A further insight into Cho's background comes from high school classmates in suburban Washington who say he was bullied and laughed at over his Korean accent and shyness. When called on in class, they say, he would hang his head in silence.
Leave it to a cabbie to single out an important facet of the Virginia Tech tragedy and other school shootings that has been largely overlooked.
During my cab on the way to my partner's 46th birthday party last night, Friday, April 20th, the driver turned to me and asked, "Why do you think that boy killed all those people?"
A bit surprised to be engaged on the topic, I replied, "Well, for starters, I think the fact that he could just walk into a store in Virginia and walk out with a gun has something to do with it."
"NO!" the cabbie thundered back, making me jump a bit. "It is because of all the others. The ones filled with hate. The ones who mocked him and filled him with hate. They are the murderers."
The cabbie had zeroed in on something about the school shootings tragedy that has been rarely mentioned in the wall-to-wall coverage that has dominated the airwaves this week: the fact that nearly every one of these tragedies has been perpetrated by boys who have been bullied and harassed.
From Columbine (which happened on April 20, 1999) until Virginia Tech (which happened almost exactly 8 years later, on April 17, 2007), virtually every school shooting has been carried out by alienated, abused boys filled with rage and anger at a world which they see as having rejected them. Yet 40 states still lack comprehensive anti-bullying laws and little has been done to address bullying, which the Harris polling organization found in the 2005 report From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America has been experienced by 65% of all high school students. As an old coach of mine once said, "You keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you've been getting."
Obviously young men like Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, and Cho Seung-Hui who perpetrate tragedies like Columbine and Virginia Tech are deeply troubled individuals. Most students who get bullied don't go berserk and gun down their classmates. Usually they simply drift away from school, eventually dropping out, or turn their anger and rage inward, where it manifests as depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal behaviors. By hurting only themselves, they allow us to ignore the problem - at least until the next spasm of murderous rage like the one we saw at Virginia Tech this week.
In the wake of the so-called "No Child Left Behind" law passed in 2001, the focus in schools has shifted almost entirely to standardized test outcomes, leaving little time to address issues like bullying and harassment. We continue to ignore this crisis at our own peril. Sooner or later another alienated young boy will act out his rage and our screens will be filled once again with horrific images and the lives of countless families and loved ones will be irrevocably altered by tragedy. As Cho Seung-Hui wrote, "You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul and torched my conscience. You thought it was one pathetic boy's life you were extinguishing." Sadly, the acts of the bullies who drove Cho over the edge led to the extinguishing of more than 30 lives. Yet no one in the education world has stepped forward and said it is time for meaningful national action to end bullying in our schools. When will we learn?
The clock is ticking on a time bomb of a boy who is just waiting to explode on another campus somewhere right now. If we don't do something meaningful about bullying soon, that boy is going to go off and we'll keep getting what we've been getting. Please: don't make me say "I told you so." Insist that Congress pass an anti-bullying law now.