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Education Opinion

We’ve Come Undone

By Susan Graham — May 19, 2009 1 min read
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The lyrics of the old Guess Who song are morphing in my head:

We’ve come undone
We didn’t know what he was headed for
And once we knew what he was headed for
It was too late

He’s come undone
He found a mountain
that was far too high
And when he found out
he couldn’t fly
It was too late

It’s too late
He’s gone too far
He’s lost the sun
He’s come undone

Another school shooting and the question that haunts us all is “Why?”

Here are some things that I noted:

He was a year or two older than most of his classmates who described him as a quiet boy who never talked about guns or violence."

The young man had no disciplinary problems at school and hadn't been in trouble with the law."

The boy's mother said he seemed nervous before leaving for school, but when she asked him about it, he attributed it to getting the results of the "LEAP" tests that eighth-graders must pass to be promoted."

The profile is not unusual. He’s fifteen or so. He lives with his mom and sees his dad on weekends. He has been retained. He sits quietly in the back of the room, not making trouble, but not making progress either. He’s the passive kid who drops through the cracks.

There are a lot of kids like Justin. They are marking time, too old for middle school, too young to drop out. With good intentions, adults have told them that success in school is a necessity for success in life. In other words, we tell them that they are losers before they really get into the game of life. Justin got fed up with marking time; he made up his own rules to the game and became a time bomb.

The hot book on our middle school campus is Neal Shusterman’s Unwind. In a futuristic world, the fate of a person hangs in the balance during the years between 13 and 18. During these years, it is decided if a teenager has exhibited sufficient promise to justify the additional investment in care and education necessary to bring them to maturity. If not, they can be signed over by their parents or the authorities to be “unwound” at a harvest farm. Those young people who have demonstrated limited potential can still serve society by being disassembled for spare parts that are recycled for use by more deserving individuals.

While we may not harvest the organs of our underachievers, we do not cultivate these children. We attempt to take unique individuals and turn them into standardized products. If they do not meet our quality control standards of college-ready, we pass them off as factory seconds, allowing their productivity to turn to frustration and their potential to go unrealized.

Ultimately he only hurt himself."

But the repercussions of the child who comes undone impact us all. An education system that invests in students who struggle is expensive. The price of not making the investment is exorbitant and ultimately society must pay.

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.