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  • GRADES KILL

    Filed at 9:48 am under by Tim Haas

    A 16-year-old Eagle Scout with a sash full of merit badges. A volunteer fireman. An aspiring private pilot. A leader among his peers. And when his parents threaten to take it all away because of letters on a piece of paper, he shoots himself:

    Sixteen-year-old Shane Halligan tried to keep his report card from his parents. But they found it in his backpack on Monday, and did what parents do. They said he’d have to cut back on the volunteer firefighting he loved so much and forgo a National Guard boot camp this summer.

    So, while his parents slept, Halligan — a junior at Springfield Township High School in Montgomery County, an Eagle Scout, an experienced target-shooter — set into motion a plan to end his life, authorities said yesterday.

    […]

    “He was despondent over his grades and his parents’ taking appropriate action,” Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor said at a news conference where he described the events leading to the tragedy. “He felt that things he saw as important in his life were being taken away from him.”

    I swear I’m not trying to outdo Chris on the “insensitivity in a time of horror” scale, but those parents, unable to see the promising young man they had raised except in the context of spurious and ultimately dehumanizing quantification — unable, it seems, to separate real life from the lunacy of state education — are responsible for his death.

    17 Responses to “GRADES KILL”


    Comment by
    Stephanie
    December 13th, 2006
    at 10:04 am

    Wait a minute.

    Grades are NOT the culprit here. This kid was depressed, disturbed, and no one caught the signs. The parents’ actions, from what we can see in the article, are NOT inappropriate. There is NO way you can generalize that the kid would still be alive, had he been homeschooled and away from grades.

    You’re letting your prejudice against grades and schooling (justified prejudices, yes, but nonetheless) swoop you off the point this time.


    Comment by
    Tim Haas
    December 13th, 2006
    at 10:10 am

    I said nothing about homeschooling, and where’s the evidence he was depressed and disturbed before his parents decided to arbitrarily overhaul the direction of a — by all accounts in this piece — happy, successful life of an adult-in-all-but-the-legal-sense because of their blind adherence to the imperatives of an inhuman system?


    Comment by
    Stephanie
    December 13th, 2006
    at 10:55 am

    You don’t know that they arbitrarily did anything. You have no evidence of that. There is not enough information in the piece to know that, so you’re making an assumption. You don’t know that this wasn’t standard practice in his house all his life. You don’t know that it wasn’t discussed well in advance. You don’t know what his grades are or why they were apparently slipping, all of which could be very enlightening information.

    I am making an assumption too, that people who commit suicide don’t tend to do so unless there is something very wrong with them mentally. Well-adjusted, happy kids do not kill themselves out of the blue because Mom and Dad make a decision they don’t like. This scenario plays itself out in thousands and thousands of homes every day, and rarely does it result in suicide. Look at any research you like on depression and suicide – that boy was MOST LIKELY suffering from severe depression/mental imbalance. The real tragedy is that no one caught it. And sometimes, these depressed kids are very, very, very good at hiding their problems.

    That item on his MySpace page about the first truck he responded on – that sounds like depression to me.


    Comment by
    Stargirl
    December 13th, 2006
    at 11:09 am

    Everyone likes to read these kinds of articles and put up some kind of “this will never happen to me” barrier. Like “I don’t care about grades so at least I won’t make this mistake with my kids”. Or “I don’t have guns in my house so my kid would have a much harder time actually implementing such ideas”. Me, I always read these articles keeping in mind that gay teens have a higher suicide rate than non-gay teens, and knowing that parents of gay teens are often clueless for quite a few years after the teen has already figured it out. So I always read the teen suicide articles thinking “was this kid gay?” (Which would have been tough going for an Eagle Scout.) But even though I do it myself, I don’t think we really should play the “what if” game in these situations – or at least, we should be vary careful when we do – there’s a difference between privately doing a mental check to see if you should be learning any lessons about your own parenting from such stories (parenting being a tricky tightrope involving lots of decisions every day, and sometimes needing an adjustment to the balance or a re-working of our giuiding principles), and publicly declaring that the parents in the given situation are at fault. Most kids don’t take such drastic steps over one setback – there’s usually more to the story than we can infer from one newspaper article. These parents were at least caring enough to help their kids get involved with activities they loved, to pay attention to their education, etc. Maybe they got too caught up in the hype of “all the children must be above average”, but maybe it was much more complex than that.


    Comment by
    Tim Haas
    December 13th, 2006
    at 11:15 am

    Obviously you’re right that I have no idea what it was like in the house before, or whether he had underlying problems, but even if they told him six months ago that he would have to give things up if his grades didn’t improve and their latest action was just the natural conclusion of that — and perhaps that is the case, given that he was trying to hide the report card — it doesn’t challenge my central point; in fact, it strengthens it, and makes this more tragic.


    Comment by
    Nance Confer
    December 13th, 2006
    at 11:28 am

    Seems to me the public school personnel should have noticed something. Isn’t that the big justification for sending our kids to ps? That the pros there will spot any sort of problem that’s going on.

    Nance


    Comment by
    speedwell
    December 13th, 2006
    at 11:39 am

    it’s the highest-acheiving kids that get hit the hardest by this sort of thing, I recall. Semi-normal outsiders like me who got poor grades because we refused to participate in the homework malarkey and kiss the butts of incompetent teachers and fascist administrators were at least expecting the report card nonsense when it arrived. The high-functioning kids got kneecapped.


    Comment by
    COD
    December 13th, 2006
    at 11:57 am

    There is more going on here that we are getting from the story. He didn’t just kill himself in a fit of depression. He put into action a plan that required him to think logically about how to get the gun out of the house and into school.

    If he just wanted to kill himself he could have just pulled the trigger in the basement.

    It’ll be interesting what they find on his computer, if they look. I suspect he may have been planing something like this for a while.

    Whether or not school contributed to his problems I have no opinion on.

    //So I always read the teen suicide articles thinking “was this kid gay?” (Which would have been tough going for an Eagle Scout.)//

    Having spent the last 2 years as a parent volunteer in Boy Scouts – I think you are off on this. Boy Scouts is a huge don’t ask don’t tell environment. The running joke among parents is that wheels and women are the two biggest impediments to kids making it to Eagle. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Eagle Scouts are actually slightly more likely to be gay.


    Comment by
    Jeanne
    December 13th, 2006
    at 12:22 pm

    Not that this is relevant to the main topic, but as to “wheels and women” interfering with achieving Eagle rank, my guys (both Eagles and apparently not gay) heard it as “car fumes and per-fumes.” I think they both made it barely before they would have succumbed to these fumes.


    Comment by
    Stephanie
    December 13th, 2006
    at 1:06 pm

    That would be an amusing statistic to figure out, Chris. More amusing to me than to the BSA, I’m sure. But based on what I’ve seen so far about the Scouts, I agree that it would not be all that hard at all to be an Eagle Scout and quietly gay. I was initially very worried about being a Scout and having, er, an alternative religious affiliation, but so far it has not remotely been an issue.

    Anyway, poor kid. Whatever happened, it’s tragic. And I agree, it sounds planned.


    Comment by
    Charity
    December 13th, 2006
    at 1:50 pm

    Even if the situation was as Tim described in the post, I would not go so far as to say it was the parents’ fault. I would say it is a societal problem and just one more reason we are long overdue for a new paradigm in education.


    Comment by
    Audrey
    December 13th, 2006
    at 2:02 pm

    It wasn’t the grades, it was the unchecked depresssion which had been festering, probably, for a long time.

    Are the parents at fault, though? IMO, yes. Not because they slammed him on the grades, but because they were either so out of touch with him as a person, or so clueless as to what to look for, that they didn’t see the warning signs.

    Someone probably could have helped him, if they’d just taken their heads out of the sands and quit playing the little “my kid is perfect” bullshit.

    Probably too much personal info here, but I’m glad my Mom wasn’t so wrapped up in her own ego that she didn’t notice what was going on with her own kid.


    Comment by
    Carolyn Smith
    December 13th, 2006
    at 6:17 pm

    I think it is absolutely wrong to blame the parents here. We have no idea what was going on. The parents seemingly made a decision that thousands of concerned parents make when they perceive their children are slacking academically. In fact, it is a decision that is usually backed and supported by the educational ‘pros’.
    We also know that in today’s peer driven culture, parents are often the last to know what is going on in a teen’s life because they are the last person a teen will go to, even in healthy families.
    Suicide itself is usually a very secretive act and the kids that really mean to follow through are very careful not to tip anyone off. The fact that this boy went to school in a public place to carry out this act is indicative of some mental imbalance itself. He first shot the gun into the ceiling before killing himself. He must have known the hysteria and aggressive posturing a gun in school represents in today’s world. This is a very different kind of adolescent suicide attempt than most I would think. —Carolyn


    Comment by
    Bonnie
    December 13th, 2006
    at 9:30 pm

    Crap. The problem was there long before the report card came out. And it doesn’t matter how “promising” the young man was the parents didn’t lock him in the close when he brought home a bad grade…they reacted appropriately telling him he would have to cut back on other activities.

    But I would guess there WERE problems in the kid’s life that WERE the parents’ doing looong before this thing.


    Comment by
    lori
    December 14th, 2006
    at 1:36 am

    I think the only assumption we can make here is that something was wrong before the report card came out. Why were his grades dropping? That is indicative of a change in him or in his life. But that doesn’t mean the parents are to blame, either by causing a problem themselves or by not sensing the depth of the problem. A lot of teenagers go through phases where they become less communicative with their parents, which is considered NORMAL behavior for that age group. Parents are often told to ride it out for a couple of years until the sulky teenager outgrows it.

    I find it very disturbing that people would be so willing to judge these parents and lay blame at their feet without knowing them or the real details of their lives at all. Sometimes children have problems that even their parents can’t solve. We probably all know troubled kids who came out of loving familes — I know I do.


    Comment by
    Stephen
    December 15th, 2006
    at 12:06 pm

    The boy’s name is Sean. He brought in a sawed off AK47 rifle – that was in a locked gun chest [requiring 2 keys to open] in his parents bedroom! He apparently sawed the gun late Monday evening in his basement while his parents slept.

    The father told reporters that he had BOTH keys to the gun chest in his pocket -w/him @ all times. The father had a total of 7 guns/rifles in the house. He recently [law prohibiting sales of AK47’s was repealed in 2004 I believe] purcheased the AK 47 @ gun show

    The parents are certainly not to blame; however, what do you think would have occurred @ 9:15am that Tuesday morning IF there were no guns in his home? Maybe a cooler head would have prevailed in sean later that day…maybe not.

    The speculation of homosexuality may/may not be an issue. But if it was, I suspect that anyone [especially a young, sweet, impressionable teenage boy as Sean was] would really be afraid to discuss it with a parent who is a hard core gun enthusiast. His mother had serious illness….

    Sad,sad,sad – no one’s to blame – but why keep an AK 47 in your home…


    Comment by
    Nance Confer
    December 15th, 2006
    at 1:08 pm

    Nah, I think we can go ahead and say SOMEONE is to blame.

    I’ll start with the gun-toting parents and include the clueless school personnel.

    Nance