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It happened again, just as I was about to sit down and write this column. I heard the news out of Dallas. Jay Douglas Goodman, who was 16, committed suicide in a classroom with a teacher and one student present. He’d held the full class hostage first, but had let them go. This was the third suicide this year at the same school!

It was another tragedy which had all who heard about it shaking their heads and lamenting the terrible loss and infinite waste. In an instant of despair, this youngster, as so many before him, destroyed the most magnificent gift he had ever received — life.

The news reports tell us Jay Douglas Goodman was a nice kid who lived a normal life and was well liked. In other words, from all appearances, he had everything to live for. But those appearances were wrong and from his point of view, he had nothing to live for and in fact, the alternative was preferable.

He made his choice and in the doing of it, left emotional devastation behind. Jay probably didn’t intend to hurt his family, friends, school or town. Very likely he felt that his leaving would be the best thing to do — that by eliminating himself, he was eliminating the “problems” he perceived he precipitated.

He was mistaken, of course. No matter how bad the situation he wanted to escape, the reality of suicide is infinitely worse. It is shocking, quick and final. For the survivors, there is no relief, only unanswered questions and prayers of anguish.

A few days earlier, there was Gregory Kochman in New Hampshire, a 17-year-old junior at Monadnock Regional Junior-Senior High School. Smart kid. Third in his class. He’d been accepted at St. Paul’s prep school for advanced work this summer and had applied to West Point. He was active in sports and had the lead in the school play. From all appearances, he had everything. But he didn’t think so and ended it all with a gunshot.

Say a special prayer for his family — Gregory’s brother, Eric, committed suicide in 1999 when he was a senior in high school. How does a family deal with the suicide deaths of two teen-age sons in two years?

The tragedies of Gregory and Eric and Jay are magnified by the fact that suicide is a choice made more and more by young people. They have scarcely begun their lives and yet choose this “solution” to the problems they perceive they face.

U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher has announced a national suicide prevention campaign citing statistics that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people.

Traditionally, suicide was a decision of an older person — one who had lived a bit and endured the rough spots of life and finally, for whatever reason, health or otherwise, decided that the finality of death was preferable to the pain of life. But teen-agers? Why? The dual tragedy is that not only are they gone but those who are left will never truly understand what went wrong.

There may be many reasons for youthful despair but there’s another force moving this suicidal trend along, and that’s the focus on death to which our children are subjected.

It wasn’t too long ago that death was a natural part of our lives. Most people died at home, surrounded by loved ones. It was the rare person who died in a hospital. Today, hospitals are the places of death and cremation is frequently chosen over burial. Children never see the reality of death; the only “death” they know is theatrical.

Movies and video games give them special-effects-dying with the glamour of Hollywood. What our kids see and hear in music is often a celebration of death by performers who dress the part and glorify death and dying. Vampires and Goth are popular complete with black nail polish and ghoulish makeup. It’s “in” — it’s fun — it’s a choice — it’s death.

Even the schools are pushing death. Columbine High School was the first to experiment with “death education,” a concept which has spread across the country. Kids can’t read but the school is teaching them about death, frequently their own by writing their own obituaries!

What perverted thinking advocates this nonsense and what slavish parents allow it to happen? Is it any wonder children get depressed? It makes me depressed just thinking about it — but even more, it fills me with rage. It’s a good thing I don’t have kids in school or I’d be raising such hell that the administration would hide if they saw me coming.

The schools can make such stupid decisions.

Greg Kochman had the lead in his school play, “Ordinary People.” Remember it? It was a movie with Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton about a crumbling family, a death and a child’s suicide attempt. It is a soul-wrenching script and Greg had to live it and, at the same time, live with the memory of his own brother’s suicide a little over a year before.

Why would anyone allow him to be subjected to such torment? How could his parents have allowed it — but they probably took the advice of the school administrators. The principal and the drama teacher said they had “no qualms” about it and the principal said he “felt it would be very therapeutic for Greg, and I think it was.”

Right, “doctor,” and now he’s dead. Some therapy.

It’s about time the educational system starts to bear the blame for what it’s doing to the minds and souls of our kids. They’re experimenting on them but are not held responsible for the outcome.

I’m sorry. That is simply is not acceptable.

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