May 12, 1999
Everybody's looking for the causes of the terrible tragedy at Columbine High
School in Littleton, Colorado, and for ways to prevent such horrible happenings in the
future. Hillary Clinton has volunteered her intuition that "part of growing up is learning
how to control one's impulses."
Putting aside the point that most of us don't have impulses to go on a killing
rampage, who is going to teach kids to control their impulses? Certainly not the "village"
(i.e., the government or government schools), which Mrs. Clinton believes should have
prime responsibility for raising children.
For the past 25 years, the prevailing dogma in public school teaching has been
Values Clarification (as in the tremendously influential 1972 book of the same name by
Sidney Simon). That means teaching students to reject "the old moral and ethical
standards" and instead create "their own value system."
Values Clarification teaches that, since there are absolutely no absolutes, students
can make their own decisions about behavior instead of looking to God, the Ten
Commandments, parents, church, or other authority that teaches that behavior should
conform to traditional morality. Indeed, Eric Harris created his "own value system."
Modern public school teaching exalts "tolerance" of other people's behavior as the
highest virtue, and "self-esteem" as education's principal objective. We are forbidden to
be "judgmental" about the behavior of others when they indulge in their impulses instead
of controlling them.
As best described by the late Senator (and former university president) Sam
Hayakawa, the public schools adopted "an educational heresy . . . that rejects the idea of
education as the acquisition of knowledge and skills . . . and regards the fundamental task
in education as therapy." These "therapy" courses opened the floodgates to all sort sorts
of psychological courses, one of the weirdest of which was Death and Dying.
In 1987 Colorado Eagle Forum produced a two-hour video in which student Tara
Backer spoke at length about the relentless focus on death, dying and suicide in her
sophomore classes at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. She and several of
her classmates attempted suicide as a result of this depressing teaching, and it took them
many months to recover from the experience.
Tara was subsequently interviewed for an ABC 20/20 program in 1988, where she
said, "I had thought about [suicide] as a possible option for a lot of years, but I never
would have gone through with it, never, because I wasn't brave enough. The things that
we learned in the class taught us how to be brave enough to face death."
She added, "We talked about what we wanted to look like in our caskets." ABC's
Tom Jarriel concluded the segment by asking if these courses "suggest death as an answer
to adolescent problems."
The 20/20 segment showed morbid visuals of student visits to cemeteries,
embalming labs, and crematoriums, and told about picking some bones out of the ashes.
It was clear that Tom Jarriel and Hugh Downs thought that death ed was bizarre.
An investigative piece in Atlantic Monthly the same year confirmed that death and
dying courses are given in "thousands of schools," often sneaked into health, social
studies, literature or home-economics courses without parents' knowledge. The magazine
described how these courses include requiring students to write their own obituaries,
epitaphs, wills, or suicide notes, and to decide how they would prefer to die, have their
body disposed of, and who they want for pallbearers.
Unfortunately, parents in Illinois, Michigan and Florida have attributed their sons'
suicides to public school courses in death, dying, or suicide.
Death ed is apparently still taught at Columbine. One student told the Associated
Press that shooter Eric Harris was asked to write out his will as part of a class assignment.
Littleton, Colorado has been a focus for many years for all the trendy "edufads"
such as Outcome Based Education (OBE). In 1993, parents rebelled against this
dumbing-down process and, by a two-to-one vote, elected a "back-to-basics" school
The teachers union hit back in the following election and retook control of the
Littleton schools. The union was supported by People for the American Way, who used
the usual negative slurs, accusing those opposed to OBE of being "fundamentalists" and
part of the "religious right."
Some politicians are using the Columbine tragedy to push their liberal political
agenda, such as gun control. That's obviously not the answer since killers Harris and
Klebold violated 18 current federal and state gun control laws that, had they lived, would
have kept them locked up for the rest of their lives.
We are paying a terrible price for allowing public school curricula to teach
students to create "their own value system" instead of respecting moral laws such as
"Thou shalt not kill." It's time to overturn the foolish Supreme Court decision that bars
the Ten Commandments from public school classrooms.