- DENVER - The Columbine High
tragedy was caused in part by a curriculum that overemphasizes death and
doesn't teach right from wrong, a Colorado state school board member said
in a recent speech.
- "When all the kids' videos are about violence or
sex, when kids are allowed and even encouraged to make such videos, what
do you think is going to happen with some of these kids?" board member
Patti Johnson said Wednesday, amplifying remarks she made in Cincinnati
- Her speech in Ohio was titled "The Real Killers
at Columbine: A Curricula Gone Bad."
- Johnson said Colorado schools have too many teachers
who encourage students to question the values taught at home and who push
them to talk about death.
- A spokesman for Jefferson County Schools disagreed. "The
bigger story is why a state board member is talking about something she
has no knowledge of," Rick Kaufman said.
- "Patti joins a list of people across the country
who are exploiting the tragedy to their own personal or professional gain,"
he said. "They talk about why they think the shooting occurred, what
motivated Eric and Dylan to do that, basing it on what they read in the
- Johnson is no stranger to controversy. She was the catalyst
last year behind a state board of education proclamation that Ritalin and
other prescription drugs shouldn't be used to treat schoolchildren.
- She said the drugs Eric Harris was taking before April
20 may have played a part in the rage he and Dylan Klebold worked up to
commit the act.
- Johnson also said discussions about suicide and death
didn't by themselves cause Harris and Klebold to kill 12 classmates and
a teacher before killing themselves.
- But she said schools that don't teach absolutes of right
and wrong, that stress relative truths and that encourage students to find
their own values are playing a dangerous game.
- "To Harris and Klebold, their decision was a rational
one," she said.
- Johnson points to a lifeboat scenario popular in some
classrooms, in which six or seven students decide which life is most expendable
_ the disabled person, the rich man, the healthy doctor, the pregnant woman.
- "Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did their own lifeboat
scenario," Johnson said. "They didn't like blacks, jocks or Christians."
- Johnson says teachers shouldn't put students into a position
to weigh the relative value of human life, because to her all life is sacred.
She maintains that when a suicide survivor gives a talk, some students
who never would contemplate suicide become obsessed about it.
- Kaufman said Johnson's contention isn't backed up by
- "Certainly, discussions on death and suicide may
be appropriate in some venues," Kaufman said. "Particularly because
teen suicide is a topic of concern of educators and students. From a prevention
standpoint, discussion can help people understand, absolutely."
- Johnson puts part of the blame on cultural diversity
units, which she says too often are so negative that students emerge distrustful.
- "They say all this dirt was done to this group in
the past _it was always the white man who was evil," she said. "They
never point out how many people died trying to free the slaves. They create
more division and create more hate and anger."
- Kaufman said Johnson doesn't know enough about Columbine
to speak with authority about it.
- "She was not at Columbine, she was not a part of
curriculum development," Kaufman said.
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