Thursday, April 26, 2007

Virginia Tech's Silver Lining?

Columnist Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal seems to think so, in the sense that authorities will now be more able to act against the mentally ill and the disturbed sooner.

At first I thought "well, Gee, Dan, hindsight is 20/20...", but apparently, there was a report forewarning of this kind of tragedy in 2002, the Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative, conducted by the Secret Service and the Department of Education. This report studied 37 different school violence incidents between 1974 and 2000, among them Littleton, CO, Springfield, OR, Pearl, MS, West Paducah, KY, Jonesboro, AR, and San Diego, CA. The last one you might remember that one if you remember "I Don't Like Mondays" by The Boomtown Rats.

Most interesting, the study was led by the Secret Service. Why?The study doesn't quite put it this way, but it was because the Secret Service's main job in life is preventing the nuts from killing someone. Simply, the study's goal was to try to figure out what is "knowable" before an attack.

The report notes how too often it was clear something bad was going to happen, even taking into account the discounting fact that hindsight is 20/20, but a sense of privacy and a culture of "tolerance" meant nothing was done:

Cultural indeed. Over time we have accreted a culture in the United States--of rules, laws, liability concerns and mindsets--that adds up to no-can-do. Or, Attorney may I?

Among the reasons widely adduced for not doing something about (Virginia Tech University student) Cho's violent proclivities are HIPAA and FERPA, the confidentiality laws for health records and college students' records. Well, there's no FERPA for high schools. There is merely the weird cultural refusal to turn in bad actors to adult authority. In one school attack, so many students knew it was coming that 24 were waiting on a mezzanine to watch, one with a camera. The enemy is us.

Rerfreshingly, the report advised against "gun-free schools" and other such nonsense:

In the Safe Schools 37 incidents, most of the attacks were stopped by an administrator or teachers, largely because half didn't last longer than 15 minutes. The cops stopped only 25% of the attacks--an argument for deputizing and arming someone in the schools.

Indeed. The Paducah, Pearl, and Jonesboro incidents were stopped by armed teachers and administrators.

But above all, it's time to stop tolerating the culture of "students rights", no matter how pathological the student behaves.

On Tuesday, for example, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece by a professor titled, "Why It's OK to Rat on Other Students." Here, as with the message screaming off the pages of the Safe School report, the exhortation is to do something, no matter what the intimidation of the law or received wisdom.

What this means is that some college presidents, and their lawyers, rather than rolling over before those confidentiality laws, should tell some aggrieved student who is refusing to take the medication prescribed for his psychosis: So sue! Let a judge decide whether 32 deaths warrant a reconsideration of these restrictions.

As well, there is no hope unless a light goes off in the collective socket of our elected politicians, which illumines just how much their oh-so-needed laws siphon time and energy out of the daily lives of institutional leaders who a long time ago had the common sense and personal authority to chuck out a Cho Seung-Hui.

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