Discover more from The Redneck Intellectual by C. Bradley Thompson
Nihilism and Our Killing Schools
The third in a series . . .
What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently. The advent of nihilism. This history can be related even now; for a necessity itself is at work here. This future speaks even now in a hundred signs, this destiny announces itself everywhere.—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power
In “Our Killing Schools—Part 1,” I reviewed the history of mass shootings at America’s government schools over the last quarter century and raised the most important question unasked by virtually all liberals and conservatives: why are America’s teenage boys committing mass murder across the nation in our government schools? I there raised the terrifying possibility that these boys are attacking the schools as the source of their suffering and everything they hate.
In “Progressive Education and Our Killing Schools,” I identified and explicated what I consider to be the philosophic root cause of America’s school shootings: the theory and practice of Progressive education. I there focused, first, on the role played by Progressive theories of education in promoting cognitive confusion in the minds of children (boys in particular); and second, on how Progressive education promotes moral and psychological chaos in the lives of American children.
In this final essay, I will demonstrate how America’s teenage boys have been affected by Progressive education. The question that we must now confront is: how does Progressive education theory and practice translate into the lives of America’s teenage boys? More to the point, what is the relationship between Progressive education and the school shootings of the last 25 years?
The philosophic and pedagogic genealogy of these ideas is complex and the ways in which they impact and trigger particular boys would require a deep psychological study of each one of these boys that goes well beyond the scope of this essay. I also recognize that each one of these boys is unique with different socio-psychological factors affecting their lives and behaviors. We know, for instance, that many of these teenage school shooters was raised without a father present in the home, and we also know that several of these boys were on psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin or Prozac. These particular factors do not, however, explain why these boys have targeted their schools for death and destruction.
Before you read any further, though, I’d like you to scroll back up to the top of the page and take a long look at the photographic montage of some of the adolescent American boys who have either committed a mass school shooting or been arrested for plotting to shoot up their school or to bomb it. Take a good look at these boys and ask yourself this question: Why are America’s teenage or pre-teenage boys targeting their schools for mass murder?
Progressive Education and the Breakdown of Psychological and Moral Health
The crisis of America’s teenage boys is a philosophic crisis. The cognitive consequence of Progressive education—if not the intent—is to retard the reasoning minds of our children and to deform their moral constitutions. The truth of the matter is that our education system is stunting the capacity of our kids to think at the conceptual level and to act in morally virtuous ways.
By teaching and promoting intellectual subjectivism, Progressive education breaks down a student’s capacity for conceptual learning, resulting in pervasive anxiety due to the student’s inability to intellectually grasp reality and cope with it. By teaching and promoting moral relativism, Progressive education breaks down a student’s capacity to make independent, reality-based moral judgments. By teaching and promoting group-think and group acceptance, Progressive education breaks down a student’s reality-based self-esteem in favor of an other-oriented, pseudo-self-esteem characterized by conformism and narcissism.
The net result for those students affected is perpetual anxiety; aimless “self expression”; a preoccupation with the standards of the group, either in conforming to the group or rebelling against it; a substitution of narcissism for reality-based self-esteem; and moral nihilism, which can take the form of refusing to make moral judgments or enacting vicious fantasies.
Progressive Education and America’s “New-Model Boy”
Let us now consider how Progressive education translates into the life of an ordinary American child, whom we shall identify as the “new-model” boy or the boy next door.
At the age of five or six, our fictional boy leaves home for the first time to attend school. He is thrown into a foreign environment with hundreds of other children, all of whom are beginning to understand the world in conceptual terms. Almost immediately, though, the Progressive theories and practices that dominate his school begin to stunt his conceptual faculty. The whole-language reading technique and whole math cripple the conceptual development of his mind and keep him bound to the perceptual level of cognition.
Progressive education impedes our new-model boy’s capacity to think long term and to think independently. By teaching him to live in the immediate moment and to act on his urges and desires, it tells the thinking boy that his feelings are his overriding reality and means of cognition. And by encouraging him to work and think in groups, Progressive education tells the thinking boy to “go along to get along,” to compromise what he knows to be true and right, and to conform to the whims of the pack.
Imagine the psychic inner turmoil that he must now experience. Day in and day out, he’s told to act in two contradictory ways: to express his “individuality” and to conform to a greater collective consciousness. His inability to project a long-range future beyond the powerful emotions of the here-and-now and his reluctance to rely on his own judgment creates in him a sense of impotence and helplessness.
As the school stunts the cognitive faculty of our boy next door, it also works to readjust his moral and social attitudes. Whilst at home, he receives a moral education of one kind or another, and he is accustomed to judging and being judged. His parents teach him that certain kinds of behavior are acceptable and others not.
When he arrives at school, however, he enters an entirely new and strange moral universe. His teachers begin to subtly wean him from the “closed” and “authoritarian” morality of his parents. At first, they refuse to give him any kind of moral instruction. In fact, the teachers seem to tolerate and sometimes even to celebrate behaviors that he thinks are wrong. He is forbidden from judging morally the ideas and actions of others. The only moral imperative is that he must get along, share, adapt, and accept the needs and values of all the other children. He’s now stuck in a no-man’s land of moral confusion.
Not knowing how or why, our new-model boy begins to think that something is wrong. For the first time in his life, he begins to experience moral confusion, doubt, and anxiety. He becomes uncertain of his ability to judge what is morally true and untrue, good and bad, just and unjust. He begins to evade and then to repress what he thinks is right and wrong. He also begins to wonder if there isn’t something wrong with him. Morally, our young boy becomes docile, pliant, and dependent. Thus begins the long and painful process by which his sense of moral efficacy shrivels and dies.
As he advances through elementary school, rather than subject himself to taunting for being a “goody-two-shoes,” our new-model boy begins to re-center his moral constitution to the whims of the others who now associate and move in a pack. This kind of conformism is what his teachers have been preaching since he started kindergarten.
Most boys in this environment quickly learn one moral lesson: lead or be led. If he is strong, purposeful and manipulative, he subjects others to his whims. Most boys, though, are followers. For the vast majority, conformity is the cardinal virtue at school. Our boy next door thus gives in to the injustice, meanness, silliness, dishonesty, vulgarity, and violence of the pack. Most importantly, he surrenders his judgment. The pack now determines his sense of what is true and untrue, good and bad, right and wrong. But our boy can never fully know or anticipate what the pack wants or will do, and so he is in a constant state of uncertainty, helplessness, and impotence.
Our new-model boy now reaches high school, a world that is much more brutal than his elementary or even his middle school. It is no place for the weak of body and soul. He now finds himself in a frantic competition for status and recognition both of which require more conformity.
Repeatedly told by his teachers that his identity is and must be connected to a community of friends, the boy next door craves acceptance and yet he never quite reaches it. He drifts on the periphery of the pack—sometimes in, sometimes out. He struggles psychologically between two subconscious passions: a fear that leads to passive obedience and an anger that seeks to dominate others. In either case, he lives in a state of chronic, inexplicable, undeserved despair. He knows (somehow) that the pain he experiences is not his fault. The only thing left for him is to retreat to the safety of his subconscious emotions, but the emotions he feels most powerfully are envy, resentment, and hatred.
Just at the moment when a child needs to have his or her passions tamed, controlled, anchored, and ordered by a rational, hierarchical principle, the moral relativism taught in our schools has the effect of unleashing, indeed encouraging, normalizing, and validating the worst emotions associated with adolescence. Dissuaded from making moral distinctions, fed a daily diet of an “I’m okay, you’re okay” philosophy, denied logic, knowledge and truth, and driven by unknown fears and anxieties, today’s young people are left with nothing but their untutored “feelings” and “emotions” as their guides through the trials and tribulations of adolescence.
Any child educated in this manner would naturally retreat into the basement of his own mind, locking the door behind, living there afraid to confront a world that seems indeterminate, unintelligible, unpredictable, and chaotic. His reality becomes that which he experiences at the perceptual level, and the feelings it produces.
The high school years represent a time of profound unhappiness and loneliness for such boys. They are left with a kind of chronic anxiety that leaves them wanting to hide from the world but also to strike back at whomever or whatever is causing them pain. Eventually, they come to associate their suffering in some vague and unknown way with their school.
Finally, when they can take no more, when their contempt turns into resentment—when their resentment turns into anger—and when their anger turns into a raging hatred for life itself, they are driven over the precipice into the abyss of nihilistic rage. This is the tipping point for some boys when fiction becomes reality. Teenage anger, resentment, and rage are transformed into an existential need for revenge, destruction, and death.
This is what twenty-first century nihilism looks like. It’s a pimply-faced, fourteen-year-old boy walking into his school with guns blazing, brutally murdering his classmates and teachers, throwing down his guns and surrendering when the police arrive, and then crying for his mother after he’s been arrested and taken to jail.
Progressive Education and the Apotheosis of Nihilism
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers, are the logical and inevitable outcome of Progressive education and nihilism. They attacked that which they identified as the source of their pain and suffering and the symbol of everything they hated about their lives: Columbine High School.
Harris and Klebold each kept a journal that provides an entry point into their lives and worldview—a worldview shared by far too many of America’s teenage boys.
Dylan Klebold was destroyed by Progressive education. His ultimate motive for the Littleton massacre was a profound sense of fear and self-loathing, both of which he associated with Columbine High School. “I don’t fit in here,” he wrote in his journal. School for Dylan was that place where he went every day to “be scared & nervous, hoping that people can accept me.” “I don’t know what i do wrong with people,” he wrote, “it’s like they are set out to hate & (insult) me, i never know what to say or do.” In his journal, he poured out his true feelings: “Good god i HATE my life, i want to die really bad right now.”
Despite all of the self-esteem teaching he received throughout his early years, Dylan Klebold hated himself and he hated his life. “My existence is shit,” he wrote. There could be only one ultimate solution for his self-hatred, summed up in the very first entry in his journal: “Thinking of suicide gives me hope that i’ll be in my place wherever i go after this life—that ill finally not be at war w. myself, the world, the universe—my mind, body, everywhere, everything at PEACE—me—my soul (existence).”
If Dylan Klebold was destroyed by Progressive education, then Eric Harris was the logical culmination of Progressive education.
In his private journals, Harris embraced its deepest philosophical premises. From John Dewey and the constructivists he learned and then proposed that “there is no such thing as an actual ‘real world’”; that “anything and everything that happens in our world is just that, a Happening. Anything else is relative to the observor”; that “theres no such thing as True Good or True Evil, its all relative to the observor”; that “spelling is stupid unless I say. I say spell how it sounds, it’s the fuckin easiest way”; that “people that only know stupid facts that aren’t important should be shot.”
Eric Harris did not get these ideas from video games or the NRA. He learned them at school. All of it is straight out of the Progressives’ playbook.
From these premises, Harris worked up a juvenile syllogism that defined his philosophy of life: Premise one: moral absolutes are an illusion. Premise two: moral “truth” is situational. Conclusion: I can kill whomever I want. He enunciated this credo on his web page: “My belief is that if I say something, it goes. I am the law. . . . Feel no remorse, no sense of shame. . . . What I don’t like I Waste.”
In his journal, Harris, cloaking himself in a kind of adolescent Nietzcheanism, wrote “ich bin Gott” (“I am God”), and in his suicide note he left us with these chilling last words: “Your children who have ridiculed me, who have chosen not to accept me, who have treated me like I am not worth their time, are dead. THEY ARE F***ING DEAD.”
Notice the contradiction in Harris’s self-image between the boy who would be a “god” and the humiliated boy whose sense of self-worth was determined by the opinions of pimply-faced teenagers. He could not live with the contradiction between his desires and his knowledge, his pseudo-self-esteem and reality, so he destroyed that which threatened his most deeply held desires and whims.
Nihilism is the inevitable outcome of Progressive education, and Eric Harris was the ultimate or what Nietzsche called the “extreme” nihilist. Whereas Dylan Klebold was motivated by fear and resentment and the primary subject of his death-wish was himself, Harris was motivated by hatred and contempt and the object of his hate was universal.
In the opening line of his journal, which he titled “The Book of God,” he stated clearly his malevolent sense of life: “I hate the fucking world.” As a result, Harris wanted to destroy everything—literally everything. The object of his hatred thus became the object of his death wish. His stated motto was “KILL MANKIND.” His goal, he wrote, was “to destroy as much as possible.” Harris viewed Hitler and Stalin as second-rate mass murderers, who only targeted specific groups, i.e., Jews and the bourgeoisie. By contrast, Harris’s hatred was universal. He “declared war on the human race” itself.
Eric Harris was not, however, the only teenage mass murderer (or attempted mass murderer) to have been influenced by the moral nihilism that defines America’s government schools.
Let’s start with 16-year-old Luke Woodham, the Pearl, Mississippi shooter (1997), who brutally stabbed and bludgeoned his mother to death and then went to his high school where he shot and killed two students and wounded seven others. Like Eric Harris, Woodham was an adolescent Nietzschean nihilist. In his journal, he wrote: “I am the hatred in every man’s heart! I am the epitomy [sic] of all Evil! I have no mercy for humanity, for they created me, they tortured me until I snapped and became what I am today! Let these words ring through our heart, mind, and soul! Hate humanity! . . . Hate everyone and everything. . . . Hate until you can’t anymore.” Woodham then moved from his negative philosophy to his positive philosophy: “Make your own rules. Live by your own laws. . . . Live your life in a bold, new way. For you, dear friend, are a superman.” And from whom did Woodham learn this philosophy?
In a last note to a friend before the shooting, he asked his friend to read (presumably at his funeral) from section of 125 of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Gay Science in which the philosopher famously announced the death of God. The critical passage reads as follows:
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? . . . What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? . . . Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? . . . God is dead . . . And we have killed him.
And then there was 16-year-old Alex Hribal who walked into his high school in Murrysville, Pennsylvania in 2014 with two eight-inch kitchen knives and stabbed 20 students (four seriously) and a security guard. Hribal was a fan of Harris and Klebold (and Vladimir Lenin). He admired them, he said, “because they saw something wrong in the world and moved away the herd of sheep to do something about it.” Like Harris, Hribal too wanted to become either a “god” or a “prophet.” In Hribal’s view, Harris “possessed three crucial things a person needs in order to become a god: intelligence, ideology, and malice (or cruelty). The most curious quality identified by Hribal as necessary to become a god was, interestingly, “ideology.”
Obviously, then, we need to know the ideology that he followed. Hribal was clear in stating that the ideology of a twenty-first century “god” was what he called “moral nihilism,” which he defined as the belief that “evil does not exist” and that “[t]here are no such things like ‘universal evils’ and immortality.” He considered the concept “evil,” for instance, to be a man-made creation.
Finally, Hribal addressed the reasons that might explain his intended action to kill as many people as possible at his school. He denied that his intended actions had anything to do with the state of his mental health, with video games, or with guns. No! He was killing in the name of philosophy, in the name of “moral nihilism.” Hribal considered himself to be a “prophet” of this philosophy.
And then Hribal left us with his most revealing statement: “All this was caused,” he wrote in his diary, by the “dehumanization of public school.”
(Another shooter, Robert Butler, walked into his school in Lincoln, Nebraska in 2011 and shot the principal and vice-principal. His reason: “that fucking school drove me to this.” And in 2014, 12-year-old Jose Reyes walked into his middle school and shot a teacher dead and wounded two students before killing himself. In a handwritten note, Reyes stated: “Today I will get revenge on the students and teachers for ruining my life.”)
Finally, consider the views of 18-year-old school killer Karl Pierson, who walked into Arapahoe High School in 2013 with a pump-action shotgun and 125 rounds of ammunition, a machete, and three Molotov cocktails. He shot one girl in the head and then turned the gun on himself. In his diary titled “Diary of a Madman,” Pierson poured out his anger. He wrote: “I am a psychopath with a superiority complex. . . . I will do something I have wanted to do for a while—mass murder and be in a place of power where I and I alone are judge, jury, and executioner.”
The problem with Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold and America’s other juvenile mass murderers is that their artificially inflated self-images, grounded in causeless feelings and nurtured by a kind of infantile wish-fulfillment, eventually had to confront an objective reality different from the fantasy world created by themselves and nurtured by their teachers. As they left the controlled environment of their elementary schools where every child is a winner, they entered the nasty and brutish Hobbesean world of the American high school that immediately divides into a rigid class system of winners and losers. They were the losers, and that fact (as they experienced it) unleashed their untethered hatred. They targeted for indiscriminate death and destruction the place and source of all their anger and despair.
Let’s take a quick last look at what some of the other school shooters have said about what they did.
Consider Kip Kinkel, the 14-year-old school shooter from Springfield, Oregon, who murdered his parents in 1998 and then drove to school and shot and killed two of his classmates and wounded 25 others. Kinkel wrote these horrifyingly telling words in his diary: “Every single person I know means nothing to me. I hate every person on this earth. . . . Some of you are so weak, . . . I am strong, . . . but I hate living. I am so full of rage . . . Blowing the school up or walking into a pep assembly with guns . . . that is how I will repay you. . . . They won’t laugh after they are scraping pieces of their mothers and sisters off the wall of my hate. . . . All humans are evil. I just want to end the world of evil. . . . Anyone that believes in God is a fucking sheep.”
Similarly, in the bedroom of one of the boys arrested in the New Bedford, MA, bombing conspiracy case (i.e., the case involving those boys who wanted to “out Columbine, Columbine”), police found walls littered with signs such as: “I hate the world,” “Everyone must die,” and “Kill everyone.” After years of being told how good he was by his teachers, this boy felt nothing but hatred for the world.
In 1999, a 13-year-old boy, described by teachers and friends as “a really nice person,” “intelligent,” and an “honor student,” was arrested in a small town in rural Oklahoma for shooting four classmates with a semiautomatic handgun at his middle school. When asked by police why he did it, the boy answered: “I don’t know.” And just last year, a high school senior in Chardon, Ohio, went on a shooting rampage in his school cafeteria killing three students. When asked why he did it, he too said: “I don’t know.”
The plaintive whimper of these broken boys, these haunting three words—”I don’t know”—represent the tragic symbol of our age.
Pathologies of Progressivism
Here we have in its most perverse form the moral universe spawned by the advocates of Progressive education. American Progressive educators have extended the teaching of tolerance to such a degree that our children are unable to judge questionable ideas and actions, not to mention those they consider reprehensible or wicked. Their moral compass has been stripped of its magnet and now it just spins directionless.
Without any absolute, objectively validated moral principles to guide their lives, these boys simply acted on their whims and urges. They killed because they felt like doing it.
Such is the cognitive and moral universe created by America’s government schools and the reigning intellectual orthodoxy that governs it. We should not be surprised that America’s “tween” boys are coming unbuttoned psychologically and, in some cases, committing mass murder.
If we as Americans really want to stop school-yard violence and address the social pathologies that increasingly afflict our young, if we really want to turn our schools into serious places of learning, we must abandon our deadly experiment with Progressive education and restore a curriculum that emphasizes knowledge over self-expression, judgment over relativism, independence over conformity, self-control over self-esteem, reason over emotions, hope over hopelessness. We must declare ourselves independent of the intellectual tyranny that grips American education, and we must rethink radically and comprehensively that which is most important in the classroom: i.e., what is taught and how it is taught.
Progressive education is a blight on America. If it can’t be abolished (which it can’t be because the so-called “ed” schools have been thoroughly captured by the ideas of Progressive education), then it must be abandoned. But there is only one way to abandon Progressive education and that is to abandon the government schools. No other way is possible.
The time has come for ordinary Americans to make a choice: you must choose between the physical, psychological, intellectual and moral wellbeing of your children, or you must choose to continue supporting the government school system and all that entails. You can’t have both.
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. The online and private journal writings of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold can be found at the following website://acolumbinesite.com/sitemap.html. Note that I have retained the boys’ original spelling and grammatical errors.
. Dave Cullen, Columbine (New York: Twelve, 2009), pp. 175-176.
. Cullen, Columbine, p. 174.
. A typed transcript of Harris’s diary can be seen here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1999/apr/25/usgunviolence.usa4.
. From Eric Harris’s webpage, see http://acolumbinesite.com/reports/pissed.gif, and http://www.acolumbinesite.com/trenchcoat.html. Also see Pam Belluck and Jodi Wilgoren, “Shattered Lives – A Special Report,; Caring Parents, No Answers, In Columbine Killers’ Pasts,” The New York Times, June 29, 1999, http://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/29/us/shattered-lives-special-report-caring-parents-no-answers-columbine-killers-pasts.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm.
. William McGurn, “Balloons, Bears: Mourning in America,” The Wall Street Journal, April 30, 1999, W 13. Also see, Nicole Veash, “‘Your children who ridiculed me are dead. It was your doing,” The Guardian, April 24, 1999, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1999/apr/25/usgunviolence.usa4.
. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1999/apr/25/usgunviolence.usa4
. Cullen, Columbine, pp. 169, 276, 327.
 I have accessed many of the school shooters writings at the website SchoolShooters .info run by Dr. Peter Langham. Luke Woodham’s journal notes can be found here: chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/woodham_writings_1.0.pdf.
. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Trans. Walter Kaufmann, (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), 181.
. The Alex Hribal letter can be found at SchoolShooters .info: chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Hribal_Letter.pdf.
. Robert Butler’s final message left on Facebook can be found at School Shooters .info: chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/butler_final_message_1.0.pdf.
. Siobhan McAndrew, “Chilling details, no 1 motive in Sparks school shooting,” Reno Gazette Journal, May 14, 2014: https://www.rgj.com/story/news/2014/05/14/chilling-details-motive-sparks-middle-school-shooting/9070407/.
. Parts of Karl Pierson’s journal can be found at SchoolShooters .info: chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/pierson_journal_1.0.pdf.
. “Student Killer’s Diary of Rage, Hate Read As Sentencing Hearing Begins,” Chicago Tribune News, November 3, 1999, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1999-11-03/news/9911030269_1_kip-kinkel-journal-killing. Also see selections from Kinkel’s journal here: chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/kinkel_writings_2.2_0.pdf.
. Brian MacQuarrie and Anand Vaishnav, “Details of alleged plot revealed,” Boston Globe, November 27, 2001; and see David Kohn, “To Stop a Massacre,” CBS, April 29, 2009, http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500164_162-509196.html.
. “Police: Boy, 13, doesn’t know why he shot classmates,” CNN, December 6, 1999.
. John Caniglia, “T.J. Lane’s admission about Chardon High shooting should not be used at trial, his lawyers argue,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 6, 2012, http://impact.cleveland.com/chardon-shooting/print.html?entry=/2012/12/tj_lanes_statements_about_char.html.