Columbine Caused By
Curriculum, Board
Member Charges
By Bill Scanlon -Denver Rocky Mountain News
Scripps Howard News Service
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 last week.
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 media."
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 research.
"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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