Huckabee 'angry' at a culture pushing teens toward killing

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)--Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former pastor and president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, called on the state's citizens "to be quick with their prayers and with their support and sympathy" after the March 24 school shooting spree in Jonesboro, "but very slow with overreactions that would cause people to lose faith in public education, to lose faith in young people."

"It's ultimately a cultural and a broader issue than it is a school issue," Huckabee said in a statement after the incident in which four students and a teacher were killed and nine classmates and a teacher were wounded in sniper fire by 13- and 11- year old cousins outside a middle school during a false fire alarm.

"It makes me angry not so much at individual children who have done it," Huckabee said, "as much as it does angry at a world in which such a thing can happen, and angry that we don't do a better job of raising kids, and angry that we don't do a better job of even expressing the proper kind of rage at the culture that helps breed this, whether it's in the television programs they watch, the movies they see, the language they use, the things they're exposed to, and the glorification of those things."

Huckabee urged doing "everything possible ... to try to instill in our children a value system that would make it absolutely unthinkable that they would ever do this to their fellow students."

Describing his anger in an interview with CNN, Reuters news service reported that Huckabee decried a culture "where an 11- or 13-year-old student could feel that the way to respond to whatever kind of anger is inside them is to take up a whole battery of arms and indiscriminately shoot their fellow students and teachers."

"But I'm not sure we could expect a whole lot else in a culture where these children are exposed to tens of thousands of murders on television and movies and (where) we desensitized life," Huckabee said. "It should shock us and maybe wake us up to recognize that this isn't an individual problem of students or one school or even a state; it's a cultural disease that we've got to address."

Although the attack marked the third multiple killing in a school by a youth under age 16 during the past six months, a study by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics released in mid-March indicated school violence has not grown significantly over the last two decades when compared with previous studies, The New York Times reported March 25.

Even so, the study found that one in 10 of the nation's 87,000 public schools weathered a violent crime like rape, robbery or fights with a weapon during the 1996-97 school year. More than half the schools, meanwhile, reported some kind of crime, such as fights without a weapon - the most common incident-followed by theft and vandalism.

The study, involving 1,234 principals, found that among high schools 21 percent experienced serious crime incidents; middle schools, 19 percent; and elementary schools, 4 percent. School crime was more common in larger schools and city schools than smaller or rural schools, The Times reported.

In earlier reports of violent school deaths, the National School Safety Center reported 25 in the 1996 calendar year and 26 last year, counting homicides, suicides and accidents reported in the media, while a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 85 homicides in the two years from 1992 to 1994.

Only 2 percent of the nation's schools have hired guards or started metal checks, the recent Department of Education study reported.

In addition to the Jonesboro incident, the other two multiple killings in school settings the past six months involved a Dec. 1 shooting spree on a morning prayer group in West Paducah, Ky., by a 14-year-old, killing three classmates and wounding five others, and an Oct. 1 incident in Pearl, Miss., in which a 16-year-old stabbed his mother to death and then drove to school where he gunned down two girls and wounded seven others. Six other teens there have been arrested as alleged accomplices in what investigators have described as a satanic cult.

After the Paducah shootings, a national leader of Christian clubs in public schools urged Christian students to keep meeting with their peers, to keep on praying and witnessing.

"Our public schools are the greatest mission field in America," said Benny Proffitt, head of First Priority of America, which has nurtured a network of Christian clubs on 3,000 of the nation's 40,000 middle and high school campuses in 160 U.S. cities and communities since the organization's founding in 1984.

"We cannot run away, but we must run to (the schools)," Proffitt said. "Christians have always done their best in difficult situations."

Teens in public schools "experience an anti-Christian American culture that many of their parents don't understand," Proffitt acknowledged, yet "many of America's teenagers are bold about living and sharing their faith in Christ more than ever. They have to be!"

Among Southern Baptists, a campaign, "Positive Impact: Teen Violence Intervention," was launched in December 1996 and is ongoing as an effort to circumvent teen violence. A key goal of the campaign, developed by the Sunday School Board, "is to lead churches to acknowledge that violence is out there and to show that something positive can be done about it," said David Bennett, SSB youth specialist.

Bennett said the campaign provides resources "to bring comfort and provide handles for proactively addressing teen violence issues."

Information about "Positive Impact: Teen Violence Intervention" resources may be obtained by contacting Bennett at (615) 251-2853.

"The message relating to violence is so complex," Bennett said. "It's not just, 'Don't hit each other.' There is so much more to it. ... As with any social issue or moral crisis, the birth of positive change starts in the heart. Positive Impact is calling youth to become peacemakers, first, through their church youth groups, then to their homes, schools and communities."

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