Yesterday, we were haunted by the news that a group of third graders planned to kill their teacher. What’s next? A gang of contract Killers trained in Kindergarten?

The report from Waycross, Georgia was horrifying as we began to realize the lack any sense of morality and the loss of value in human life in the animalistic, me-first, children:

Police seized a broken steak knife, handcuffs, duct tape, electrical and transparent tape, ribbons and a crystal paperweight from the students, who apparently intended to use them against the teacher.

The killing was planned as revenge against the teacher because she asked one of the students to stop standing on a chair.

Is this the new rebellion in the youth movement intended to challenge authority? “Tell me to sit down, and you die!”

The worse part of the murder plot was learning about the pre-planning — the pre-meditation — involved in the crime:

The scheme involved a division of roles. One child’s job was to cover windows so no one could see outside, he said. Another was supposed to clean up after the attack.

Should 8 and 9-year-olds be exempt from prosecution for planning a murder? Under current Georgia law, children cannot be charged with a crime unless they are 13.

How young is too young to know the difference between living and dying? Did the children think their actions would result in a death? If not, why did they bring the implements of killing into school?

If Georgia passes a law that third graders can be aware of their behavior and charged with a crime, will the contract killings then be farmed out to Kindergarteners — who will work for lollipops and a tickle blanket — and fully escape the clause of the law because five-year-olds will always be exempt from a pre-meditated murder charge?

How did these children so quickly become anesthetized to the perils of living and dying?

Were they numbed by violence on TV; or did they actively learn, via video, games that you win by murdering your competition; or is their behavior an intrinsic survival tool wielded to wipe out any challenge to their evolutionary progression?

28 Comments

  1. David!
    What a tragic development!
    I agree, the worst part about this was the fact that they were a group of children and that it was pre-meditated. we can explain away the violent actions of an individual as a freak incident, we can even understand a mob carried away in the frenzy of the moment, but for a group of children to plan retribution of this sort points to a serious problem. is it a failure of the institutions involved? mainstream culture?
    reminds me of the lord of the flies…

  2. Let’s see – third grade. For me that was around 1985-1986. The biggest thing on my mind was being sad about the Challenger disaster, and being amused by coming home every day to my grandmothers watching their favorite soaps and the awesomeness of GI Joe and the Transformers. I looked up to and respected my teacher and it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind to even think about thinking about thinking… about thinking of hurting the teacher in any way. How sad that it has come to this.

  3. You make an excellent point about the pre-meditation, Dananjay. They learned that behavior from somewhere.
    “Lord of the Flies” is a great reference. It is a horrifying thing to be young in the world — in any Age or Era — because everyone sees you as a threat and as a means to a greater end.

  4. Gordon!
    Ah! The Challenger was, indeed, a national disaster that took us out of ourselves for the first time in a long time.
    So many valuable lessons were learned in the live witnessing of death — and I think life became a little more valuable to those of us who watched it in real time on television. It was a horrible, national, moment.

  5. David!
    if indeed these children were congenitally predisposed to such violence then it would be a massive coincidence that they were all in the same school and same year in class. and how come it’s only america that is home to such incidents? why doesn’t it happen with such devastating regularity in any other part of the world? has america in some uncanny stroke of bad luck ended up with all these “bad seeds” and “guilty ovum”? maybe not.
    i’d rather look for the answer in the environment. this is not happening in a vacuum. america has a history of children in school taking to violence. Also notice the dyad, it’s never children at home, children at a playground, children at a mall or children at the beach. children in school. maybe there is something deeper going on here. i’m not sure the school or its authority figures are completely blameless here.
    and when every year news media focus on such incidents and children see adults moved so much by these incidents it sends a message that this is what one needs to do to get heard.
    also take a close look at the stories these children are being told. most stories on tv and games rely on guns and violence as agents of change and power. they see their government using fear to get their way in the world. these are the psychological templates they are responding to unconsciously. they figure that to seek retribution for our grievances through violence is the done thing.
    aristotle’s theory that much of this is cathartic to the audience – watching a horror movie cleanses those amongst us who are prone to an excess of fear – i believe, works primarily for adults who’ve formed a notion of the world they live in. children on the other hand are in the process of building their understanding of the world and they absorb and assimilate and form their understanding – and this is the sad part – through mainstream culture and its callous and irresponsible conditioning.
    look at the qualities these kids were exhibiting. they were being enterprising, inventive and displaying a willingness to take control of the situation they found themselves in, and they stood up for what they believed was injustice against one of them. all admirable traits. the problem is that these energies are getting channeled through a method that involves inflicting mortal injury on another human.
    multiply that with what we know of group dynamics – we will gang up against that which is not one of us – and what have you? i once saw an owl being diligently and violently hounded by a flock of crows. we cannot expect the youngest and most fragile amongst us to be any different.
    again, the media exhibits the same mores by labelling these children as “Kids we need to be afraid of”. as if they were not a part of us. there is nothing to be gained by vilifying them. the children aren’t the ones doing it. it is they to whom it is being done.

  6. Eleven Heart-Shaped Balloons

    Janna came home last night and presented me with eleven giant, red, heart-shaped helium balloons.She apologized one was missing.She told me on her way home from teaching American Sign Language at New York University she found a guy selling bunches…

  7. We are a culture that celebrates violence!
    Look at the Oscar winner for best film this year: No Country for Old Men. I could only stand to watch it for about a half an hour, as it was filled with gratuitous violence, senseless killing after killing after killing.
    It speaks volumes about our society when we honor a film such as this, no matter how strong the performances. And last year it was The Departed, a Martin Scorsese film about the Irish Mafia, which I did not see and was not interested in seeing. How many more films can we watch about the Mafia!!
    And the Law and Orders–they are on all day long and have some of the most horrific construed crimes ever–especially Special Victim’s Unit. You can get some really nasty and novel ideas from these shows about committing crimes. And it contributes to a desensitivity in our children that is downright frightening.
    This all filters down to our children! And especially our unsupervised children. And lord knows what they are viewing off the internet.
    So Dananjay–I agree with you 100%!
    I’m really curious to hear about the outcome of this investigation. I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a very specific media reference connected with this incident.
    And certainly not to blame our schools, but they are not the warm and nurturing places they once were. And teachers are under a great deal of pressure that they were not under when we attended school. There are numerous reasons for this.

  8. Dananjay —
    I love your hard-hitting and emotional argument! You deserve an article of your own when it comes to this sort of thing. Kids are kids — everywhere around the world — so why do we hear about it most in the USA? Is it because the kids are “rottener” or is it because the cultural environment forms them into rotten people?
    The public school are, in many cases, detention centers. Instead of teaching them, the kids are just warehoused in decaying buildings in the city core for a few hours to keep them off the streets. To save the inner city, you have to rebuild the public schools and make learning a safe haven again instead of a dangerous one.
    We do need to protect and value our children and give them a sense of investment in making the world a better place instead of a more bitter one. How can we begin to change that emotional dyad? It must be, as you suggest, through successful modeling of behavior and that could very well mean a legally mandated reduction of the celebration of criminality and violence at home and on the movie, television and game screens.

  9. It’s great to see you here, Donna (aka dmtessi)!!!
    I have to agree we raise our American children in a culture of violence that is premeditated inn the media and propagated for profit via the internet, DVD and renting marketing streams.
    I do not believe that “learning to shoot someone in the head” in a video game to win big points doesn’t, in some large and dangerous way, contribute to the erosion of the human spirit we have on display daily in real life in the streets and on the playgrounds.
    How do we solve it? Can it be solved? Once the exposure has taken effect, can we ever put the sins back in the box?

  10. David,
    The envelope as been pushed a bit too far for me.
    Let me give you an example. I went to the movie theatre with my daughter to see a film by the name of “Untraceable” with Diane Lane. It will likely be out on DVD very soon where it’s disgusting content will be available to more of the masses.
    It was a thriller a la Silence of the Lambs, which I think is a classic and pushed the envelope as far as it should go in that genre.
    It was the first R rated movie I allowed my fifteen and a half year old to see and word out on the street was that it was fine for this age group. They absolutely love scary movies! I remember being the same way. I couldn’t get enough of the Halloween and Friday the 13th movies. It’s great fun to be scared out of your chair!
    But the graphic violence shown in this movie was of the kind that I can hardly elaborate on, except to say that the serial killer in the movie used elaborate contraptions to torture and kill people. I’ll say “sulfuric acid” and leave it at that.
    And the makers of the film lingered on that unspeakable torture for minutes at a time rather than a few seconds. I left the movie theatre shaken. I had asked my daughter several times throughout the movie if she wanted to leave. She laughed at me.
    In retrospect, I should have dragged her right out of the theatre and requested my money back!
    This screenplay sickened me and I have to wonder about the sick minds that stay up at night and think of ways to hurt people, even though they are creating fiction. And the filmmakers can create suspense without the camera lingering.
    After I sat through that movie, I was truly disgusted with myself. I should have left.
    And we wonder why our children do the things they do?
    We enable it!

  11. Donna —
    When I was growing up in the Midwest, many kids were not allowed to see “overage” movies with or without your parents. You had to wait for them to come out on television a year later and then they were edited for content and gore. That was a simpler time that probably makes more sense now in an “anything goes” world.
    When I was very young I went to see “Jaws” with my mother in the movie theatre. I remember being so terrified I would hide my eyes behind my hands every time the shark music started thumping. My mother didn’t understand what was wrong with me because I was usually pretty fearless. I felt trapped in that theatre with no way out. It was unreal.
    Here’s a recent piece I wrote about slasher movies that seems on point now:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2007/11/disposable-women-slasher-to-gash-her.html

  12. David,
    “Jaws” was scary as heck. I lived on Long Island as a kid and I wouldn’t go in the water for the longest time. I think alot of people felt that way after reading Benchley’s book and then watching the movie.
    But alot of the suspense from that movie stemmed from what they didn’t show. Especially with that first scene of the teenage girl in the water…
    And then somebody found a hand sticking out from the sand on the beach. There was some blood and gore, but it was done rather strategically.
    In my previous post, I think what bothered me as much as the movie, itself, was the fact that my daughter wasn’t bothered in the least by the torture in “Untraceable” in the way you and I were bothered by “Jaws.” She took it in the spirit of “Mom, it’s a movie!” That’s disturbing to me that she wasn’t disturbed by it.
    It shows that our children have become insensitive to that kind of violence in the movies.
    You’d be interested to know, David, that in “Untraceable” all the victims were men except for Diane Lane at the very end. So from that standpoint the film broke a little ground.

  13. Hey Donna!
    Yes! “Jaws” still scares me today. It is a psychological masterpiece. Your mind makes it so much worse than seeing actual blood and gore from the attack.
    I wonder if kids today are more immune to violence or — are they better able to recognize cartoon violence and fantasy based on their deeper experience with console games and online entertainment events — and then divorce their minds from the non-reality they’re witnessing?
    The violence in Jaws is very real — movies today seem to rely on a hyper-reality where nobody really gets hurt, the hero can go on even if shot and wounded and if there’s blood, it comes in waves instead of spurts?
    I like it when stereotypes are broken! There is value in the unique!

  14. I hope you are right about our children being able to “divorce their minds from the non-reality they are witnessing.” I’m glad you pointed that out.
    That is not a bad thing and looking back it is something we taught our child over and over again: that this is Hollywood, the movies. So perhaps they’ve developed these “protective strategies” which allows them to take this all in with a grain of salt. It’s a much better strategy than allowing these images to haunt your psyche!
    But I fear for the child who’s not able to do this–

  15. I agree, Donna, that not exposing these children to false realities is important. Why should they divorce real blood from fake blood?
    That brings me around to the Iraq war — where we see no battlefield photos for the first time in our nation’s history, and we are not allowed to see the caskets of the dead — why? It is for political gain, and not human triumphing.
    How can our children learn the pervasive perils of war if they only see the start but not the final end? Where else but the battlefield is the difference between life and death so starkly drawn? How can they learn the danger of provoking another that can lead to a tumbling death and a final demise?

  16. David,
    I was on the phone with my mother yesterday and she thinks about our boys all the time.
    She told me that Phil Donahue has just finished a documentary called “Body of War” that you might be interested in hearing about, and that ties into what you speak of.
    I don’t know how that Bush Administration sleeps
    at night. I really don’t.
    I was glad she told me about it because somewhere along the line I missed this. She said he’d been promoting the film on late night talk shows.
    Here’s a link to a recent interview with ol’ Phil:
    http://www.mediabistro.com/articles/cache/a9710.asp

  17. Donna —
    Thank you for that link.
    You are precisely right that not allowing us, as a nation, to mourn our fallen soldiers — to see their maimed bodies and to weep over their dead lives — is an atrocity that will shun and humiliate this administration forever and ever.
    I certainly also blame the major media. They all went along with this denial of national morning because they were fearful and immature and they bowed to a bully where before the press stood up to harmful politicians.
    The media were played as fools and they earned their right to be nothing more than lapdogs to a wounding of an entire generation of soldiers that no one will ever have a record to remember them by…

  18. Hi David!
    I agree about the “divorce their minds from the non-reality they’re witnessing” phenomena. and with every successive wave of increasingly media-savvy youngsters the ante is upped and the threshold for what has the power to move you is repeatedly crossed. and in an attempt to reach for the lucrative wallet of the adolescents by shocking them the younger children are getting conditioned to absorb the same messages/images/stories as par for the course. so when the time comes to shock them, the ante is upped once more.

  19. Dananjay!
    You’re right there’s on risk and reward today — the idea of lost or failure or mortality are nowhere to be found in the living. And if you die a virtual death — just hit the reset button and you’re back in the game.
    What have we lost in the teaching of risk and reward and the consequences of action and reaction? We have a nation of young gamblers who don’t realize life is brittle and cheap.

  20. I’m just throwing in a “bone” here … but … the real eye opener is that one problem is always joined hand in hand with another.
    Let’s take a look at modern day America. The changes in the home have taken us to a point of moral decline. The children’s mothers are not home rearing them or teaching them the moral values of life! They are, in some cases, decent but hard working citizens. Still they are out of touch with their children.
    However, the particular issues that I see arising, is the fact that the mothers that are able to be at home during the day are drunk (passed out on the couch) or even worse. The fact that many women at the moment of conception are “high” on some form of an illegal substance is bound to change our society in a negative way!
    I am afraid that we will see more and more events like the one in Georgia. There are serious repercussions to bearing children that already have a drug addiction from birth! It has to have an affect on their mental stability!
    I, unfortunately, have to work out of my home during the day. It’s a great sacrifice on my part to keep myself an active part of my children’s lives. So, I know that good children can still arise from a home where both parents work. But, I will admit that it has not been a “benefit” to America to have the mothers absent from the homes and their children.
    Again, one problem is ALWAYS joined hand-in-hand with another.

  21. Right, Heartmelody69, the family unit used to raise and educate itself. Then we moved to the Great Society and teaching moral values and social duty fell outside the home and into churches and schools. The responsibility for the children quickly became that of the community and not the parents and that was a big problem because no one took responsibility for their emotional welfare.