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 Navy willed San Diego another peculiar legacy: 31 million gallons of napalm, left over from fire-bombing missions on Vietnam. Napalm, primarily an incendiary anti-personnel device, had been designed by Dow labs in Midland, Michigan. Photos of naked Vietnamese children, victims of napalm running in terror, clothes burned off and skin peeling, triggered mass protests all over the US. Not long after the war, napalm became hazardous waste, stored in drums near the Fallbrook community, whose citizens protested the presence of the petroleum-based enemy in their midst. The last of the napalm was shipped to Texas in March, 2001, to be used to fuel energy plants.
One booming factor in the economy, drugs, goes unmentioned in Chamber of Commerce brochures, but the 2000 film “Traffic,” makes the issue difficult to hide. Peter Smith of the University of California San Diego estimates that the Tijuana drug cartel has an annual budget of around $500 million.
Tourism is vital to the region’s economy. The tourism base stills controversy, as it does in every area which depends on cheerful appearances for income. Says a leading local environmentalist, “It would be unseemly, outside the family,” to point at the cost-cutting that creates vacant lifeguard booths on the beaches, or to repeat too often that the beaches are frequently closed due to sewage run-offs.
“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 who arrive on busses 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 Immigration and Nationalization Service, Alan Bersin, 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. The father-in-law is a big contributor to the Democratic party. His two key issues: fluoride (for) and gun-control (for).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.
Key leaders within the San Diego schools used a number of measures, for more than 20 years, to mingle children who might otherwise never see each other. Camping programs, a series of educational tours of the historic Old Town district, magnet school programs, extended workshops in Balboa Park and its zoo, all at least briefly integrated children from all over the city, from its many racial and economic groups, in ways that most cities would envy. All of this, as the community knows, will lose funding and cease to exist at the end of the 2001 school year. In addition, “thousands of children, including children in kindergarten, will be retained in grade because of standardized test scores,” according to a leading African-American educator at San Diego State University.
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 faculty senate was, on the day of the vote, more than 90% white. The SDSU president, trained as a philosopher, “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 Qualcomm 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.
The brief spate of Nasdaq wealth did offer new alternatives to many San Diego area residents, for whom appearances are excruciatingly important. The local press is replete with ads from doctors offering their services to alter body parts, from hair to eyes to tummies to legs, to ensure the image of well-being. The image is likely to be quite correct. Few working class medical plans cover cosmetic surgery. Close to the ads for the surgery, though, are ads from personal injury lawyers, offering to sue for botched cases.
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.”
In a phone interview, Andy Williams former track coach said he was the kind of kid, “who would sweep the snow off the neighbors’ driveways, who would run errands for the Alzheimer’s patient down the street.”
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 (Academic 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. 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 to the tv camera 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 late March. 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.
The Quest for Hope
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 are at the heart of this. What is needed is more character education.”
Peter Yarrow, of the Peter, Paul and Mary trio that in 1968 sang courageously standing on overturned trash cans in the midst of tear-gas filled Grant Park during the Chicago Democratic Convention, and the concurrent police riot, appeared in San Diego area elementary schools shortly after the shooting to promote a school program titled, “Don’t Laugh at Me.” It includes lyrics that go, “Don’t laugh at me, don’t take your pleasure from my pain.”One third grade child, whose eyes would not focus in unison, was interviewed following Yarrow’s performance. The youth said, “Well, I hope this makes it stop.” The “Don’t Laugh at Me,” curriculum is owned by McGraw-Hill, a major promoter of high-stakes standardized tests.
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, privilege,
alienation, and despair, 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.
In the Interim
In California alone, in two days following the Santana High shooting, 11 students were arrested for making threats to their schools or people in them. The Nasdaq collapsed over the next two weeks, losing more than one-third of its value. The Dow slipped below 10,000. Pre-service teachers in the College of Education at San Diego State discussed the impact of the stock crisis on their lives, and wondered if it was wrong to take pleasure in seeing wealthy investors fail. A few students noted that they were investors themselves, that they were losing all they had. One asked, “Does this mean that members of the tribe cannot criticize the casino?”
Fifteen days after the Santana killings, rolling electrical blackouts that had plagued most of California for weeks hit San Diego for the first time. The blackouts and skyrocketing energy bills, increasing in some cases by 1000%, destroyed small businesses around the state. In that period, questions about the cause of the state energy crisis began to be answered by court actions filed by public and private entities, insisting that the deregulated energy providers had deliberately created a shortage, taken huge profits, closed aging plants and crushed the unions inside, avoided public scrutiny, and used the legislative and executive branch of the state government to begin to syphon off a nearly $11 billion state budget surplus to private pockets. That budget surplus had once been earmarked for education.
California’s school system, which ranks near the top of the states in the number of high-stakes standardized tests students must take, is 41st in the US in per-pupil spending (at around $5,400), 45th in access to computers and 50th in access to school nurses and libraries. The average California teacher makes about $44,100, 7th in the US, but the cost of living in California is extraordinarily high, especially so in the San Diego area.
In 2001, in the spring, California began to distribute money to teachers and schools based on scores on the Assessment Performance Index, the results of standardized exams. Susan Harmon, a leader of CalCare and an Oakland teacher, calls the API, “the Affluent Parent Index, a tactic to divide teachers and students, and to wreck good schooling.” She has urged education workers to use, “the bribes to take ads in local papers denouncing the process so the community will understand.” API scores do indeed resemble an economic instrument, not an educational tool. In the San Diego area those schools scoring in the lowest 10% have 93% of their students on free lunch programs, while the highest scoring 10% have only 7% of their students on free lunch. The lowest scoring schools have the highest percentage of English language learners.
After the Santana shootings, on March 21, the San Diego Education Association issued a newsletter, “ The Advocate.” The paper reflects SDEA’s continuing battles with the school district. Director Robin Whitlow, on the front page, urges school workers to speak out against administrative policies that do not address, or fund, “the whole child,” warning that, “we will see more incidents...”
By mid-March 31 children had been booked by area police departments for making threats against their schools. 17 were arrested and booked on school weapons charges. One of the most wealthy districts, Poway, suffered repeated school lockdowns and closings, silenced in the local media.
On March 22, I was in a pre-service teacher course in nearby Cajon Valley when news of a shooting seeped into my classroom via cell phones. My students had friends and relatives at shooting site.
I went to Granite Hills High School shortly after the gunshots. Part of the Grossmont Union District, Granite Hills High, with 2,900 students, is located on a corridor of schools on Madison street, a corridor lined by trailer parks, and one trailer-park-convalescent-home. The corridor houses, to the west, El Cajon High, a middle school, and elementary school, then Granite Hills High. Kids at both high schools claim the other is the wealthier. Granite Hills High, according to a long-time teacher-resident, is, “a rim school, meaning that the higher up you are on the mountain here, the more you have; not like Mexico. El Cajon High is at the bottom of the hill.”
Teaching and learning in the Grossmont Union district is powerfully regimented along Skinnerian behaviorist lines, each student’s educational goals quantified and tested. For example, the district boasts these measures: “Responsible Individuals: Who succeed in a diverse environment as evidenced by satisfactory workplace skills and acceptable attendance as reported on the Extended Transcript. Involved Individuals: Who exercise rights and responsibilities as citizens to participate in the United States democracy as evidenced by a score of 70 percent or better on the American Government Program Assessment.”
The school system is segregated, as most are, by a severe interior tracking system based on estimates of a student’s literacy skills, typically a race- income measure. Only students in Advanced Placement classes are given competing theoretical perspectives in education; for example, in economics a critique of labor and capital as opposed to a consumer education curriculum. The goals and objectives of each class are explicitly linked to a specific state standard, and a test–each device claiming to promote critical thinking skills.
Some of the schools programs can only be considered bizarre. One two-day event involving the entire school, highlighted on the Granite Hills web page, is headlined by a skull and bones caricature and another cartoon of the Grim Reaper. The program, “Every 15 minutes,” is described as:
" During the first day events the "Grim Reaper" calls students who have been selected from a cross-section of the entire student body out of class. One student is removed from class every 15 minutes. A police officer will immediately enter the classroom to read an obituary which has been written by the "dead" student's parent(s) - explaining the circumstances of their classmate's demise and the contributions the student has made to the school and the community. A few minutes later, the student will return to class as the "living dead," complete with white face make-up, a coroner's tag, and a black "Every 15 Minutes" T-shirt. From that point on "victims" will not speak or interact with other students for the remainder of the school day. Simultaneously, uniformed officers will make mock death notifications to the parents of these children at their home, place of employment or business... During the most powerful program of the retreat, the students will be taken through an audio - visualization of their own death....On the following morning, a mock funeral service will be held at the High School. The assembly will began with a video of normal school day activities including scenes from the first day of the "Grim Reaper" and the staged accident. The assembly will be hosted by an Officer (Project Coordinator), who will guide the audience through the devastating effects of losing a loved one due to a bad choice"http://www.guhsd.net/GraniteHills/StudentLife/Every15minutes/Every15minutes.htm
The web site highlights photos of moments from last year's two-day event, bloodied and smashed students being carted off in ambulance carts-a simulation.
Teachers at Granite Hills have web pages. One social science teacher introduces himself: "I would like to be addressed as Mr. Carter, please. Thank you. I am looking forward to this semester. relax. I have over nine years of teaching experience, spanning the military, corporate, and educational fields. I am a veteran of instruction. My techniques have resulted in zero friendly casualties in my military unit during wartime, record profits in the corporations I have served, and several passing grades for students who were previously failing."
Another social science teacher, Gene Kraszewski, who says he has a Cornell PhD in comparative politics asserts in part, " I recently completed a Masters in Forensic Science with an emphasis in criminal profiling, crime scene investigation, and forensic DNA databases. Prior to teaching I worked in the federal government in intelligence analysis and law enforcement."
Yet another, "Before teaching, I Was a Judge Avdocate (sic) in the U.S. Marines for 4 years. I practiced law for 14 years in civil litigation, taxation and estate planning."
Tim McMahon, who is featured on several teachers' web sites who say, "I love Tim McMahon,"says: "I coach football and track here at GHHS. IF I ever have spare time I enjoy anything athletic and being outdoors. In order to be a good role model it helps to have good role models. I want to thank God and my parents for that. Remember ~"Work Hard, Play Hard!"
One teacher, Joanne Climie, was a delegate to the Democratic Convention in 2000. She posts web-photos of a party she held for the Democrats at a beach-front home. Most of the educator force at Granite Hills received at least one degree from San Diego State. At least one of them serves as an adjunct in the SDSU education program. This is an overwhelmingly white and middle class teaching force, relatively well-educated, reflecting diverse skills, much like most schools. With all their diversity, such as it is, each of them works with the "Essential Districtwide Learner Results," a rubric which forms the skeleton for the state's common measure of educational merit: standardized high-stakes tests.
Test scores show that Granite Hills High senior classmates placed an average of 1060 on the SAT in 1998, while El Cajon High notched but 890. However, Granite Hills tested 30% of their 640 seniors, while El Cajon only tested 20% of 390. Granite Hills is a slightly wealthier school. Neither school measures up to the truly affluent La Jolla High on the flush Pacific coast which tested 85% of their 342 seniors and averaged 1106 on the SAT. The GHHS “Eagles” football team, which always fills the stands, went 6-4 last fall, winning its last game over Santana High’s “Sultans.” Granite Hills currently most famous grad is Shane Spencer, a New York Yankee ballplayer.
The city of El Cajon is east of the city of San Diego, but inside San Diego County. In written history, El Cajon, surrounded by hills and mountains, was appropriated early by Catholic padres as a valley grazing land. It’s really desert, converted to agriculture by irrigation, converted again by urban sprawl. There is nothing disconnecting El Cajon from the series of paved avenues that lead to the ocean on the west, and the open desert about 15 miles to the east.
El Cajon is a city of about 95,000; 70% white, 20% hispanic, 5% black, 5% asian. It’s a young community, more than 50% of the residents under 30. By political geography alone, it’s race-based space. El Cajon, like Santee, has a contradictory history of people- to- people cooperation, often church-based, and the white supremacist movements that have deep roots in the Grossmont Union School District. Every student I interviewed at Granite Hills High was aware of Nazi and Klan-skinhead activity in the community and the presence of a pro-Nazi teacher at Grossmont High School, not far away. The Grossmont District, according to a long-time resident and San Diego State professor, “was recently seized by the religious right. Lines are bitterly drawn in the sand.”
On a clear evening, westbound travelers along I-8 can see the sparkle of El Cajon’s lights, about 8 miles from the sea. The location, between the city of San Diego and the deep desert, once made El Cajon a site for agriculture, now for small sales and manufacture. It’s a deeply religious area, with many churches, many of them fundamentalist, and many small bars. The town has nine Christian schools. Auto racing is very popular here, noted in Chamber of Commerce brochures. While parts of El Cajon, like Fletcher Hills, are prosperous, most parts are not. El Cajon circles three zip codes. The median housing costs vary in a range from $180,000 to $240,000, cheap to mid-range for the booming area housing market. About 60,000 people per year move to San Diego county.
El Cajon’s streets are littered with cheap fast-food joints, tattoo parlors, IGA’s with little exterior lighting, auto parts shops. El Cajon is desert strip mall, post-colonial, even post-decay. There is an eery darkness about the entire area, partially brought on by Governor Gray Davis’ demands for energy conservation. The homeless in El Cajon sleep in parking lots just off the main drags in the city. Some of them are aging derelicts. Some are kids. On a spring evening in a parking lot off First Avenue, a group of five homeless men kicked a drunken homeless youth who was passed out on the ground, stopping when an intervener protested. To the south, beautiful Mount Helix, a breadloaf shaped hill of moneyed homes arranged for views behind expansive shrubbery–and no sidewalks, looks down on El Cajon, and across to Mexico.
What is uncounted in the racial demographics is the presence of a
large number of mulit-racial people in the San Diego area. The intermingling
of many groups in the area makes the choice of race on job applications,
for example, a tough call. There is also a sizeable Chaldean population,
predominantly Catholic, which adds up to one of the largest enclaves outside
the Middle East, and Detroit. Some El Cajon neighborhoods are integrated,
by race if not class, as are some of the churches. At least one large El
Cajon church, however, did purge a group of its members for being too far
to the left. Nevertheless, there are many people in El Cajon with
a lifelong commitment to their city, and to principled stands on question
of race–and much of that is secured to a religious outlook of community.
Gunfire at Granite Hills
At around 12:50 on March 22, Jason Hoffman, a white boy just 13 days past his 18th birthday, started shooting outside Granite Hills High. He was armed with a 12 gauge shotgun and a 22 caliber pistol. He had purchased the 22 handgun after a ten day waiting period, according to law. He loaded his shotgun with birdshot, meaning that rather than have a relatively small number of larger buckshot slugs leave the barrel, a high number of tiny birdshot pellets are fired, with much less penetrating power. It is uncertain whether he knew that a 22 handgun and a birdshot load are poor choices for someone wanting to kill. Indeed, no one was killed. Hoffman never fired the handgun. 5 people were shot, including Hoffman, a teacher, and 3 students. 5 others were injured fleeing from the shooting. Of those shot, Hoffman was the most seriously injured.
Jason Hoffman was shot in the face and the back by an El Cajon police officer, Rich Agundez, who had been assigned to the school as part of a recent intensification of local security. The two had a brief gunfight just outside the school, the officer firing five times, hitting Hoffman twice, and hitting the 12 gauge shotgun Hoffman was firing, probably disabling it. Hoffman never reached the interior of the school building. It is unclear where the other two bullets from Agundez gun went. In firefights, it is not uncommon for even trained combatants to miss their targets more often than they hit.
Officer Agundez was firing a 40 caliber Glock pistol, the new weapon of choice among many police departments. The 40 caliber projectile offers considerable stopping power, nearly equivalent to the 1911 Colt 45, and a high-capacity clip. The Glock was one of the few real innovations in weaponry in the 20th century. Made of Tenifer finish on polymer and steel, the pistol was initially designed for the Austrian military. The Glock was originally seen in the US as plastic pistol, a terrorist weapon, able to slip through metal detectors. It gained considerable fame in the movie “Die Hard,” when Bruce Willis suggested, wrongly, that terrorists could smuggle it onto airplanes. Congress sought to ban its importation. But, since 1985, the Glock has appeared on more than thirty tv shows, including the Simpsons, and 50 movies, like Scream 2, High School High, and 12 Monkeys. Beginning in 1988, law enforcement agencies and military operations all over the world adopted the powerful, ergonomic, Glock. Shot in the face, it is remarkable that the impact of the Glock 40 caliber bullet did not kill Jason Hoffman.
Granite Hills High School, like all schools in the area, was already under a high alert that was suppressed by the media. However, the entire community was aware of increased security and involved in discussions about security measures. Parents in the district, following the shooting at Santana High, met and rejected a proposal for metal detectors in the schools. More than 170 threats on schools were received in the county in the previous week. A school lockdown plan in case of a shooting had been rehearsed several times.
The El Cajon officer who shot Hoffman, Rich Agundez, is a cousin to one of the campus officers who was shot by Andy Williams at Santana High two weeks ago. When the Granite Hills shooting erupted, SWAT teams were on the school in minutes, with a plan. Students knew how they were to evacuate, hands on heads.
According to Bernadette Roberts, a Granite Hills student interviewed by a San Diego Channel 8 newsperson, the school’s principal, Ms Torres, had been warned about Hoffman. Roberts says that she told administrators six weeks ago that Hoffman was an angry youth, dangerous, and that he had commented to her that he was “planning another Columbine.”
Ms Roberts described how, at the slightest error, Hoffman would smash his computer mouse on his desk in class. She informed the authorities that he had told her he intended to kill people. Ms Roberts says she believes the school personnel should have taken action, been fully prepared, watchful at least, but clearly they were not. She believes that Hoffman is, “not a horrid kid, actually good, just really angry.”
Hoffman had been grade-retained at Granite Hills High. He should have graduated in 2000 and told Roberts that he was very angry about his treatment by school officials. A student who wished to remain anonymous stated that Hoffman had been informed that he would not graduate in 2001, and that two days before the shooting Hoffman had tried to enlist in the m Navy, but was rejected. School officials refused to comment. The Navy confirmed that the service turned down an application from Hoffman, in part because of his weight and a skin condition.
A large youth, well over 200 pounds, Hoffman was isolated from the class of 2001. The San Diego Union Tribune of March 23 reports that,“he dressed oddly.” Hoffman, according to other students, was living in a small apartment near the school with a neighbor-guardian who took him in after his parents separated and appear to have left the area. Residents near the apartment disputed this, saying he still often lived with his mother, Denise Marquez. Ms Marquez did not answer her listed telephone and later rejected requests for an interview made through her attorney. A black student at Granite Hills High, a junior asking anonymity, said, “He was just one of those guys who wanted to do his job here and get the hell out.” A white student, who also asked to be anonymous, repeated what many kids said, “He was a good guy awhile ago but he didn’t want to talk to any of us any more. He was just always alone.”
Unverified police reports say that the target of Hoffman’s shooting was Dan Barnes, an administrator who was counseling Hoffman about his anger problems. Barnes’ father, Darrell, had been a teacher in a school where, 22 years ago, another shooting had taken place, killing two. Dan Barnes, a Dean (for students “E to K”) for less than three years, is a San Diego State University social studies grad with a teaching credential from El Cajon’s Christian Heritage College, close to Granite Hills High.
The president of Christian Heritage College describes their mission: “All classes and extra-curricular activities are based on a Scriptural foundation and integrated with Biblical truth. The Bible is our rule of faith and practice and sets the standard for our perspective and viewpoint. Subject matter in each academic field is measured under the lens of God's Word....A special focus of CHC, since its founding, has been an emphasis on the biblical account of creation and origins (in opposition to evolution theories), and on the virtues of democracy and America's historic values of free enterprise, the work ethic and limited government.” Prospective professors at CHC are required to have a missionary zeal and evidence of, “obedience to God’s Word.”
Mr Hoffman, like Andy Williams, had access to other weapons in his home, including a a potent Colt 45 pistol and a semi-automatic rifle with a scope. If he had planned and trained, Hoffman could have remained in his pick-up truck in the school parking lot and shot Dean Barnes at a distance.
However, as Jason Hoffman approached the school on March 22, he saw Dean Dan Barnes outside and opened fire with the shotgun. Mr Barnes, unhit, fled inside. Mr Hoffman was quickly met by Officer Agundez. Shortly after, Jason Hoffman, just 18, was shown on television shirtless, twisted on his left side, his face mangled, dark blood pouring from his mouth into a blue-green plastic pan held by an attendant, being wheeled to an ambulance. Most of his large body was covered by a gray blanket, used perhaps to warm him, perhaps to cover the body shackles and handcuffs locking his hands behind his back.
Frantic parents seeking their children moved through a staging area, Kennedy Park, (not titled for the assassinated president) next to the school. They shouted their kids’ names, and once united, paused at a small monument of two candles, a heart-balloon, and a message of sympathy brought by Santana cheerleaders.
Professional grief counselors arrived at Granite Hills High almost immediately after the shooting. They knew each other and most of the administrative players from their experience at Santana High. They began to plan a day to teach conflict resolution. “After all,” said one counselor, “we do know that conflict in school is simply wrong.”
A group of nearly 9,000 members of the National Association of School Administrators was meeting in San Diego’s Convention Center on the day of the Granite Hills shooting. One woman, who refused to speak on the record, made it clear that she believed the source of the repeated shootings in US schools is, “the distance of the teachers and the children. Our teachers don’t, or won’t, have time for them.” Ann Bryant spoke to the press openly, saying, “The teachers just must know the students.” As is the case with most professional teacher conferences, the convention center exhibit area was awash with packaged materials for curriculum and instruction, and school safety, available for sale. The NASA membership, as observed at the exhibit hall, is solidly white, reflecting the make-up of the teaching force itself.
Granger Ward, the African-American school superintendent recently arrived from Manhattan who also oversaw the outpouring of grief at Santana, refused to comment on Ms Robert’s complaint that the school administration had been forewarned, as did principal Torres who, unlike her counterpart at Santana, pushed through a throng of reporters, refusing to speak.
At 4:45 pm, there were 27 news trucks at Granite Hills High, antennae towering into the sky, but still running. Kennedy park was thick with grief, and diesel exhaust. Reporters tracked down kids and parents and nearly anyone for interviews, and watched the basketball finals in their trucks during slow moments. NBC, which cancelled afternoon programing to cover the shooting, interrupted evening newscasts to assure viewers that the soaps they may have missed would run between 2:00 a.m and 5:00 a.m. Unlike the Santana High tragedy where two people died, all local radio stations but one stopped continuous coverage of the tragedy by 5:00 p.m.
Granite Hills’ Senior Prom is scheduled for the night of June 2nd at Sea World, which offers, for $41.95, “sensational high-energy events like our sea-lion spectacular with Clyde and Seamore with their own hilarious home repair tv show.” The Prom is still on. When asked, one student said she and her friends will, “flee to Mission beach and get stoned.”
This may be the last year that travelers can see Mission Beach from
the road. Sea World, announcing a shift from its past as,” an educational
institution,” recently won waivers from environmental restrictions on seaside
construction. The park will, in 2002, erect a 100 foot amusement ride,
reaching into the Pacific. Sea World officials agree that the ride will
obstruct views and be noisy, “but no worse than the traffic on I-5.”
On Target: Unfeigned Hope
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 cafeterias, 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 frenetic motion of 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 can overpower 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 desperate 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 and casino gamblers do not notice the cameras, or the people who worked to fill the designer bags–or the Man Behind the Screen.
People convinced to celebrate irrationalism, to pay for the destruction of reason, to choose to answer questions they cannot answer by a turn to superstition, those people are among the victims of history, the caged birds that build their own cages.
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 and Jason Hoffman, yet Andy Williams killed and Jason Hoffman destroyed his own life, and damaged others. Kind intelligent people are in Santana High and at Granite Hills, 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. No existing reform organization in the US, particularly the race and craft-based union movement, is capable of overcoming this relationship, or especially interested in noticing it.
The absence of a well-known revolutionary movement, the notion that There is No Alternative, is a powerful buttress for irrationalism and hopelessness—and a key reason children are in despair. The children are not entirely wrong. It is apparent that even the winners at school have not won much. Andy Williams and Jason Hoffman were both trapped in situations with no clear-cut exit. The eradication of hope in the eyes of the youth is a project achieved by the success of US imperialism, the triumph of the commodity, the market, the spectacle, science in service to hierarchy, and technology designed to oppress. But this is a victory rooted not in popular participation, but in technological might and sheer force, and thin shield for a vulnerable Master.
In schools, now the centripetal points of civic life in the US, authentic community-building exists and is emerging 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, still teach and learn? They try to organize across borders, in new ways. Action oriented, anti-racist, and largely organized along lines that promote school worker-community unity, they shy away from reliance on mainstream media and traditional notions of leadership. They seek methods of instruction that demonstrate the interpenetration of freedom and rigor, that grapple with the internal interactions of equality, democracy, and the contradictions of inclusion and hierarchy.
These groups may form models in the struggles ahead. 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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