This logic doesn’t really work for the Platte Canyon or Pennsylvania shootings since, as James in my American Government class pointed out, in those cases the assailants were of a different generation than the victims, and probably chose the schools because they were soft targets. Both the Platte Canyon and Pennsylvania shooters appear to have been emotionally disturbed far beyond anything they learned in biology class. (The issue of the relevance of Rohrbough’s commentary is briefly addressed on CBS’s Public Eye blog.) But let’s assume that Rohrbough’s head is still at the Columbine massacre, and he’s commenting more on the “students killing students” type incidents, or “students killing principals” in the case of the Wisconsin shooting. Is there anything to what he’s saying?
I think schools and parents have both come up short in teaching morality and ethics, especially to young children, where it will do the most good. The reason is this stubborn belief that moral instruction cannot be separate from religious indoctrination. Evangelical Christian leaders have said this time and time again, citing it as a reason for everything from school shootings to Massachusetts letting gay people get married, but I think it’s horseshit. You don’t have to nail the Ten Commandments to the wall of every classroom to teach children that it’s wrong to kill people, that they should treat others the way they would like to be treated, that they ought to respect the rights, feelings and opinions of other people. You can teach people values in the name of common decency, for the greater good of society, without referring to a Bible or any other religious source. I’m talking about the most basic values that a society must possess in order to function: restraint, respect, tolerance.
But what about the teaching of evolution? I feel like I’ve already addressed this with my “What would Jesus teach?” entry last week, but let me say this: The removal of prayer and religious instruction from public schools and the teaching of evolution in science classes have nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with school shootings, with higher crime rates, with the “moral freefall,” as Rohrbough put it, that we find ourselves in. Should schools and parents do more to teach their children how to conduct themselves like decent human beings? Yes, absolutely, but not at the expense of their intellect. The theory of evolution does not include moral lessons because the theory of evolution is not interested in morality; it is interested in explaining the origin and development of the diversity of life on Earth. The fact that evolution does not explicitly address a creator, or that it states, generally, that the strong will survive and the weak will die, does not undermine the value of life. If anything, by placing life in the context of a harsh and difficult world where survival is often nearly impossible, it enhances ones appreciation for, and therefore the value of, life.
Evening News anchor Katie Couric addressed Rohrbough’s commentary on her blog yesterday, writing that she knew before the “freeSpeech” piece aired that some who tuned in might find the views expressed “repugnant.” On his radio show today, Bill O’Reilly took issue with Couric’s choice of word, saying that “repugnant” served to marginalize Rohrbough’s opinions and characterize them as the extreme rantings of a kook. Nevermind that Couric’s piece treats Rohrbough and his views with respect throughout – is it out of line to call what he said repugnant? I don’t think so. The man is entitled to his opinion, and I don’t fault CBS for airing it, but naming the teaching of evolution as a contributing factor to school shootings? Yeah, I’d call that pretty repugnant. O’Reilly went on to state that he believed in both God and evolution, which I have no quarrel with and in fact believe myself, but then questioned why theories of the origin of life contrary to evolution cannot be taught in science classes. “Why can’t a teacher say to the students, ‘You know, there is another viewpoint that says God created Adam and Eve?’ What kind of academic freedom is that?” he asked. The answer: The modern theory of evolution is the result of over 150 years of scientific observation and experimentation; “Adam and Eve” is a religious myth with no basis in scientific fact, and so are the various creationist and intelligent design models that omit the names “Adam” and “Eve” but describe an origin scenario more or less identical to the one found in Genesis.
The hard truth is, there is no one great explanation to the recent spate of school shootings. They happened because a few disturbed, angry people decided, at roughly the same time, to lash out in violence against innocent and vulnerable victims. They happened because they happened. There is nothing that we, as a society, could have done in the recent past to prevent them. There is no one cause to which we may point and say, “There, that is the reason for school shootings; let’s fix that.” It’s a little depressing; it offers no comfort, no meaning, no opportunity for self-righteousness; but it’s the truth. Are there steps we may take to prevent tragedies like these in the future? Yes; but they are a great deal more complicated than trading science books for Bibles.