News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Two new grandsons, Columbine, and Tyler Clementi

Julian Estlin Peterson  b. May 15, 2012

 Politics and the like have been displaced by family business.  My mother-in-law,  Elizabeth Girton Snyder, 93, died in April  A few days later my first grandson, Kace, came into the world.  Then this month, my second grandson, Julian, took up residence on the planet.  

Both boys had hastened entrances.  Kace's birth was induced because he did not seem to be gaining weight.  The umbilical was hardening and he wasn't getting enough nutrition so he was urged into the world a bit early.  His mother is my daughter Andrian.

Julian was born by C-section.  My daughter Leslie is diabetic so Julian's progress was also monitored closely and the obstetrician thought he wasn't moving around enough and decided to get him out into the world. 

Kace LeRoy Patrick Sommers  b. April 12, 2012

Both  boys were put on oxygen to give their lungs opportunity to catch up to where they would be for a full-term birth.  They also were boosted along with IVs.

The factors that the obstetricians monitored so closely were not brought up when my children were born.  That's because the technology of ultra-sonds and other devices to track the weight and development of babies has advanced so much in the past few decades.  

Kace was born in Aberdeen at St. Lukes Avera.  Julian was born in Littleton. Colo., at Littleton Adventist Hospital,  just a few blocks from Columbine High School.

The thought persists that we have progressed so far to bring these lives into the world but we seem to be losing ground when it comes to keeping them here.   We have allowed an adolescent culture to develop which is treacherous for many young people and over which adults have little influence.  What influence adults do exert over adolescent society seems to be mostly in the negative areas of alienation and hostile discrimination.

The illustrative event in adolescent culture is the Columbine massacre during which students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 people on April 20, 1999.  We went to Denver to help out looking after Brian and Leslie's household while she was in the hospital with Julian.  Brian stayed there with her, so we had charge of the animals and preparing for Julian's homecoming.  The drive each day to Littleton, a very attractive suburb of Denver, was a reminder of that episode at Columbine High School 13 years ago.  Like most people who have been involved in education and young people, I am troubled by Columbine, all the school shootings and general acts of domestic terrorism and what they portend for our children and our future.  

The significance of Columbine was not just that two young men would plan and attempt to execute a plan to kill masses of their fellow students, teachers, and anyone who came upon the scene.  Just as troubling was the way society in general reacted.  In its initial accounts, the press was dead wrong about the details it reported.  Law enforcement agencies were giving out bad information and were grand-standing in the light of sensationalism.  And the furor of blame-placing and accusation that occurred across the nation indicated that American culture was overtaken by a mean streak.  The parents of the two shooters were vilified and defamed by the self-righteous.

Columbine put the focus on something that adults--parents, teachers, social scientists--cannot comprehend and, therefore, have not talked about.  That something is the huge and sometimes unbridgeable divide that has developed between adult and juvenile society.  Parents are reluctant to talk about the fact that their children engage in many attitudes, activities, and practices that their parents are unaware of and are shocked when they are made aware.  Parents are not even aware enough to argue with their children.  In the cases of Harris and Klebold, the boys told adults what they wanted to hear, and as reported by USA Today on the tenth anniversary of the massacre, "they saved money from after-school jobs, took Advanced Placement classes, assembled a small arsenal and fooled everyone — friends, parents, teachers, psychologists, cops and judges."  They seemed like busy, productive, if aloof, kids.  

Their values and their motivations have been analyzed and explained, but remain a puzzle as to why the young men would develop the attitudes that moved them and how they so successfully hid what they felt and thought.  

In this time of vicious political division, thoughtful adults are very reluctant to confront the cultural forces that are working on the Harrises, Klebolds, and the multitude of young people who engage in anti-social and terrorist activities.  In this time of strident, rigid political doctrine, it is probably impossible to engage in an analytical dialogue about what our culture is doing.  Everybody wants to accuse; no one is capable of considering that we, as a national culture, could have any blame in what is happening to our young people.

One of the best pieces of journalism that presents some of the facts about how young people think--and don't think-- is The New Yorker piece on the matter of Tyler Clementi who committed suicide after his Rutgers roommate, Dharun Ravi, videotaped him having a homosexual encounter.  Ravi was brought to court on 15 charges, sentenced to a month in jail, and has issued an apology for his actions

Before the college term started, Ravi discovered through the Internet that his assigned roommate, Tyler Clementi, was gay and Ravi had Internet conversations with friends about it.  He showed some signs of uneasiness,  and commented more on his perception of Clementi as a violin-playing, technologically clumsy nerd, characterizing him to a friend as "“a gay person who asks a lot of questions, is mostly techno illiterate, and makes tshirt ideas.”  He wrote to his friend that he was not perturbed about the prospect of a gay roommate, saying, "I still don’t really care, except what my parents are going to say."

The only thing Ravi said that approached hatefulness was when he found that Clementi was not well off.  He wrote his friend, “Dude I hate poor people.”

That mention of economic class is a telling expression of how young people have come to view each other and what at least one basis for an adolescent judgment is.  

In my own children's experience in school, I have noticed how their contemporaries are divided by hostile discrimination and a crude sense of class.  They operate on an imperative of exclusion.  The desire to include and encourage that was once a part of adolescence, as I noted it in my college teaching, has given away to hostilities based upon trivial distinctions.  But there is nothing trivial about the school shootings and motivations of hate, whatever their basis, that are behind them.

As I hold and look at my grandsons,  I can only hope that our society will return to the accepting and encouraging culture that benefited me and so many students I encountered throughout the years.  I have not the foggiest idea of how to make that happen. Or if it can. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States