“I wish he would just kill himself," Matt's dad exclaimed when I informed him of his son's expulsion. Another father responded similarly, lashing out at his tearful daughter, Anna, "Why won't you just run away?" Jimmy, whom I suspect I'll expel before June, has only one thing to say to me, ever: "I don't care."
I believe him. Why should he care, about anyone or anything, least of all himself, given that nobody significant in his life has ever cared for him? He's been tossed like a hot potato from one reluctant family member to another. He knows he's bad. He's accepted with an eerie stoicism that life, too, is awful, and likely to remain so.
These profoundly unhappy kids—and so many others in schools throughout this nation—are bright, beautiful, and, I suspect, clinically depressed. I've referred them to a therapist who counsels them periodically here on campus, both individually and in groups. They discuss anger control, even though they have many legitimate, horrific reasons to be furious. They speak of self-esteem, even though their experience has thoroughly convinced them they are worthless.
"What do you want?" desperately, repeatedly I ask them. And then, to fill their ominous silence, I plead, "Whatever it is, don't lose sight of it! Make your decisions carefully so you won't throw it away. You can be master of your fate..."
Nonetheless, with few exceptions such kids spurn my advice, sabotage any possibility for happiness. They simply loathe themselves and their lives too much. Indeed, they're quite clever about putting me in a position where I must punish them, even kick them out of school, and thus become an unwitting accomplice in their unconscious, self-destructive designs.
Ultimately many will commit suicide—slowly, with alcohol, with drugs, with unprotected sex, with gangs, with crime. Or, like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine High School, a few will end their lives in a violent rampage.
You see, those boys were hardly unique. They were but a sensational, gruesome tip of an untold iceberg of "outcast" children in our society, some of whom grace my office daily, most of whom either already populate our burgeoning prisons or soon will. They don't all wear black trench coats. However, so many have grown up essentially orphans, lacking one decent adult who might have spent time with them, listened to their dreams, set some sane limits, who should have told them daily in both word and deed, "I love you."
Without such nurturing—which neither a therapist nor I can magically provide now — children grow up spiritually withered, twisted, deformed.
I cannot condemn the two Colorado boys (or the kids I expel from school such as Matt, Anna, and Jimmy). The boys were monsters, yes, but they also were victims. My God, who filled their young hearts with such hatred for others and themselves? Who taught them to fire an assault rifle or make a propane bomb? Who left them alone, with enough unsupervised time to meticulously plan such an unspeakable act of nihilism and despair?
Such kids and such catastrophes do not arise spontaneously. Like Frankenstein, we create them. And it will take a lot more than shaking our heads in feigned disbelief to wash our hands of their blood, or the blood they spill.