Ceremonial Violence: A Psychological Explanation of School Shootings by Jonathan Fast, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Ceremonial Violence: A Psychological Explanation of School Shootings

Ceremonial Violence: A Psychological Explanation of School Shootings

by Jonathan Fast

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this penetrating examination of the nation's school shootings, Fast, a professor of social work at Yeshiva University, explores such psychological theories as identity confusion and childhood abuse. Outlining 13 incidents, Fast concentrates on five between 1979 and the 1999 Columbine shootings. Each shooting is described in unflinching detail, from 16-year-old Brenda Spencer's declaration that her hatred of Mondays led her to kill two adults and wound eight children at a San Diego elementary school, to 16-year-old Luke Woodham's brutal matricide before killing two students and wounding six more at his high school. Avoiding simplistic labels, Fast builds a psychological profile of each teen, weighing upbringing and prior history of violence. His meticulously detailed portrait of Columbine's Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold anchors the work, and Fast dissects not only the boys themselves but the culture of Columbine as a school and Littleton, Colo., as a community. Although not a book about solutions, it is not without hope. Fast recognizes the impossibility of predicting school rampage shooters, but outlines clear and realistic goals for educators, community leaders, parents and students that could help prevent these violent attacks. (Sept.)

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Library Journal

Fast, a novelist as well as a professor of social work (Yeshiva Univ.), explores the psychological roots of school violence through in-depth case studies of six young shooters, including Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Columbine High. While the author hypothesizes that all of the shooters see their acts as cleansing and elevating rituals, he shows that there is no single underlying situation-parental neglect or low IQ, for example-that invariably led these young people into difficulty. Most of these teens felt alienated from their peers, although some seem to have been goaded into action by groups of aggressive so-called friends who pushed them to commit violent acts. The case studies are compelling; fans of true crime will like the book as pure narrative, while parents and educators will appreciate the suggestions for identifying potentially violent students. This is a good companion to Katherine S. Newman and others' Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings, which explores the same situations from a sociological viewpoint. Recommended for all academic and most public libraries.
—Mary Ann Hughes

Kirkus Reviews
The antecedents and consequences of some of America's most famous-and horrifying-killings. In his nonfiction debut, Fast (Social Work/Yeshiva Univ.) explores the phenomenon known as school rampage. He offers an in-depth, two-chapter exploration of the slaughter committed at Columbine High School by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and also details some massacres now less well-remembered. We're reminded of kids like Brenda Spencer, a petite 16-year-old who in 1979 opened fire on an elementary school; Wayne Lo, the 19-year-old Taiwanese prodigy who killed a classmate and a professor and wounded several others at Simon's Rock College in 1992; and quiet Luke Woodham, who in 1997 killed his mother before heading to school with a hunting rifle. Though he provides detailed and thoroughly researched descriptions of the events leading up to these and other killings, as well as of the murders themselves, Fast also irresponsibly offers remote diagnoses of the school shooters based on media reports, in several cases turning mere speculation into psychological diagnosis. He gives grossly oversimplified explanations of psychological outcomes: for example, that an eight-year-old victim of Spencer's later became a drug addict as a direct result of the injuries she sustained during the shooting. The formula from trauma to pathology is rarely so simple, as can be seen by the fact that the school shooters often have no good explanation for their actions. Many children are bullied and teased by their peers, as most of the rampagers appear to have been, but few progress to homicide. Harboring violent fantasies, struggling with parental expectations and experiencing the heartache of being unceremoniouslydumped are likewise not exactly unusual events during adolescence. While Fast does an excellent job of revealing what these broken children had in common, he is less apt at explaining what made them different. A valiant but ultimately unsatisfying attempt to answer an urgent question.

Product Details

The Overlook Press
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Product dimensions:
6.32(w) x 10.94(h) x 1.13(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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