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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
they saw offered strong evidence of the absence of adult and parental guidance. In Paducah as well, the case writer observed that the “social dynamics of adolescence were almost entirely hidden from adult view.”
So there is in these cases a gap between the adult and the youth culture. Communication did not flow easily across these boundaries. The adults at school did not seem to know the kids very well, or to be much present in their lives other than as administrators and teachers. These adolescents did lots of things that the adults in the communities would view as dangerous. We can also see that this gap matters, because it allows gangs, cliques, and rivalries to grow, and it lets festering disputes and grievances go unnoticed and unresolved. When information became available that should alert adults to the likelihood of a fight or an assault by one youth against another, the information often did not cross the boundary that divides adults and officials from the adolescents.
It is unclear whether the gap between adults and youth in these particular communities exists in other communities that have not experienced these tragedies. In our cases, this gap was evident in both the poor inner-city neighborhoods and the more well-to-do suburban sites—both in terms of the quality and intensity of their engagement and in terms of the substantive values they embraced. The committee discussed ways of closing this gap. But it is important to recognize that this gap can never be fully closed and probably should not be. Successful human development, and the development of society as a whole, depend on new generations being able to separate themselves to some degree from their parents and the traditions they embody.
A third version of a cultural explanation for lethal violence in schools and school rampages focuses on the pervasive presence of guns in the United States. It was not difficult for the shooters to obtain weapons, getting them from friends or stealing them, unnoticed, from family members or neighbors. And many of the shooters had some experience with guns. Three of them had gone hunting or shooting with an adult prior to the time of the shooting. At least one other had practiced shooting by himself and so had some experience with how to use the weapon. Again, it seems obvious that easy access to guns facilitated the lethal school violence and school rampages.
In sum, we cannot rule out the big cultural explanations: the distinctive American tradition of violence, the impact of the mass media, the gap between adult and youth culture, and the role of guns in U.S. society. But for purposes of scientific explanation, the potential impact of smaller, faster-moving aspects of culture and their carriers are also of interest: the special role of violent rap music and video games, the role of gangs in spreading a culture of violence among kids, and the impact of the press coverage given to the rural and suburban shootings themselves. These