- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

High school nihilism

"More than a year ago, a pair of suburban teen-agers named Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold turned the word 'Columbine' into a synonym for 'massacre.' In the year since the shootings, there has been no shortage of explanations for why two middle-class suburban kids would set out to annihilate their schoolmates… .

"What's noteworthy is the lack of attention given to the factor for which we arguably have the most evidence: the role of popular culture, and the nihilism it breeds, played in turning suburban kids into monsters… .

"If there is a word to describe the pair's 'performance,' it's Nietzschean. For instance, the pair didn't deny that what they were about to do was wrong… . But that knowledge of right and wrong didn't dissuade them, because they considered themselves as transcending such considerations.

"As Nietzsche might have put it, they considered themselves beyond good and evil."

Roberto Rivera, writing on "The Children of Nietzsche," in the September issue of Touchstone

Teachers decline

"The quality of teachers has been declining for decades, and no one wants to talk about it.

"Principals know the truth and have to deal with it as best they can, but unions are reluctant to admit weaknesses in any of their members, colleges are loath to acknowledge the poor quality of their education programs, and administrators are afraid that confronting the problem will further erode confidence in public education.

"And so we tolerate inadequate teacher education, noncompetitive pay, inflexible work rules and regulations denying bright people in other professions a chance to switch to teaching… .

"Which of our college-age students, today, are preparing for teaching? A 1997 report by the National Center for Education Statistics found that education majors were placed in remedial college courses at higher rates than their counterparts in the humanities and social sciences nearly twice as many education majors needed remedial English and math classes… .

"[T]he story of declining teacher quality is consistent across the country.

"So is an impending shortage of certified teachers. The Department of Education estimates a nationwide loss of 2.5 million teachers over the next decade as teachers born in the baby boom years reach retirement age… .

"We must also stop closing the door to would-be teachers who did not choose to take education courses in college."

Harold O. Levy, chancellor of New York City public schools, writing on "Don't Settle for Mediocre Teachers," in Saturday's New York Times

Silent tradition

"There is a myth that conversation was once the backbone of family life, before the age of snack foods, when there was nothing to do at home except talk.

"In fact, there were plenty of fathers who enjoyed terrifying their families into silence, or going out to the bar to talk to their buddies rather than their wives and children. Family rebellion, jealousy and rivalry caused as much silence as television ever did.

"And even in traditional societies, the range of conversation could be strictly limited. The film director Ang Lee makes one of his Taiwanese characters say, 'We worry for each other, and that makes us a family.' …

"If we want family conversation, we have to invent a new sort, suited to our times. We have to think more clearly about what families do. They are not just havens of peace, where you can shut yourself off from the hostile and complicated world, where you can relax and feel free… .

"The family meal is central in this adventure. It is where we learn to talk in a civilized way, at least that's the ideal. But good talk at meals is a rarity, an art we still have to develop."

Theodore Zeldin, from his new book, "Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives"

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