have an interest in not just smashing that relationship, but truly overcoming it, transforming the human condition in every conceivable way, from relations of work and intellect, to the whole of human relationships. This is why the Slaves must simultaneously challenge the totality of the processes of exploitation and alienation, but to do so with a community that can end the spiral by building a society that can love all of its members, from each according to commitment to each according to need. This is the advantage of the Slaves.
That is not a series of mythical abstractions. California has more stringent gun laws than any state in the nation. Complex governmental preparations were made for Andy Williams, yet Andy Williams killed. Kind people are in Santana High, throughout the school worker force, yet a child shot other children. Communal surveillance is only possible in a society sharing common interests, yet every message of everyday school life reverberates with the Master-Slave relationship. Slaves learn, wisely, not to rat.
There is no way out of this without considering the whole of the relationship of the Master and the Slave, no way out without also addressing it in its parts: Love, Work, and Knowledge, and building a caring community in the midst of an antithetical society.
In schools, that community building exists and is appearing in the form of an explosion of opposition to high-stakes standardized testing. Integrated school-based groups like the Rouge Forum, Substance Newspaper in Chicago, the California Resisters, the Whole Schooling Consortium, and the Whole Language Umbrella are all struggling to answer the dilemma: How can we keep our ideals, and still do school? They try to organize across borders, in new ways. Winning is, in the Master-Slave relationship, going to come sooner or later. All of the conditions exist to fashion a democratic equitable society, to share–except the decision to act to do so.
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