Whenever an atrocious mass shooting at a school occurs, the focus is almost exclusively on the murder weapon of choice – guns. However, a more relevant question may be why schools are targeted. Dr. C Bradley Thompson thinks the education system in America is the root cause.
There were almost no mass school shootings for most of the two centuries of the Second Amendment. Therefore, the Second Amendment cannot be the cause of these heinous crimes. Gun ownership has been stable for more than half a century, so that cannot be the cause either. Similarly, during most of this time, guns have been largely unregulated. To the degree that a correlation between mass shootings and regulations exists, it is undeniable: Most mass shootings occur in gun-free zones.
The government has documented school shootings since 1970. The K-12 School Shooting Database shows that more than 80% of the murder victims were killed since 1990 and 40% only in the last decade. This dramatic escalation in fatalities cannot be explained by a change in legislation, access to legal guns, or gun ownership. Something else must have changed in recent decades that explains this behavior.
Remarkably, China has experienced a similar pattern. There is a near-total ban on guns in the communist nation, which has rendered knives the weapon of choice in mass murders. Disturbingly, these attacks are not random but often target small children. Although mental illness is used as an explanation, many of the perpetrators cite a desire for revenge on society, not unlike the ideas expressed by the Columbine killers.
As in America, the murderers are also nearly always lonely male social misfits. China’s one-child policy led to a flurry of abortions of girls, which has resulted in a surplus of tens of millions of men of marriage age who will never be able to find a wife and have a family. Although the demographic situation is different from America, both nations struggle with social alienation and marginalization, especially among males.
Another notable data point is the age of the school shooters. Between 1970 and the present day, the vast majority of these killings were committed by teenagers, specifically those between the ages of 14 and 19; with 17-year-olds being the most accounted for with more than 170 shootings. The youngest recorded shooter was a mere 5 years old, but statistically, this case was an outlier.
Thompson is a professor of Political Science at Clemson University. As early as 1999, shortly after the Columbine mass shooting, he wrote an article called Our Killing Schools – Public Schools: Intellectual and Moral Wastelands that Destroy America’s Youth. He noted that “the shootings have one thing in common: they all took place at school. The boys didn’t kill on the weekend, they didn’t kill after school, and they didn’t shoot up the local Dairy Queen.” Whatever goes on in their twisted minds, they intuitively appear to identify the school as the epicenter of their troubles.
As a professor, Thompson had observed four striking commonalities in his students: “First, students don’t believe in very much and are unwilling to make moral judgments; second, they have artificially inflated opinions of themselves and are unwilling to tolerate criticism; third, they are poorly educated; and finally, they hated their high school experience. The result is an explosive mixture of nihilism, narcissism, ignorance, and resentment.”
He blames these attitudes on progressive education philosophy, which he believes is the root cause of the psychology behind mass school shootings. To stop the violence, he proposes a return to a curriculum that emphasizes “reason over emotions, knowledge over feelings, moral judgment over moral agnosticism, and self-control over self-expression.”
The timeline of the escalating school violence matches the rise of progressive ideas in schools. During the 1970s, Marxist educators finally got an iron grip on the education of the youngest, emphasizing socialization over skills. A corresponding absence of competence matches the self-expression and narcissism that Thompson had observed. Schools have nurtured a culture of entitlement while failing to teach basic literacy and numeracy.
While America has not had a one-child policy that has socially isolated many young men like China, it has gone through a period of radical feminism which subtly sends a message to young boys that they are not wanted by society. Suppose this alienation is combined with nihilism, narcissism, ignorance, and resentment. In that case, the result may be a desire for revenge directed at what some young boys perceive as the locus of their social ills: school.
The data is insufficient for a robust causal conclusion, but it warrants a closer inspection of the education system. Why do angry young boys target schools of all places? What is it about school that cultivates their desire for revenge? If society does not contend with these questions earnestly, the escalation of violence may continue.