What's Wrong with Santee & Columbine?

by Dr. Sam Heath

The recent school shooting in Santee, California, like the one at Columbine in Colorado is provoking all the same, and utterly ineffectual responses and hand wringing. I was a teacher at David Starr Jordan High in the Watts District in the sixties; this was "ground zero" for what was happening with our young people in America.

My experience in the ghetto and barrio schools had much to do with my doctoral dissertation on accountability in education. But no publisher at the time would touch the study. It was far too controversial. It still is.

Well, my writing hasn't changed over the years; it still remains far too controversial for the mainstream and I realize that much of it is not very palatable; it just doesn't go down or digest very well. The "cultivated palate" of society and politicians, and most especially for those in education, find my "dishes" not to their taste.

It reminds me of the wise advice concerning the ingredients of sausage, wieners, and hamburger: Don't ask; enjoy!

In my critique of To Kill A Mockingbird, for example, I point out the root cause of such things as school shootings. It is summed up in one word: Indifference! We have evolved a society that is indifferent to children. And children know this. Little Dill didn't run away from home because his parents mistreated him, they were simply indifferent to him. The bought him all the toys and then told him: Go away and play and leave us alone!

As adults, we have bought our children all the toys and have told them: Go away and play and leave us alone!

We are not only indifferent to the needs of children as proved by the constant stream of permissive sex, violence, lying, cheating, stealing on the part of a leadership that should provide guidance and role models, we are telling children we simply do not give a damn about providing them anything better!

I recall the boy at Jordan that came into the office one morning and wanted to leave his gun there and pick it up after school. It was common for the pupils and teachers to be armed and we had armed security on campus. The boy needed the gun to protect him going to and from school. He simply could not understand why his reasonable request was refused? Now this young fellow had the determination to try to attend school. Under the circumstances, he certainly could be given credit for this when there were so many things that mitigated against any of these young people getting a real education at this school.

I was popular at the school because I taught metal and wood shop. And I was able to dispose of many a dangerous weapon, Saturday Night Specials, so poorly made that they might well blow up in the shooter's hand.

My first week at this school, a girl from my homeroom knifed another girl to death over a boyfriend. Things like this were a common occurrence, but you didn't read about them in the LA Times. This was the ghetto and no one outside the ghetto gave a damn!

The attitude of both white and black leadership was: Let'em kill each other, let'em do the drugs, crime and time as long as they keep it in Watts (or Harlem, etc. Not unlike the mafia leader's attitude about dealing drugs in The Godfather).

But I knew what was happening in this ghetto would eventually spill over into the "lily white" and affluent schools; it was only a matter of time. And now, it is happening and people are asking: What is wrong?

What is wrong is just what Atticus Finch pointed out and warned of; and the bill is coming due!



Samuel D. G. Heath, Ph.D.

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