Friday, November 12, 1999

Our children being robbed of innocence

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The crime of the century is not O.J.'s murders or Microsoft's monopoly. It's schoolkids being robbed of their innocence. And it happened twice this week in Greater Cincinnati.

        Violence in the schools is the thief. Gunfire, explosives, bomb threats and hand-to-hand combat take away children's sense of feeling safe. Acts of violence swipe the safety net kids need so they can concentrate on getting an education. That theft, that loss, is the crime of the century. And, we all are victims.

        The robbery stems from a wave of crimes that has victimized school children everywhere. Far-ranging in their locales and severity, these incidents progress with no end in sight. The aftershocks continue to be felt from the horrible murders in April at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Controversy still surrounds the September melee that broke out when seven students started fighting in the stands during a high school football game in Decatur, Ill.

        Two potential instances of school violence occurred much closer to home this week. On Tuesday, a student was arrested after allegedly bringing a pipe bomb to Colerain High School in his backpack. A bomb threat from a former student closed Mason City Schools Tuesday and Wednesday.

        While Mason police searched the city's schools Wednesday, Kip Kinkel stood in a courtroom halfway across the country in Eugene, Ore. He was being sentenced to nearly 111 years in prison. He killed his parents in 1998, then went to his high school cafeteria and opened fire on his fellow students, wounding 25 and killing two.

        What a sorry legacy we are leaving as we go into the next century and the next millennium. Schools once were sanctuaries from the harsh realities of the outside world. Students and teachers alike could be eggheads and live in ivory towers within the confines of school zones. Kids were safe to be kids. They could goof off, gripe about homework, play sports and play in the band. Their biggest worry was blowing an exam. Not being blown up.

Rich and poor
        While violence robs school children of their innocence, America is the richest, most powerful and most blessed nation on earth.

        Communism, our greatest enemy, is a failure. Science has found cures for many diseases. Professional athletes are routinely paid more to play a season of games than it cost the U.S. to buy Alaska from the Russians. The Dow hangs out above 10,000. Pricey SUVs clog the highways. Houses get bigger and cost more. Rich and poor alike take advantage of the joys of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness plus the unlimited use of a cell phone.

        We live in a time when we can converse with strangers around the globe via computers and phones. We can buy books on the Internet. But, somehow, some parents can't find the time to talk with their kids or summon the concern to see what's in their children's book bags.

Searching for truth
        Mason's schools re-opened Thursday. Students at Mason Middle School went straight to their homerooms so teachers could inspect their book bags. Besides tons of books, teachers found Pokemon key chains and beaded strings tied to the book bags' zipper openers. Innocent things. Kids stuff.

        The teachers had to conduct the searches. They were looking for bombs, weapons. Serious things. Deadly stuff.

        No bombs were found. School resumed. But, it will be a while before things get back to normal. That trust of childhood innocence, the carefree bond between a school and its students, has been broken.

        The threat of violence is enough to have young minds start questioning their safety at school, disrupting their study habits and producing fears that the unthinkable, which has turned too many school playgrounds into fields of sorrow, could happen here.

        Robbing kids of this innocence is a crime, the crime of the century. As long as it goes on, we'll all suffer the consequences.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.