This is the last in our retrospective on the columns that Jon Katz began writing after the killings at Columbine High School in 1999, followed by another handful of the many impassioned comments and emails that those columns drew, a few of which at least give hope that it is possible to tame the Hellmouth.
After Columbine: Geek ProfilingW.A.V.E., a profit-making program ramping up in the southern U.S. and soon to go national, will use Web sites and toll-free numbers, to encourage students to anonymously turn in classmates whom they consider depressed, dangerous or potentially violent, this horrifically stupid Geek Profiling would be blatantly unconstitutional, if applied to adults.
According to David Bresnahan, reporting on the WorldNet Daily site, the new W.A.V.E. program, developed by Pinkerton Services Group, a division of the international security firm Pinkerton, Inc. is starting up in North Carolina, and is soon to go nationwide.
W.A.V.E. offers anonymous toll-free lines for students who will be trained to watch for and report "dangerous" behavior like depression, or for kids with weapons. Every North Carolina school will have free access to this program, which will include a Web site, classes, school assemblies and special sessions for parents and teachers. A North Carolina task force on school violence created W.A.V.E. America, working together with Pinkerton. A contact list of law-enforcement agencies is also being developed for each school in the state to notify when a tip has been received by Pinkerton on its nationwide toll-free line.
W.A.V.E. joins new software "security" programs like Mosaic 2000, which is being tested in public schools to compile and computerize information on students believed to be dangerous or potentially violent. This new rat-on-kids industry is an offshoot of the Geek Profiling, anti-Net hysteria that broke out all across the United States after last year's Columbine High School killings. Despite the fact that horrific incidents like Columbine are extremely rare, and that the FBI and Justice Department have both reported that youth violence has dropped to its lowest levels in more than half a century, the belief persists in much of America that technologies like the Internet (and activities like computer gaming) are turning otherwise healthy school children into mass murderers.
In a news magazine survey taken earlier this year, 81 percent of Americans said they believed the Net was responsible for the Columbine massacre. In the lunatic world of American education, and the surreal aftermath of Columbine, it now seems perfectly reasonable, even sensible, to suspend and force into counseling children who are angry, depressed. Children who wear white makeup, game obsessively, or who say intemperate and stupid things. The W.A.V.E. program is institutionalizing a culture in which kids are being taught to turn in classmates whose behavior they consider abnormal or dangerous. It is also reinforcing the notion that school students have no Constitutional rights of due process, rights such as privacy, confronting accusers, behaving in nonconformists ways, or even knowing that accusations against the exist.
Although school-age children are presumed to have few rights, it's obvious that this kind of anonymous and intrusive law enforcement would be blatantly unconstitutional for adults. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Florida law that permits police to search people for firearms solely on the basis of anonymous tips. Citing the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, the court ruled that such a law would enable "any person to harass another to set in motion an intrusive, embarrassing police search." Authorities, the court ruled, needed some corroborating evidence before they could invade the privacy of any citizen. It's frightening to imagine how school authorities can possibly teach citizenship when they have so wantonly violated the very idea of constitutional rights.
The Orwellian phobia (Who do we turn in next? Dangerous parents, neighbors and sibs?) Has been a staple of the most venal political systems in the 20th Century, from Nazism to fascism to Communism. It is presumptuous and arrogant on so many levels. It's astonishing to see public officials like North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt adopt an idea so unthinkingly and enthusiastically. But he's not alone-plenty of parents and educators are along for the ride.
It isn't clear where information goes once it's collected by kid-profiling software, or toll-free hot lines. Presumably, it remains in a computerized dangerous-kids database for life. This is just one more reason that it's insane to ask young children to evaluate their classmates for emotional disorders and other signs of potentially "dangerous" behavior. Not only are kids patently unqualified to make such judgments, the temptation to turn in teens who are socially competitive, "geeky", different, disliked, abrasive or unhappy seems almost irresistible, especially when doing so is cloaked in anonymity. Monitoring and evaluating behavior is a science that's supposed to be done by trained professionals - teachers, psychologists, guidance counselors, and therapists. Even then, kids ought to have the right to be openly confronted with the accusation that they're a menace to society, and to respond, rather than wonder if some angry classmate has branded them for life on an anonymous toll-free line run by a profit-making private company with a vested interest in promoting the notion that schools - and teenagers - are dangerous.
"A safe school environment is fundamental to helping North Carolina's students succeed in school," announced Governor Hunt. "Every school ought to be a safe one and W.A.V.E. America will help get every kid involved. This program is more than just a tip line, it teaches students and parents to look for early signs of violent behavior and to resolve conflicts constructively."
This is the worst kind of political exploitation. It takes schools off the hook and turns the complex process of school administration over to adolescents. Kids will ultimately have to live in fear that the desk mate they jostled with will turn them in, or that bragging about exploits on Doom will get them turned into W.A.V.E. as "unbalanced."
If a teen or a parent becomes aware that a classmate has a gun and plans to use it, there are plenty of cops and law enforcement officials they can call. There is no statistical evidence to support the notion that schools are so dangerous that children need to be manipulated into turning one another in. Nor is there much doubt about who will be targeted - geeks, nerds, Goths, oddballs, along with anyone else who is discontented, alienated and individualistic.
That kids are being asked to do this is revolting enough. That they are being asked to do it by a profit-making private corporation suggests a culture much sicker and more dangerous than most school kids.
"Seems to me that W.A.V.E. merely reflects the prevailing mindset of the majority of Americans. Not to mention the sad fact that intellectual midgets machine the majority of US political/power positions. I was a nerd in school, I still am. Does that make me dangerous? Only if the fact that I think makes me dangerous in a country where thought is considered dangerous. Allah/Jehovah/God/Buddha forbid!! Could this be America, the land of the free and blah, blah, blah? The often misquoted, precious, forefathers of this "great (foul)" land would curl into cinders to see what has become of their legacy. There is no humanity in this country, everybody wants liberty but only on their individual terms, only if it suits their self-interest and they don't even care if it impinges on someone else's liberty...that's the problem with the US. Big Brother does not exist and he's looking in through your windows, down your throat and into every other conceivable orifice in your body." ---A.C. (Original Comment #1)
"DO WHAT THOU WILT SHALL BE THE WHOLE OF THE LAW: This is the most ridiculous, ludicrous, fucked up shit I have heard in years. OF COURSE it is going to be nothing but a free-for-all with all the same fucking loser/conformist/fascist types trying to fuck up life in yet ANOTHER fashion for anyone/everyone who is unique, individual, different, creative, follows another drummer, doesn't swim with the lemming crowd, doesn't baaa with the herd of sheep, etc., ad nauseum. As if they didn't try to make life fucked up for us enough as it is. But shit, we had power, guts, determination, magic and ingenuity to invent the Internet, to truly render the earth a global village, and to redefine what "WORK" means in the "new millennium". So surely we can figure out a way to STOP these worthless twits...can't we? Whaddya say, people? What shall we do to overthrow them before they even ascend, to stomp them down before they even rear their pathetic virus-infested heads, to bring them to a screeching, grinding halt before they even cross the starting line? IDEAS? ANYONE? Love is the law, love under will."---S. (Original Comment #2)
"So depressed people are dangerous and should be locked up are they? I f only guns were legal in this country; I'd go out and shoot myself in the head right now. Fascist bastards."---M.O. (Original Comment #3)
"I also have spent years fighting depression. I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. I'm medically considered a danger to myself. Everyone assumes that this means I'll hurt them too. I could never physically hurt anyone else. I care deeply about everyone except my self. Now that's a crime?" ---A.C. (Original Comment #4)
"My father fought his depression for three decades until it finally won one morning. In the meantime he was a major scholar in his field, respected and well liked by colleagues and students across the world. We were simply astonished by the bundles of condolences from around the world, which kept coming for weeks. He wrote several of the standard texts in his field, as well as what are now the canonical translations/ Commentaries on a number of classical texts, and was credited with making it a significant area of study where before it was an obscure backwater. And practically nobody was aware of his illness outside of his family and his closest colleagues. A less dangerous man I can hardly envision. Now under the W.A.V.E. regime, I guess that, if anyone had actually noticed the symptoms, he would have been labeled as dangerous (to people other than himself) and might well have been unable to continue in academia and thus to carry out his work, his humble attempt to add to the sum of human knowledge. By all accounts this man was a really good teacher. Clearly I'm somewhat biased, but when he taught me, I could see the talent he had. And three decades worth of students would have been deprived of his abilities, care, concern and sense of duty, had he been blacklisted on health grounds. Tuberculosis is contagious - that's why it's a notifiable disease. Depression is an all-too-often fatal condition, but it is not contagious and should in the main remain a matter for the patient, their family and their physician. It is not grounds for a witch hunt."---Tom (Original Comment #5)
"Sounds wonderful. Now these people who would rather be left alone, and enjoy wearing black clothing will be labeled as depressed and violent. Is this the "Kick Me" sign for the 21st Century?" ---P.O. (Original Comment #6)
"Does anyone else remember the cheap school-TV movie "The Wave" about fascism in elementary school? I just thought that was a weird coincidence." ---F. (Original Comment #7)
"Yeah, I mean its not like depression is very well understood by the vast majority of adults in this country. I made the mistake of letting an employer know that I was seeking help for depression, and, did I ever regret it. I found that people in the office regarded me as a potential serial killer or something. I also started hearing nasty jokes told when they thought I wasn't around. I finally put a stop to it all by having my shrink write up a document "certifying" that I was sane. Did it up one of those award templates all fancy? I should have framed it. I presented that at a staff meeting and told all present that I was the only person there who was certifiably sane and that I would have no more jokes and ostracism. It worked surprisingly well. I was lucky. Sadly, mental illness still carries a stigma and too many people like to pretend there is no such thing as depression, or they treat it as moral failing. Or worse they fear it on the same level as demonic possession. So now we have a program that puts depressed people in a database of suspicious persons. Great. Just what we need to encourage people to go get help."---D. (Original Comment #8)