Ever wonder why, whenever there's a rash of shootings at schools, none of them is ever at an inner-city hellhole all the good teachers have been fleeing for the last ten years? They're always in the nice, quiet suburban schools every middle-class parent wants his or her kid to attend. Klebold and Harris in Littleton, Kinkel in Oregon, Williams in California, the one in Taber, Alberta...

Innocent bystanders might get hurt accidentally in tougher urban schools, they might even be more subject to deliberate victimization. But nobody ever marches into a high school in Harlem determined to blow the place up and kill everyone in it.

We already know why that happens. But there's no way we're going to fix it.

The suburbs are a great place to be a parent because you can keep iron control on what your kids do there. They give parents — good, decent, loving parents who genuinely want their kids to grow up healthy and happy and strong — the ability to keep evil away from their kids a little longer. There are no visible junkies, no whores on the corner, no drunks staggering out the bars down the street early in the evening. The suburbs are wholesome, and no responsible parent wants a kid growing up in an unwholesome environment.

The 'burbs let parents control the stimuli that reach their kids, mostly by controlling their physical environments: most of the time, they need overt parental permission, in the form of a ride, just to go play soccer.

That's fine as long as the kids' ages are single digits. Later, they start to get curious. And if they've grown up not having seen what can happen to people who make bad choices, they can't tell what they're risking when curiosity gets the better of them.

Not that curiosity's bad for you, mind. It's normal, and you should try things that are bad for you if only to find out why they are. But you should be making an informed choice. If you ask me, nobody should take an experimental sip of liquor who hasn't seen someone who can't stand up in the middle of the day. That image should be somewhere in the back of your mind when you take a swig.

But you're never going to see that in the 'burbs, which means that when kids experiment, they don't necessarily know, in their guts, what the effect of an experiment run amok might be.

The parents, most of whom will have lived in an urban neighbourhood at some point, do know what the risks are, and — not being stupid — they know their kids don't. So they get fascist, with curfews and groundings and demands to know where their 17-year-olds are every single second of the day. The message ("You cannot be trusted") is reinforced by organs of the state, like schools, which never miss a chance to warn children that if they have sex, they'll get AIDS or pregnant, if they smoke dubes, they'll die with needles in their arms, and if they sip beers, they'll end up horribly mangled in car crashes.

This is not healthy. And teenagers, being smart people, know it's all based on dishonesty. The rules are the rules, however, which causes teens to prove it's all a lie very surreptitiously, fooling around in basements, smoking up late at night in parks, and getting smashed every chance they get when their folks aren't around.

The abstinence-only sex-ed classes somehow fail to silence the roaring tornado of hormonal imperatives, the drinking-isn't-cool message passed on by posters in the school cafeteria somehow fails to drown out the incessant message from the rest of the mass media that it is, the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-did orders from parents who grew up in the 1960s somehow don't get taken seriously. But everyone's got to deny it, you see, otherwise we'd have to admit the system isn't working and actually fucking do something about all this. Like trust young people, after giving them the tools to exercise that trust responsibly.

That might mean admitting the suburbs aren't quite so wholesome after all. And what might that do to our property values? Plus it would be hard.

We load our kids up with messages about self-esteem and talking about their problems and, essentially, exploring their transgressive impulses so that they can defeat them. We never once admit to them that their lives have been based on lies: that the world is a good and happy place that's never unfair; that it's wrong to sometimes want to be less than responsible; that parents and schools are always right; that drugs and beer and sex are evil rather than, in moderation, lots of fun.

Is it any wonder that some tiny proportion of the teenage population, especially some of those who are bullied and beaten up on every day in direct violation of Lie About The World No. 1, want to bring the whole goddamned thing down?

Further reading: http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2002/05/13/graduation/

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