Tony Galloway's outburst was a defining moment in the thirteen years I spent at that college prep day school in the comfortable shaded suburbs of Philadelphia. There were other similar eruptions -- crying fits, corridor fights, swearing and throwing tantrums, but this threat of suicide in a blind rage was the topper. And yet, it made complete sense. During the several minutes Bergstrom was out of the room collaring our classmate, we children decided that while Tony's reaction was overcooked, it was justified. We all knew what he meant and we all felt some of his outrage at our situation and treatment. We agreed that Bergstrom should have been more sensitive to the boy's limits, and should never have pushed them.
No one else in that class would have threatened to kill himself over one more incomplete homework assignment or reprimand or insulting comment by a teacher. Tony was, we agreed, strung a little tighter than the rest of us. He was odd, eccentric, focused on things we couldn't know about. He was not self-absorbed, but preoccupied and content with another set of ideas that he could not share easily with us.
Galloway had been chased into the office for a tense conference and the inevitable phone call and silent ride home. We never saw him again, but heard that he might have been sent to a military school for further torture.
We were all repressed children. Our school was not enlightened about children or learning beyond the neanderthal techniques of government schools. After all, they get their rationales from the same sources. We were trained to obey, to believe in an established order, not to question authority, not to think for ourselves, not to make our own decisions. In fact, our school did all the things to us boys that its literature would say it did not do, that it would never do or even intend. Its founders and leaders were blind to the contrast between what the school said and what it did. This, despite its motto: ESSE QUAM VIDERE - Be rather than seem to be.
Moral: Most, if not all, of what fifth grade children do in school and what teachers do in order to coerce them to do it, is a boring waste of everyone's time, if not intentional cruelty.
Back to the future:
Nothing has changed. School is as hellish now as then. All the children feel its torture in varying degrees, but only a few boil over in rage. Today, the reactions are more forceful. Kids have weapons.