Thomas Szasz, M.D.

  Fifty years ago in America, there were children, there were 
schools and there were guns. But there were no "school shootings." 
Now there are. 

   Many things contribute to this situation. The popular culprits 
to blame are violence in the movies and on TV, video games, the 
preponderence of guns, drugs, the Internet and busy parents. 
Millions of children are exposed to these things but only a few 
shoot their schoolmates and teachers. In the final analysis, children 
shoot up schools because they decide to do so. If we really want to 
know why, we might consider the following:

* Children are dependents. Regardless of whether they are 
  treated badly or well, children are the prisoners of their 
  parents and their schools.

* Schools are prisons, to which children are sentenced by 
  compulsory education and truancy laws. School-prisons may 
  be used to serve the following purposes: teaching literacy 
  and mathematics--a goal that can be met in six years, or by 
  the time a child is 12; vocational education or preparation 
  for a higher education--goals that are not justified, and 
  in fact, are hindered by, compulsion; social control, which 
  requires and justifies compulsion and is antithetical to 
  giving teenagers a choice about school attendance.

   Using schools as institutions for social control makes them 
de facto criminal-psychiatric facilities, depriving children of 
liberty and, in some cases, labeling them with a psychiatric 
diagnosis in order to facilitate current and future social control.

   Fifty years ago, there was no drug education in schools. 
School personnel did not forcibly administer drugs to children, and 
children did not use or abuse drugs, legal or illegal. Children 
also received neither sex education nor condoms in schools--and 
there were fewer teen pregnancies.

   Fifty years ago, schoolchildren did not suffer from attention 
deficit disorder or depression, rarely killed themselves, did not 
go on shooting sprees and managed to grieve without "professional" 

   Fifty years ago, the people in charge of public schools took for 
granted that their main responsibility was to teach academics; safety 
was a given. Today, the people in charge of public schools assume 
that parents aren't competent to teach their children life lessons, 
that only "professionals" are qualified to teach children "sex 
education", "drug education", "interpersonal skills" and "conflict 

   The "educators" also believe that it is their duty to control 
what children put into their bodies and to ferret out what is in 
their minds. The main function of the public school is not education 
but social control. The result is that the schools are unsafe and 
test scores are dismal.

   Fifty years ago, most people did not sentimentalize childhood as 
an age of innocence and worry-free happiness. Adults recognized that 
adolescence is a time filled with intense sexual urges doomed to 
frustration. Today, adults deny the intensity of adolescent sexual 
needs and try to control them through sex education and condom 
distribution--measures that invade privacy and confuse the 
adolescent's sense of personal integrity.

   Fifty years ago, people believed that some children were good 
and some were bad. Now everyone knows that all children are good, 
but some are mentally healthy and others are mentally ill.

   In words and deeds, young people today tell us that they do not 
like being patronized, made to feel useless and baby-sat in 
day-care prisons called "schools." School administrators, teachers, 
child psychiatrists, child psychologists, social workers, grief 
counselors, pharmaceutical companies and the many other businesses 
that profit from the education racket are not the friends of children 
as they proclaim. The economic and existential self-interests of 
these do-gooders are inimical to real education and rational discipline.

   "Protect me from my friends; I will take care of my enemies," says 
an old proverb. American children today have nothing but friends. 
Is it any wonder they are bored, frustrated, angry, troubled and 
poorly educated and that, occasionally, some of them engage in 
desperate acts of destruction?

- - -

Thomas Szasz, M.D., is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at 
Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, and the 
author, most recently, of "Pharmacracy: Medicine and Politics 
in America" (Greenwood/Praeger).  
His email address is tszasz@aol.com.  

A website concerned with Dr. Szasz's ideas and their 
applications is at http://www.szasz.com  This article appeared 
as an op-ed piece entitled "With Friends Like These, 
Pity America's Kids" in The Los Angeles Times on March 15, 2001.