Wisconsin Republican senate candidate Leah Vukmir, a woman who has perhaps never been a teenager, once wrote that the deadly Columbine High School shooting in 1999 happened because teens these days are too coddled by the “self-esteem movement.”
Vukmir, a registered nurse who has served in the Wisconsin state legislature since 2002, is one of three declared Republican candidates hoping to unseat Democratic senator Tammy Baldwin in November. ThinkProgress called attention to the comments, which were first reported by Milwaukee Magazine in 2016 and originally published on the website for a conservative educational reform group co-founded by Vukmir in 1993, Parents Raising Educational Standards in Schools (PRESS).
In an archived 1999 blog post titled, “The Columbine Tragedy: What Haven’t We Learned?” Vukmir opines that “our national obsession with the feelings of teenagers has played an enormous but heretofore unrecognized role in what is transpiring nationwide.”
“Unless we change our attitudes and approach to dealing with the normal developmental phase of years known as adolescence, I fear another Columbine is inevitable,” she wrote.
In the post, Vukmir advocates old-school discipline and structure and bemoans what she sees as the “emergence of a psychotherapeutic culture of cushioning self-esteem at all costs.” She declined ThinkProgress’s request for comment.
Putting aside her ignorant understanding of human psychology and teenagers, her assessment of the Columbine shooting is horribly reductive and irresponsible. In the case of Columbine, the FBI’s psychologists and psychiatrists assessed that while Dylan Klebold was suffering from psychosis and Eric Harris was a psychopath. And, as ThinkProgress points out, an FBI report analyzing school shootings in the aftermath of Columbine “identified several factors in the school environment that can contribute to a shooting, including administrators who tolerate bullying, unfairly applying discipline, an inflexible school culture, and a rigid social order.” Child psychologist Peter Langman, who wrote, “Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters,” said in 2009 that while psychosis and severe mental illness tends to play a factor, ultimately massacres like Columbine happen due to a “complex combinations of environmental, family, and individual factor.”
But to Vukmir, the solution was terrifyingly simple. “In the aftermath of Columbine, schools around the country have begun to look for ways to prevent similar outbursts of rage. Sadly, they are likely to call for more self-esteem programs,” she wrote. “Perhaps they could save money and lives by teaching kids an old-fashioned lesson: life isn’t always easy.”