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“6 Ways to Kill Piper” — What’s wrong with our children?

May 27, 2009

Returning from a recent trip, I was waiting on a connecting flight in Chicago when I happened to see the story on CNN about elementary school kids who had created a video cartoon depicting a variety of ways to kill their classmate, Piper.

What caught my attention even more is that this occurred virtually in my own backyard — Spanaway, WA. 

Originally, the story had been reported on last week by Seattle NBC affiliate King5 TV.  Now, it was headline news in many forms of media.The incident involves 11- and 12-year olds attending school at Elk Plains Choice School who created this “masterpiece” depicting their top six ways to kill a fellow student, and then posted it on YouTube for the world to see.

This story is tragic on so many different levels.  Not only is it terrible that these kids concocted this graphic cartoon and posted it on the Internet for anyone to see, but the bigger issue is that these kids would come up with such a thing in the first place.  Eleven- and twelve-year olds should simply not be thinking this way, much less acting on their thoughts in such a manner.  School-based violence and harassment is continually increasing and happening at younger ages. Clearly, something is seriously lacking in these children’s social skills, values and character development that is not only tragic now, but will likely only escalate if it remains unchecked. 

And, while we may argue that schools shouldn’t have to shoulder the responsibility of providing social skills education, the reality is that too many of our kids are entering the school systems without these critical lifeskills and positive character foundations. And every facet of the education system – from students, to teachers and staff, the learning environment and achievement, and more – is negatively impacted.

What has happened to our children and to the so-called “innocence of youth?” Today, in response to another media inquiry, I compiled a list of recent incidents of school-based violence.  It’s not an exhaustive list, by any means, but does highlight notable events in the past 2 1/2 years or so. They include the infamous Florida Cheerleader Smackdown, beatings of teachers in various forms, plots by students to torture and kill their classmates, and even an event in which the “ringleader” posted his admiration of the Columbine shooters on his MySpace page.

I ended the document with a catalog of school shootings since Columbine, and one of the things that stood out is that the youngest offender was only 6 years old.

It’s clear that the managing and mitigating programs we are spending so much money on every year in schools across this country aren’t helping in proportion to the financial investment and that of other resources dedicated to the problem.  Our schools are too often battle zones; our children are at risk.

Not every school is this way, mind you, but if you look at the cross section of geographic locations, ages of the perpetrators, circumstances of the incidents and what drove them to do it, you’ll see that ANY school in any town has the potential for this kind of tragedy.

When the gut-level reaction of schools considering programs that work on pro-social skills and character development is “we can’t afford it,” we have to INSIST that it’s no longer a matter of “nice to have.”  The reality is, we can’t afford NOT to do this because lives — our children’s lives — are literally at stake.

As a result, I contacted the principal of the school and copied the Superintendent of Bethel School District offering to donate SocialSmarts for the 2009-2010 school year. We’ll see if they take me up on the offer. It’s an opportunity not only to turn around the significant negative publicity the school and district must be receiving, but also gives them a chance to make a positive and lasting difference for all their students, staff and families.

What is it going to take before we finally say “enough” and make a concerted effort to stem the tide of kids gone wild, and dangerous, damaging behavior in our classrooms, on the playground,  in our neighborhoods?  I can’t think of a better investment for our taxpayer dollars.

I’d welcome your comments and observations.

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