A distinguished sociologist reveals the warning signs of a school shooter--and why we so often miss them
Parkland. Sandy Hook. Columbine. The list of school shootings gets longer by the day, and it often seems like no school is safe. Over the last decades, school shootings have decimated communities and terrified parents, teachers, and children in even the most family friendly American towns and suburbs.
We talk about these tragedies as the spontaneous acts of disconnected teens, but this important book argues that the roots of violence are deeply entwined in the communities themselves. Drawing on more than 200 interviews with town residents, sociologist Katherine Newman and her co-authors take the reader inside two of the most notorious school shootings of the 1990s, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and Paducah, Kentucky. In a powerful and original analysis, she demonstrates that the organizational structure of schools encourage administrators to "lose" information about troubled kids, and the very closeness of these small rural towns restrained neighbors and friends from communicating what they knew about their problems.
Rampage challenges the "loner theory" of school violence and shows why so many adults and students miss the warning signs that could prevent it.
Despite the rarity of school shootings, a point carefully reiterated by the authors anthropologist Newman (No Shame in My Game: The Working Poor in the Inner City) and four students in a doctoral program she directs at Harvard University it continues to be a topic that both repels and fascinates. Through an in-depth study of two pre-Columbine shootings, one at Heath High School in Kentucky, the other at Westside Middle School in Arkansas, the authors attempt to answer two troubling questions: "How could these low-crime, family-centered, white communities have spawned such murderous violence? How did these particular families, known and respected by neighbors, teachers and preachers, produce rampage killers?" Because the book grew out of research the five contributed to a congressionally mandated study, the authors had extraordinary access to residents in both communities and are donating their royalties to the two schools. They interviewed 163 people whose lives were touched by the violent acts of 11-year-old Andrew Golden and 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson, who shot four students and one teacher at Westside, and 14-year-old Michael Carneal, who killed three students at Heath. Although many of the factors the authors address (e.g., bullying, media images of masculinity, teenage depression, access to guns) have already received extensive coverage, the authors' sociological approach highlights how these problems can ignite in a young child given suitable circumstances. Unfortunately, the book is marred by repetition and excessive charts, tables and footnotes; at times, it reads more like a joint doctoral dissertation than a study aimed at parents and school administrators. Photos.