The shooting at Columbine High School more than a decade ago stole a lot from America. The lives of more than a dozen children most of all. The feeling in every parent's heart that school is a safe place where they send their children each morning. And now it's killed chivalry.
You've probably been teaching your kids to hold doors open for people since they were old enough to bear their weight, right? But the suspension of a teenager at a Virginia middle school late last month for opening the door for a school visitor has shined a light on a whole other aspect of life post-Columbine -- the death of kindness.
The teen at Southampton Middle School opened the door because he saw the woman -- who he knew -- had her hands full. But the kind deed was against school policy, and it earned him a full day out of school.
It's a punishment that seems ludicrous to me because I've been in and out of Southampton Middle School many times; I was once a reporter at the very newspaper that broke this story. It was just a year and a half post-Columbine when I worked there, and school security was beginning to tighten. But once signed into the school, I was free to roam as I wanted. Covering a Read Across America Day event at the middle school, I was once abandoned by my so-called escort, and forced to wander the halls to figure out how to get myself out!
But this is what it's like at every school in America. Dropping by my daughter's school with goodies for the class party, I have to have my driver's license scanned by a woman who KNOWS who I am. She's taken Zumba classes with me. I've sat in her neighbors' home and talked to her about flooding at her house. But if she didn't go through the motions, she'd be in trouble for not following school procedure. So we go through the motions.
I should be comforted, I suppose, by these policies. Kids not opening doors. School secretaries not just saying "go on in" to friendly faces. But I can't help looking at the human side. A boy held open a door for a woman with her arms full. Twelve, thirteen years ago, we would have slapped that boy on the back for his "random act of kindness." If a secretary let me walk in and take a bag of food down to my kid's classroom a decade ago, she would have been considered using common sense, praised for her efficiency in getting me in and out of the building quickly.
And the ends don't even justify the means. Are our kids that much safer? A look at the numbers would say no. According to the U.S. Department of Education in the 1992-93 school year, pre-Columbine, pre-school lockdowns, there were 57 student, staff, and nonstudent school-associated violent deaths. In 2006-07, post-Columbine, post-school lockdowns, there were 59. For comparison's sake, in 1998-99, the year of Columbine, there were 47.
We have lost so much in the wake of Columbine. But have we gained anything?
Image via ganesha.isis/Flickr