There was bad and good news from the Hellmouth last week. The national hunt for oddballs did, in fact, become a hysteria. Many journalists, parents, educators and politicians chose to blame the Net and computer games rather than face the much more complex and unwelcome messages coming from Littleton.
Things turned increasingly ugly, for geeks and oddballs, as teachers, administrators, reporters and peers sometimes made them feel like potential murderers.
Kids by the hundreds were sent home, ordered into counseling, sent to special classes, lectured, suspended, expelled and ostracized for thinking differently and being different. Many of these messages are harrowing.
" My school has locked down," e-mailed Josh late last night from Colorado. "The four days that I wasn't too depressed to go to school I was patted down by the police and was taunted by the "jocks" and faculty! The morale of my friends and I were so low that you couldn't get a worm to crawl under it. The counselor called me to her office. She asked me If I had ever played Doom or Grand Theft Auto, and I told her that I had. Then I was sent home. Crazy man, this just shouldn't be happening to a normal nerd like me."
It was happening to lots of normal nerds.
But there was good news from the Hellmouth, too.
The Web suddenly became a place, not just for software and start-ups, but for testimony. Educators and pundits kept telling us that schools are fine, that the real problem was violence online, on TV and film, in games. But geeks used the Internet for the first time to speak over the heads of institutions in a powerful, unfiltered way. Their stories were irrefutable.
On the usually diverse and quarrelsome Internet, there was something approaching unity and a sometimes enthralling sense of community.
One reporter asked me if I had any messages for parents. I didn't, but the thousands of kids and former kids e-mailing me did: instead of blocking computer games or the Net, support your kids and their culture, and work to make your local school more humane, creative and responsive to the many students who chose individualism.
Oddballs, nerds, Goths, geeks and other so-called misfits seemed to ground one another after Littleton. They told and traded stories and seemed to take some comfort in the realization that they were a new kind of nation.
And while most mainstream media continued to bombard the country with disturbing images of grief juxtaposed with wildly irresponsible finger-pointing, and to disseminate the most thoughtless and inaccurate stereotypes about computing, gaming, the Net and the Web, and Goths, a growing number of journalists showed that it's also simple-minded to stereotype all reporters as hostile and clueless.
My apologies to those reporters -- especially some working for National Public Radio, the San Jose Mercury, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, Charlotte Observer, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle - who looked beyond the hysteria. They worked hard and rooted out and exposed some of the worst excesses of "geek profiling" going on all over the country.
Defying conventional wisdom and sometimes risking their editors? wrath, these reporters - many of whom were young and are online -- gave voice to geek kids under siege. In dribs and drabs, the other side of the story began to trickle out, filtering not only through the press but through the stunning, rapidly evolving connective power of the Web itself. Your stories made their way into homes, schools and media offices all over the country.
So congratulations to those of you who had the courage and good will to post messages to me and the site, and to begin writing a new history for geeks and nerds and for the Net.
Some of these stories from Slashdot.org ultimately were broadcast via MSNBC.com, ABCnews.com and Cnn.com and NPR and are being quoted in influential newspapers; they continue to circulate. Sunday, the San Jose Mercury reprinted "Voices From the Hellmouth" on the front page of its opinion section. You were heard. You did some good.
I heard from dozens of teachers and school administrators whose students asked them to read your (and my) Slashdot writings. Some parents were surprised as well.
"What a stunning experience," e-mailed Kathy, "to read these very painful messages on Slashdot - my son gave me your columns to read -- and to suddenly really that one of them was from him. May he forgive me... I knew how unhappy he was, but on some level, I guess I just didn't want to face it. I bought the notion that it's just part of life in high school. What a strange new world that I should get this awareness from a website. Monday, I have an appointment with his principal. It's time for somebody aside from Jason to feel the heat."
"These kids are heroes for speaking out," wrote Mr. H, a school principal in San Diego, California. "For what it's worth, I passed these columns and the responses out at a faculty meeting. The teachers were shocked, but they also - unanimously - agreed they were reading some painful truths and were determined to respond. We all went home and got on our own or our kids? computers to read these stories from the Hellmouth ourselves. Speaking as one school administrator, I want to say lots of us got into this business to help, not hurt kids. I hope you can make that point.
"We have work to do.
"But some of us hear you, loud and clear. Kids, if you have suggestions, make them. The good administrators and teachers will hear them, even if they don't seem to. The bad ones'well, you'll be no worse off."
By this weekend, my personal e-mail had probably topped 6,000 e-mail messages chronicling a tide of misery, alienation and exclusion in the country's schools. Slashdot received several thousand more messages, many of which were posted on different threads, but the site had to cut off some posts each day due to the volume.
Meanwhile, scores of sites popped up where geek students and survivors could tell their own stories. The tales could go on forever, here and elsewhere, but they've made their point.
While horror stories continue to pour in, a number of these messages were positive, helpful and forward looking, evoking a world beyond the Hellmouth:
From "Youth Cry", from Lord Kinbote:
?I have decided to start a Campaign towards fighting for the youth to be heard in the world as individuals:
Every day I go to school wishing for it to be different. Wanting a place for hope, a place to learn, a place without hate, and a place where being different isn't so wrong. But instead I find myself trapped in a prison of conformity. They tell me how I should be just like everybody else, how I should play their sports, how I should join their clubs, and how I should give up everything I have to be like them.
?it's time to let our ideas run free in the world and not be scared of the ridicule of being different. I ask you to stand up and shout your cry now, the cry you've held in all your life, but never let out because you were too afraid. Wear this ribbon on your sites around the world to help put out the blaze...
(The banner may be obtained from http://innerspace.hypermart.net/youthcry.html for use on pages.)
The Church of Geeks, from Mark:
Surely if [you] founded the ?Church of Geekdom, geeks in schools will be protected by the existing laws? Hardly practical but maybe another stick to beat the administration with, and a way to underline the fact that it's a (peaceful) way of life.
Call To Arms, from Bojay:
With all the commentary and what-not surrounding the whole debate, I think the time might be right to issue some kind of call to arms for geeks. Most of us are pretty, well, non-political about issues. I think if we're going to be running this country's infrastructure, and building communications world-wide, we ought to have a say. Which brings me to my second point - why can't we form a special-interest group? Over 1500 people have commented (some fiercely) about this. 99% of them think school was hell. Why not form a SIG to address "geek rights"? If you have any pointers, or some people you know who think like-minded, let me know. I'd like to start working on something that /will/ make a difference, not just a stir.
I'm Going To Speak Up, from JD:
There's a school board meeting next Wednesday, and you can bet that I'm going to be there, speaking on this very subject'I wish they had the Web when I was a little younger. A community is a good thing.
From Turned In:
I can understand where a lot of people are coming from on this. I am a 'freak' and 'goth'. I don't even know how I got the Goth label since I never wear black (I usually wear colorful outfits), don't like Marylyn Manson, and am an overall happy person. People seem to think I'm weird because I listen to Bjork and like Linux. Also, people (wrestlers, so I don't give them much credit) think I'm going to blow up the school. Why, you might ask? Well, because I am taking French, I dyed my hair, and (here's the clincher) I have a unibrow! So now unibrow = unabomber. Everyone watch out for that extra hair, it could be the difference between normal and serial killer?
Again, thanks for giving 'freaks' a place to be heard.
Fight Back With Jedi Mind-Tricks, from Geek Girl:
I am one of the misfits- a Girl Geek, if there was such a person. I got abused horribly by the jocks like the guys did, but it was worse in some ways as a woman because of the sexual element. ... I never considered doing violence to my tormentors- although my desire to defeat them led me in a roundabout way to the study of the occult- where I learned instead to rule myself. (Yes, there is a good side to the occult, if you can get past all the BS.)
Now, I understand how Jedi Mind Tricks really work, and when I have to have a run-in with a jock sort (they live in a time warp, growing potbellies and kids, but never truly maturing) I remember how weak-minded they are, and whop them with a bit of good old verbal and mental Aikido.
I AM ALONE, by Robert Sterling:
I am alone
beholden to no one
I need no one
I do not care
if I or anyone else
Nor do I care what
what they want or
how they feel
I am alone
And now I can laugh
and that is good
for I was not
to do so
Copyright 1999 Robert Sterling
Queen of Peace seeks Doom Club Competitors:
Queen of Peace HS in North Arlington, NJ, already has a DOOM club - they can't find anyone else out there to compete against. Are there any others? (do they dare announce at this time?), the contact name is QphsCrocco@aol.com ( Ms. Crocco at Queen of Peace )
Don't Go Back, by Janus:
I'm a freshman at a California high school, and a geek, and a Goth, and I don't have to tell anybody reading this what a Hell-week this has been for me - to the principal's office three times, and my parents have grounded me for the rest of my sad life, taken Doom, confiscated my Marilyn Manson CD's?oh well, no point in complaining. I will never quit or be beaten. I narrowly escaped counseling by bringing in a note from my minister.
I just want to say to all of you that for all of that, this has been one of the worst weeks of my life, but also one of the best weeks of my life, because for the first time in my four-year career as a creative and hard-working geek, I felt I had some help out there, that there were people I could go to. And there were actually stories and columns about me and people like me. I thought for sure nobody cared. So that was awesome!
Geeks will always fight, because it's their nature, but please don't go right back to all the flaming and arguing only... For me, and for all of the young geeks out there, how about it? This could really make a big difference in my life, and while I'm writing this, five wretched geek friends are standing right behind me while I type this in... Okay?
I Want to Listen, From a Teacher:
I am a teacher of high school; seniors in San Jose at Santa Teresa High School. Many students seek my time as a listener who makes no judgements. My age  may be a factor. Perhaps they look on me as a surrogate grandfather. When they seem to feel the need of someone to talk to in confidence, they ask, I listen.
I am worse than novice on The Net. I guess its a hangover from big telephone bills. However, if you think I can be of listening assistance for the loners, I will volunteer through you.
I want to be a listener for these kids. Please let me know if I can assist. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Quiet Revolution, from JD in Chicago:
I feel strangely optimistic about this week, as a veteran misfit with many ribbons and scars. If I hadn't learned how to stand firm while avoiding confrontation, they might have driven me crazy too. We are making a quiet revolution, the geeks. You can call it open source or open music or open whatever'it's unstoppable. All we have to do is not quit, and eventually, time will come around to us. Or maybe, a better way of putting it, is our time is coming. Then all of the things we've suffered won't be in vain.
Was it my imagination, or is the new story that things are looking up in the Hellmouth even, as Janus suggests, when they seem to have been worse than ever?