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Education Reporter

Tragedy at Columbine: The Curriculum Connection

LITTLETON, CO - Countless words have been written about the possible causes of the Columbine High School massacre, but few have focused on the role that public school curricula, particularly Values Clarification and Death and Suicide Education, may have played in the tragedy. These curricula teach children that there are no moral absolutes while fostering a morbid fixation on death.

Values Clarification

For the past 25 years, the prevailing dogma in public school teaching has been Values Clarification (as in the popular and influential 1972 book of the same name by Sidney Simon). This curriculum teaches students to reject "the old moral and ethical standards," and instead "make their own choices" and "build their own value system."

The Columbine shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, did "build their own value system," which allowed them to kill 12 of their classmates and a teacher before taking their own lives. Harris and Klebold were not underprivileged - both were raised in affluent, two-parent homes. An article in the April 23 New York Times quoted professionals who evaluated them as saying: "Eric is a very bright young man who is likely to succeed in life," and "[Dylan] is intelligent enough to make any dream a reality."

Values Clarification teaches that, since there are absolutely no absolutes, students should engage in personal "decision making" about behavior instead of looking to God, the Ten Commandments, parents, church, or other authority which teaches that behavior should conform to traditional morality.

Simon's book contains 79 classroom dilemmas for teachers to present to students. The most frequently used dilemma is the "lifeboat game" and its numerous variations. (Education Reporter exposed this "game" in November 1986 and June 1990.) Students are told there are ten people in a sinking lifeboat and four must be thrown overboard to drown so that the other six may live. Students are given the authority to decide which four of the ten people live or die. Any answer is acceptable - whatever each student feels comfortable with is okay.

The students can all choose different drowning targets because there are no right or wrong answers. One student's mother reported, however, that her child received an F for the following "wrong" answer: "Jesus brought another boat and nobody had to drown."

As in the "lifeboat game," Harris and Klebold had already decided that it was their right to decide who would live and who would die that day at Columbine. The world view of Cassie Bernall, who looked into the barrel of a gun and said, "Yes, I believe in God," is not acceptable within the rubric of Values Clarification. She was killed by a fellow student who had built his own value system. Harris' Internet website included the statement: "My belief is that if I say something, it goes. I am the law, and if you don't like it, you die . . . Feel no remorse, no sense of shame" (Washington Post, April 29).

Death Education

Jayne Schindler
Colorado Eagle Forum President Jayne Schindler produced video on death education in 1987.
In 1987, Eagle Forum of Colorado produced a two-hour video in which student Tara Becker spoke at length about the relentless focus on death, dying and suicide in her junior class at Columbine High School. Recalls Colorado Eagle Forum state president Jayne Schindler: "Newspapers in Jefferson County, where Columbine is located, were lamenting the increase in teen suicides, reporting that 18 youths had killed themselves between January 1985 and June 1986 - that's 18 deaths in 18 months! Tara and several of her classmates also attempted suicide as a result of this depressing curriculum."

As death education classes in public schools increased and teenage suicides escalated, the ABC-TV program 20/20 obtained Colorado Eagle Forum's video and aired Tara Becker's story in 1990. Tara told reporter Tom Jarriel, "I had thought about [suicide] as a possible option for a lot of years, but I never would have gone through with it, never, because I wasn't brave enough. The things that we learned in the [death ed] class taught us how to be brave enough to face death." She added, "We talked about what we wanted to look like in our caskets."

The 20/20 segment showed morbid visuals of student visits to cemeteries, to embalming labs where they were encouraged to touch "still warm human remains," and to crematoriums where they were told about picking bones out of the ashes. ABC stated that one out of 10 schools teaches death education, that there is no approved curriculum, and that the teachers' training often consists only of a one-day workshop.

In 1988, the Atlantic Monthly published an investigative article entitled "Mortal Fears," which confirmed that death and dying courses are taught in "thousands of schools," often sneaked into health, social studies, literature or home economics courses without parents' knowledge. The article described how these courses require students to visit cemeteries and funeral homes, write their own epitaphs to be put on tombstones made out of construction paper, write obituaries, wills or suicide notes, decide how they would prefer to die, and plan their own funerals, body disposal and pallbearers.

In his Creative Writing class, Eric Harris wrote his will as one of his assignments, apparently indicating that death education is still alive at Columbine. A classmate told the Associated Press on April 22 that Harris and Klebold's writings were filled with gore and profanity. They had also made a video for a Government and Economics class in which they portrayed themselves as hit men hired out to do violence to athletes. According to the Washington Post (April 29), it culminated with the two "bludgeoning the head of a dum-my amid much fake blood."

While the teacher has refused to comment on the video, another student admitted that "every-body's video involved fighting," and that her own "contained sexual scenes."

Schools' Changing Mission

Most parents are unaware that the mission of the public schools has dramatically changed in the last 20 years by downgrading basic academics and instead using teachers as pseudo-psychologists conducting group therapy. This change was best described by the late U.S. Senator (and former university president) Sam Hayakawa, who - in successfully persuading Congress to pass the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) in 1978 - said that the public schools have adopted "an educational heresy . . . that rejects the idea of education as the acquisition of knowledge and skills . . . and regards the fundamental task in education as therapy."

This "heresy" opened the floodgates to many psychological courses and surveys in sexuality, drugs, incest, death, suicide, stress, and self-esteem. Some of these courses incorporate guided imagery or New Age or occult practices.

Littleton, Colorado is an area where public schools for many years have adopted all the trendy "edufads" including Outcome Based Education (OBE), death education, and sex education. A high school in nearby Commerce City was one of the nation's first to dispense condoms, and was rewarded with a birth rate that climbed 31% above the national average in the early 1990s (see Education Reporter, June 1992).

In 1993, at the high school in the district adjacent to Columbine, parents rebelled against the dumbing-down process of OBE and elected a "back to basics" school board by a two-to-one margin (see Education Reporter, Nov. 1993). The teachers union struck back in the following election and re-established control. The union was supported by People for the American Way, and used the usual negative tactic of hanging the "religious right" label on all those opposed to OBE and favoring basic skills.

Pushing Gun Control

Some politicians are using the Columbine tragedy to push their liberal political agenda, which includes gun control. But as Professor J.D. Crouch of Southern Methodist University and a law enforcement officer in Missouri points out, "President Clinton's Justice Department prosecuted only six people in 1998 under the 'urgently needed' juvenile gun transfer provisions of the last crime bill," and "only four people under the 'desperately needed' ban on certain semi-automatic weapons."

Killers Harris and Klebold violated at least 17 federal and state gun control laws that, had they lived, would have incarcerated them for the rest of their lives. It is doubtful whether mandatory gun locks or three-day waiting periods would have deterred them from their mission, since Harris' own journal reveals that he had been planning the attack for a year.

In the aftermath of these tragedies at American schools, many educators and pro-family activists are demanding that not only the role of obscene rock lyrics, violent movies and video games be investigated, but also the value system that is taught in public schools. We are paying a terrible price for allowing public school curricula to teach students to create "their own value system" instead of respecting moral laws such as "Thou shalt not kill."

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