School's Been Blown to Pieces

Everyday Terror in the Suburbs South of Denver

This kid is not a scapegoater, not like the two killers. Susan Greene: "Not all jocks tormented him, the teen noted. But he said a handful of bullies held so much power that most of the school emulated them, or at least were too afraid to voice dissent."The killers were like him in one way; they were tormented, bullied—except, unlike him, they got to the point where the only important thing in their lives was to plan for the great day when, for a few hours, they could be even bigger terrorizers than the guys who'd terrorized them.

Go to any predominantly white suburban school in the last 50 years. You'll get a top-dog group, a high-status group, they're the kids involved in the activities, they're doing the proms, committees, student council, and so on, or are involved in sports. These people, depending on the year and place, are called socs (SO-shes, for socialites), debs, preppies, jocks.

And then you'll get a refusal group. They've refused the school; it's not their social life at all. They're off fighting or smoking or fooling around, and if they're concerned with school it's to disrupt it or ridicule it, or just endure it. These people are called (a great tradition of expressive derogatory poetry) rocks, greaseballs, hoods, greasers, grits, burnouts, dirtbags, stoners, jells, jelly heads, skaters.

You'll have different side groups, nerds, brains, some maybe following geeky roads to status: the drama club, the school newspaper. And you'll have loners, the unaffiliated, and the real losers. And you'll get some side refusal groups: rednecks, farmers. But everyone will be leaning one way or another, toward the preppies or toward the skaters, let's say, who seem to be the kings of the heap and the antiheap these days in the suburbs south of Denver.

Sometimes those in the weird artsy-fartsy area will assert themselves, suddenly become a refusal group that challenges everybody. These are the freaks, the punks.

The names aren't fair. They're stereotypes that don't necessarily really apply to anybody, but nonetheless people live in them, walk through them, are affected by them.

Somehow in political discourse and in journalism, these normal things, normal to every high school to some degree or another—terror, bullying, social stratification—are not known to exist. They don't belong in suburbia, though every politician and reporter must have gone to a school, must have been in such social stratification, must have been in the neighborhood of terror, whether they felt it or not, whether they noticed or not. (Great line from the Denver Post: "Teasing is not new.") Yet whenever these appear—terror and division—highlighted by some deadly event, they're such a surprise. How did these get here? Were they brought in by the music, by Marilyn Manson?

Additional reporting by Naomi Ryerson

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