Two traitors

Posted: Dec 18, 2001 12:00 AM
Tamiscal High School is a public school in wealthy Larkspur, Calif., and 20-year-old John Walker is its most famous alumnus. He graduated early (precocious boy!) from an independent studies program. While at Tamiscal he read "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," which launched him on a journey first to Islam and eventually to Mazar-e-Sharif, where he fought with the Taliban and participated in the prison uprising that killed one American, not to mention a whole lot of Afghans.

Sheer coincidence, one would have charitably thought -- how can you blame educators for one boy's dark journey to manhood via treason? But according to The Associated Press, the principal of Tamiscal High feels different: "Principal Marcie Miller said the highly competitive school remains proud of Walker as well as its other students, who tend to be self-directed."

There is a whole school of pedagogy gone mad in that sentence: It doesn't matter what the little kiddies learn, only that they learn how to learn. Remove the teacher from a position of authority and hand responsibility for learning to the student. Walker learned that he needed a code by which to live, and apparently finding none at Tamiscal High, put himself under the direction of the dark side of the Koran. He may pay with his life for the lives he helped take. But see, he does Marcie Miller proud!

Oh, if only Mohammed Atta had been a student of Tamiscal instead of Hamburg University, how very, very proud Ms. Miller could be! Imagine the report card Tamiscal would be proud to issue on such a fine, self-directed, lifelong learner:

"Mohammed Atta is an independent learner who shows great persistence in pursuing his own educational goals: flying aircraft, scouting security protocols, investigating alternate terror-delivery devices (such as crop-dusters), developing new, flexible theological perspectives to overcome rigid inherited moral prohibitions on slaughtering 'innocents.' Works and plays well with other terrorists."

Can you imagine how proud Marcie Miller would be if Kathleen Soliah were a Tamiscal grad? Kathleen Soliah is, of course, the erstwhile home-grown terrorist who, after many years as a Minnesota housewife and mother (under the assumed name Sara Jane Olson), was finally arrested and pleaded guilty to helping bomb two police cars in 1975.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Soliah displayed considerable lifelong learning skills, too, describing how she provided money, created false identifications, rented a safehouse and recruited her brother, her sister and a former boyfriend for the Symbionese Liberation Army. Like Atta, she too developed creative rationales to overcome rigid inherited moral codes (such as, you don't murder people).

When the group slaughtered the first black superintendent of Oakland, Calif., Soliah says she raised objections. Such as, wouldn't it alienate minorities? But cold-blooded murder wasn't enough to shake Soliah's deep compassion for her friends, who she feared (with some justification) would not be treated kindly by the police. Like Walker, Soliah's escape from the moral code ended not in freedom but in slavish conformity to groupthink. "It was just in the air," she complained. "It was impossible not to be involved."

Even today she has refused to cooperate with prosecutors in pursuing other terrorists involved in the 1975 Sacramento bank robbery, in which an innocent bystander, a mother of four, was killed. Soliah has three kids of her own, but her sympathies remain with the killer. "I know they have lives like me, and I don't want to destroy other people's lives the way my life is being destroyed."

She cannot understand why prosecutors expect her to take responsibility for her crimes, committed so long ago. "When there are so many other important things happening in our country, this seems, I don't know, just not necessary."

Au contraire, Kathleen. Justice for terrorists and traitors like you and Walker has never seemed more important.