Yesterday’s discussion of The Battle Hymn of the Republic took me to the Wikipedia page for The Burning of the School and thence to the Teacher Taunts page, which records some of the songs schoolchildren used to sing among themselves. See if you notice any consistent themes:
To the tune of “Oh My Darling Clementine”:
Build a bonfire out of schoolbooks,
Put the teacher on the top,
Put the prefects in the middle
And we’ll burn the bloody lot.
To the tune of “Deck The Halls”:
Deck the halls with gasoline
fa la la la la la la la la
Light a match and watch it gleam
fa la la la la la la la la
Watch the school burn down to ashes
Fa la la la la la la la la
Aren’t you glad you played with matches
fa la la la la la la la la
To the tune of “Round and Round” (which I’ve never heard of):
Drop a bomb and it goes down, down, down,
Till it hits the school with a happy sound.
All the teachers Will go round, round, round,
While the school is burning to the ground.
And to the tune of Battle Hymn:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school,
We have tortured all the teachers, we have broken every rule,
We’re marching down the hall to hang the principal,
Us kids are marching on!
Glory, glory, halleujah!
Teacher beat me with a ruler,
I knocked her to the floor with a loaded forty-four,
And that teacher don’t teach no more!
To the tune of “On Top Of Old Smokey”:
On top of old smokey
All covered in blood
I shot my poor teacher
with a .44 slug
I shot her for pleasure
I shot her for fear
I shot her for drinking
My Budweiser beer
I went to her funeral
I went to her grave
Some people threw flowers
But I threw grenades
I looked in her coffin
She wasn’t quite dead
So I took a machete
And cut off her head
They took me to prison
Put me in a cell
So I grabbed a bazooka
And blew them to hell
To the tune of “Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay”:
We have no school today
Our teacher passed away
We shot her yesterday
We threw her in the bay
She scared the sharks away
We have no school today
And y’know, I haven’t thought about it in years, but when I was young, my dad used to sing some of these to me. I definitely remember “Glory glory hallelujah, teacher hit me with a ruler”, though I don’t think he sung the rest of it.
But I never heard them at my own school. Nor did I hear new songs that replaced them. Maybe these kinds of songs are fading away, some aspect of children’s street culture that one or another of the changes of the modern world have choked off.
[EDIT: Several others around my age did hear them.]
I’ve previously pointed out that social psychology includes a lot of crummy theories based on streetlight psychology. We like to think that if children use toy guns, or hear about guns on TV, or are allowed to draw violent pictures or write violent stories, that’s going to turn them into school shooters. Or how if any kid uses the word “shoot” and “school” on the same day they need to be dragged to the counselor for a full psychological assessment and maybe suspended for good measure. Yet in the past, children basically did nothing except sing about the bloody ways they were going to kill their teachers all day, and where were all their school shootings?
…is what I’d like to say. But looking through Wikipedia it seems like there were in fact quite a few school shootings. Not more than there are today, probably somewhat fewer, but without doing some kind of official count and adjusting for population and firearm access it’d be hard to tell for sure.
So I’ll use this to belabor a different hobby horse of mine.
A while back, I had a good debate with nostalgebraist. I thought that because social science was difficult and not always trustworthy, we should investigate social science extra carefully. He – I hope I’m getting his position right – thought we should trust social science less and default more toward our intuition and conventional wisdom and common sense of what is obviously true.
In a sense this is good Bayesian reasoning – if the evidence isn’t very strong, stick with the prior. I only object because today’s conventional wisdom is too often yesterday’s pop social science, the social science that has reached fixation so that nobody remembers its origins in social science anymore. This is such a strong effect that it’s almost impossible to notice; you just think it’s the way the world Really Is. My example was the parts of The Nurture Assumption which argue that the belief that parenting styles affect a child’s outcomes and personality is very new, the outcome of 20th century pop social science, something that would have seemed weird and innovative to George Washington, let alone Julius Caesar.
(this relates a lot to what I call reading philosophy backwards – reading a philosopher not to learn new unexpected insights, but to see which supposedly obvious features of ‘the culture’ are actually just things some dead German guy thought up one day)
But judging from these songs, people in my dad’s generation saw nothing wrong with hordes of children singing all lunch hour about how they were going to shoot their teachers with .44s, then light the principal on fire and burn the school – except maybe that it was disrespectful, or that children should be seen and not heard.
Here were kids singing about shooting the teacher, and then there were a couple of kids actually shooting teachers, but no one saw any reason to connect these two data points. And if you tried, you would be confronted with formidable evidence against – these were popular songs, sung by popular children in happy boisterous groups, and the school shooters were usually these sad loners who were left out of all the fun “kill the teacher” songs.
If you were to tell my dad’s teachers that all these songs about shooting teachers were causing or contributing to school shootings, I think they might have said something like “Well, that’s a new and audacious social psychological theory. I hope you have proof.”
You missed “Joy to the world, the school burned down,” though that might be unique to Catholic School.
I dunno if I’m older than you, but this was all pre Columbine, after which even Pink Floyd class anti school singing was worth a trip to the principles office.
I remember a few of those (and I was born in the mid 80s). Most predominantly I recall the version of “On Top Of Old Smoky” being sang by the trio of brothers in the film, “The Three Ninjas” (or something like that).
I’ve probably heard all of them, and more.
In my experience, the kids who sang these songs were primarily bullies, horrid assholes who liked to shove around the meeker kids and sang loudly about how violent they were. Most of them might not have actually taken out their aggression on the teachers, but they did abuse their classmates.
Disclaimer: I am still angry at the teachers who thought it was a good idea to seat me next to the worst bullies in the class to “break up the group” and “keep things calmer.”
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We definitely had “On Top of the Schoolhouse.” I could remember verses one and three by heart; two and five come back to me after seeing them; not sure if we had verse four (maybe beheading was considered a bit too much). The “Deck the Halls” one kind of comes back to me as well. I was born in 1980 in Massachusetts.
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hmm. I went to grade school from 1980 to 1988, and I remember these sorts of songs existing as a sort of sick authoritarian sorting algorithm:
If you were Cool, then you could sing these songs, and when the teacher heard them they’d just chuckle and move on.
If you were Not Cool, then when you tried to emulate the Cool kids by singing these songs, someone said “TEACHER Timmy’s singing about burning down the school!”, and you got sent straight to the Principle’s office and your parents were called and it was a big mess.
I believe this is just one particular instance of a more general phenomenon that deserves further study.
89. The only offensive hymn I remember singing in school was more of a chant:
“Yarras are wankers!
Yarras are wankers!”
(Yarra being one of the four houses at the school.)
Since this was an all-boys school, I presume this chant breaks from the trend of students singing songs and nobody expecting them to do what they sing about. Although, it probably has about as much causative power as those violent songs.
Presumably by co-incidence, this post contains two ideas that are often expressed by Prof Raymond Geuss (a political philosopher, at Cambridge before he retired).
Firstly he’s a prominent defender of reading historical thought in order to reveal the arbitariness of our (presumed-to-be-historically-invariant concepts).
Secondly, similar to your “common sense is second hand social science” idea, he argues that our moral intuitions are likely to be “dead politics”: so we shouldn’t fetishise our *moral* intuitions about politics (e.g. what “justice” demands) when our current moral intuitions are likely derived from past *political* conflicts: e.g. advocates for liberalism win a political conflict and run a liberal regime… a hundred years down the line, people morally intuit that working out what liberal “justice” requires is the pre-eminent virtue of *any* political system.
If you’ve not already read it, his Philosophy and Real Politics, would be a good, short explanation of his arguments as to why all current attempts at political philosophy are hopelessly wrong.
Just the fact that our moral intuitions about politics are derived from past political conflicts doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fetishize them; our moral intuitions have to come from somewhere, after all. While this blog has been tending more towards “idealized implicit contracts signed by people after they’re born but before they have a chance to see what color their skin is” as a source of moral authority, “coming out on top in a battle of ideologies and thereby seizing the Mandate of Heaven” is an oldie and a goodie and hard to argue with.
“[that] doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fetishize them; our moral intuitions have to come from somewhere, after all.”
That’s right, but Geuss doesn’t say that we shouldn’t ever let our moral intuitions influence us while thinking about politics. Rather, he’s opposed to an “ethics first” approach to politics, which tries to philosophise an ideal, foundational moral theory (e.g. “justice” is the pre-eminent virtue of politics, and it tells us to maximin) and then just apply those principles to politics. Indeed, a few sentences on from where he says “ethics is usually dead politics” he says “there is nothing wrong with cultivating our own moral intuitions” but that “it would behove us to be on our guard against trusting them too blindly.”
But what else are you supposed to trust? When he says “it would behoove us to be on our guard”, what set of ethics is behooving us if not the set that comes from his moral intuitions?
The advantage of an “ethics first” approach to politics is that until you have ethics, you have no basis to choose between any two things. And choosing between two things is something that tends to come up a lot in politics.
Not trusting your moral intuitions blindly doesn’t require some alternative source of what-should-we-do authority.
It involves, inter alia, trying to be sensitive to the historical variability and dependence of our intuitions and concepts; focusing attention not just on whether intuitions or principles are “plausible” to us, but on their motivational consequence in the real world; focusing on real world contexts of action, rather than on beliefs or systems abstracted from particular contexts first and only then looking at the real world context; thinking about moral-political theories as partisan *acts* by political actors, rather than as pure abstractions produced by disinterested theorists and so on. It also recognises that we also values lots of other things beyond certain narrow moral-political principles, like security, power etc.
In contrast, good examples of following your moral intuitions blindly, would be writing: “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights” at the start of a political tract (Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia) and seeing what this requires us to do. Or writing A Theory of Justice and not giving serious thought to whether *your* conception of what people would agree to behind a veil of ignorance might be a pretty weird, parochial conception of what people are like, unique to your perspective as an American university professor in 1970, or whether the fact that your a priori vision of what the principles of justice tell us to do seems largely identical to the actual society you live in is a co-incidence, or whether writing “the principles of morality tell us that we should tolerate inequality to the point that succeeds in maximising the position of the poorest” actually leads to people reducing inequality to the very point where it stops helping the worst off, or whether it acts as a liberal justification for massive expansions in inequality, on the basis that inequality is necessary to help the badly off.
Anyway, I’ve done a very short, crude job of outlining some of the details of what might follow from Geuss’ perspective. He addresses these questions himself in much more detail and much better than I have.
He even has a whole section in Philosophy and Real Politics addressing the fact that politics often requires choosing between two options A and B, which you mention. But he argues that this is actually, in tension with the ‘get your ideal theory of ethics worked out in all its details first’ approach.
Your description calls to mind a quote from Keynes (most often the bolded sentence is quoted alone):
I’ve never heard of Geuss and he seems worth looking into. Thanks.
We did sing lots of similar songs in my school in Italy in the 1990s.
I heard a couple of those in the mid-90s, but from a slightly older relative rather than at my own schools. I also remember reading a few of them in Matt Groening’s Life in Hell comic strip, for some reason.
Born in 1991, we definitely had Deck the Halls With Gasoline and Joy To The World, The Teacher’s Dead (sung with unfavored teachers’ names). Also a Ding Dong The Teacher’s Dead variant, the lyrics of which I cannot remember but were quite violent. Also various songs and hand-clapping games about killing Barney.
Is there a reason to why you post as ‘ozymandias’ vs. ‘Ozy Frantz’? (I care because I ctrl-f for your comments)
When I was a kid (born 1990), I used to sing the Battle Hymn one. And my mom sang it as a kid too, but she and I disagreed on the lyrics. Hers were:
whereas I sang something very similar to the version you posted. My mom disapproved of my version because it was “too violent”, but she thought hers was fine. I think her argument was that, in the “loaded .44” version, it’s the student being violent against the teacher, while in her version, the teacher died because of cosmic justice and divine retribution or something.
My mom taught me this version of the chorus:
The ‘polite’ version of this one that I know ends with “And boy did he turn green!” But we also had the ‘loaded 44’ version.
And plenty of the other songs named here as well (On Top of Old Smokey, Deck the Halls With Gasoline, Joy to the World, the Teacher’s Dead, and probably a lot more I’m forgetting.)
(Born in 1985.)
The version I know is actually the most effective parody of the song, as it ends “Her teeth came marching out.”
I’ve heard variants of some of these but none involving violence with firearms, and few involving death. OTOH military weapons and arson seemed to be fair game, sometimes. But any talk of any sort of weapons or violence or death outside of very bloodless swashbuckling was forbidden strictly by teachers.
Anti-Barney songs seemed to be a big deal, usually to the tune of the original Barney Song and going “I hate you, You hate me, Let’s get together and kill Barney”.
There was also a song mocking Batman with the batmobile crashing and Robin laying an egg.
Oh yeah, I remember those songs!
Okay, attempt number four to get some version of this comment past whatever keeps eating it.
A search for “Batman on Jingle Bells” should bring up the blog of one Joseph Scrimshaw, where you may read the Caped Crusader’s amusing retort to this ditty.
I always heard the last line to that one as “And the Joker got away!”
Watch the Joker himself sing it.
I believe that that version is the original, and the “Joker does ballet” version is a parody (of a parody) that was subsequently made up by kids who wanted to add another layer of immature insults.
Regarding fictional characters:
Yes, the Barney and Batman songs are the only two I can remember. (The Barney song did mention firearms.) None of the rest of the songs people are bringing up are familiar to me.
Some of my friends taught kindergarten when Barney first became popular. I wonder if they might have encouraged the anti-Barney songs.
(Side note – one of those friends taught a mixed k-1 class. First graders were too cool for Barney. In her class, the kindergartners outgrew Barney months earlier than in the all-k classes.)
Kids’ attitudes towards Barney are just about the purest and most obvious example of signaling that I can think of for that age group. Somebody should study this.
Adam Cadre wrote an essay twenty years ago in which he linked Barney-hatred to conflicts of values between Gen X and the Millennials, though he says he’s “more or less disavowed” the underlying theory by Howe and Strauss since.
Although I know the “Let’s get together and kill Barney” variant, far cleverer was “I love you, you love me, that’s why we have HIV.” Clearly a product of the early nineties (and must have drifted up to me via my younger brother, since I was well beyond the Barney audience by then).
If you want another data point, when I was in elementary school in western Canada (early 2000s), my friends and I used to sing (referring either to school or to day care):
The army, the navy,
the airforce and the marines,
come and help us
blow this place to smithereens!
My little brother was in French immersion, and he and his friends had this song in French about how much they hated Charlemange for inventing compulsary education.
My dad also sang me the “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school one,” and also left out the part at the end with the shooting in it.
The prevalence of these kinds of songs makes it seem like destroying the schools ought to be a larger social cause than it is. Think of how much happiness you could bring to so many children.
That reminds me of some of the Calvin and Hobbes comics.
There are *several* Calvin Pilots A Fighter Jet comics.
There’s actually a fairly late Calvin and Hobbes Sunday strip which depicts Calvin bombing his school. Bill Watterson commented in the Calvin and Hobbes 10th anniversary book that he got a lot of angry letters for producing that comic, but that he felt that “anyone who denies that every kid occasionally fantasizes about bombing their school probably wasn’t a kid themselves”. (I don’t have the book with me at the moment, and am doing by best to paraphrase from memory.)
“Some readers thought it was inexcusable to show a kid fantasize about bombing his school off the face of the earth. Apparently some of my readers were never kids themselves.” – spam source
Yes. Thanks! (Watterson quote was interestingly different from my memory of it.)
When I was in 3rd grade in a special education school, one of my fellow 3rd graders showed me something that he said was a bomb, and together we slipped it into our teacher’s desk…
(The population of the special education school I attended consisted of people who could uncharitably be called “retards” and people who could uncharitably be called “evil”. Guess which group I, a gifted child with behavior issues, ended up affiliating with?)
>When I was in 3rd grade in a special education school, one of my fellow 3rd graders showed me something that he said was a bomb, and together we slipped it into our teacher’s desk…
Don’t just leave us hanging! What happened?
I broke down and confessed when I was asked why I was acting weird. We got in big trouble.
It’s interesting how mobile these songs were pre-Internet, despite being “underground” songs that kids weren’t supposed to sing in front of adults, and adults weren’t supposed to sing to kids.
I was born in 1987 and at school in New Zealand, and we had “Row, row, row your boat”, and “Joy to the world”, pretty much as given above, and a similar version of “On top of old smokey”, though I can’t remember ever hearing more than the first stanza of that.
The violent songs were a pretty small minority, though – most of the songs we wound up the teachers with were about sex, farts or “poos, bums and wees” as we used to put it.
It really is amazing how widespread they were/are, and remarkably consistent in terms of lyrics, too. Seems like a subject worthy of study by whoever it is that studies these sorts of things. These things were viral before the term “meme” was even invented.
From Bill Bryson’s Made in America:
The spooky levels of fidelity in transmission of nursery rhymes and children’s songs hasn’t escaped the notice of people who study these things. I heard about the idea in a class on folk ballads, which display similar losslessness.
My example was the parts of The Nurture Assumption which argue that the belief that parenting styles affect a child’s outcomes and personality is very new, the outcome of 20th century pop social science, something that would have seemed weird and innovative to George Washington, let alone Julius Caesar.
Funny you should say that. To me those were some of the worst parts of the book. I thought Harris cherry-picked a few vague quotes from social historians and presented a picture that is both profoundly ahistorical and self-contradictory. She seems to argue that until recently parents weren’t much interested in child-rearing at all, and didn’t think it could influence life outcomes and personality; and at the same time, in the same chapter, that the last 300 years have seen an abundance of paternal advice manuals, and the advice itself varied wildly according to fashions and philosophies of the times.
The former claim is ridiculous; the latter is true but doesn’t prove what she wants it to prove, viz. that parental involvement is irrelevant to outcomes.
It is true that our modern culture, in contrast to previous times, relies very heavily on an unexamined assumption that childhood experiences fix the personality for the rest of one’s life. It is true that we do helicopter parenting to a degree that would appear ludicrous to anyone until 40 years ago. And Harris does well to highlight these cultural dogmas and stress their dogmatic, unexamined nature. But then she wildly exaggerates such cultural differences and stretches them into a ridiculous claim that the importance of proper child-rearing is a recent phenomenon, and starts its development with Rousseau and the 19th century.
But people always cared about child-rearing, whenever they could do something about it (that is, when their behavior wasn’t constrained by barely surviving at subsistence level). The 18th century has as a celebrated example Lord Chesterfield’s letters, or many manuals, like the incredibly popular A comparative view… by Gregory. Roman writers debated corporal punishment and had a lot of other crucial child-rearing advice to offer. Harris is flat-out wrong.
You probably wanted your Gregory link to be this.
Thank you – fixed in time!
As a major Jane Austen fan, I thought that as well.
“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” -Proverbs 13:24
“Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.” -Proverbs 22:6
So yeah, I’d say people have valued child-rearing for quite a long while now.
North Carolina, elementary school in the early 1980s. I heard and sang all of these except the “Round and Round” one, and our teachers and parents never saw a problem with it. I also have a memory of the “Battle Hymn” one being on an episode of Prarie Home Companion, so you can add that to your pile of annecdotes that confirm that these were all seen as wholesome and harmless.
Wikipedia tells me there were a decent number of school shootings when I was in elementary school, but I don’t remember hearing about any of them. They just weren’t taken as seriously.
Moral panics are fads like any other. In the 1980s, it was D&D and Heavy Metal, and people were worried about kids killing their families and themselves, not so much their schoolmates.
For a broader compilation of traditional schoolyard songs, see the Child(ish) Ballads.
Just curious, are there people from non-english speaking countries where such songs were/are popular? I don’t think we had something comparable when I was young (born ’86), and the examples people give here are all in english and, I presume, from people growing up in the US or somewhere on the british isles.
I was born in 1955, in the Netherlands, and I can’t remember ever hearing that kind of song.
Never saw this in Brazil.
In my school (in the 90’s) our naughty songs were about sex, even and specially when we had no clue what the lyrics were about.
A person from a former communist country here. I went to primary and middle school in mid 1990s. We did have quite a few violent songs and poems :-D. Some of them were very similar in spirit to all those posted above, although I am not able to recite them from memory. In addition to that, we had a lot of hilariously funny songs and poems about killing or mocking people of other nationalities (Jews, Germans, Russians and others :-)) and other towns. We also sang funny songs about policemen, who were often stereotyped as stupid and corrupt. Obviously we tried to avoid being heard by teachers, however whenever they did hear us, they would just groan at those ridiculous poems. 🙂
I don’t think anyone took these juvenile songs seriously and I doubt they ever created any real harm 🙂
Also Eastern Bloc. I think the most fascinating related memory is from the preschool: children sang songs about killing the Nazis! In the 1980s. The content I recollect was so immature and fart joke saturated that I cannot imagine any teacher, no matter how devoted to the party line, teaching or encouraging them (and if they wanted to spread communist propaganda, they would probably have taught us songs about killing president Reagan instead of Hitler). So it must have been some wartime children folklore, transferred across generations over forty years.
Argentina. I can remember a couple of songs of this kind in high school (1990s).
Born in Peru in ’89. Came to America around ’99. Can’t remember any songs like these, in either country.
Yes. Russian one from 1990s
По камешкам, по камешкам мы школу разберем,
Учителей повесим, директора убьем,
Училеля английского мы бросим в унитаз,
Посмотрим мы как плавает британский водолаз.
Which tranlates like
We will dismantle school, one brick at a time,
Hang teachers, kill principal,
Throw English teacher to the toilet,
We will see how British diver swims.
My first thought from hearing all the violent old school songs was that maybe this is evidence that the school experience in general has become less miserable, and thus there’s less motive to come up with ultra-violent songs about burning the school and killing the teachers. I could certainly see this as being associated with the end of corporal punishment in schools. I have no real evidence for this of course – I wonder if there are any decent long-running surveys on student satisfaction with their education?
I suspect that public school bullying, from students and masters, did a lot to advance liberalism. From Percy Shelley to Lytton Strachey to Peter Cook, a lot of our more iconoclastic cultural figures had a hard time at school, and I think they looked at the establishment and saw their old tormentors. Lindsay Anderson’s if…. dramatises this rather vividly.
I think that the comments on this post provide ample evidence that these songs haven’t, in fact, declined, but are merely less common in some geographic locales. So their decline pretty clearly can’t be attributed to the loss of corporal punishment.
Well, no. They probably haven’t gone extinct, and there seems to be a lot of variation, but that’s all we can conclude from this thread.
How about we just say that there is no evidence for decline, and so there is no use in speculating on causes of the decline.
My school experience was bad because of being bored by classes and teased for years by a group of the other children, but there was no practice of corporal punishment. I did see a teacher slap a student once, but it wasn’t policy.
My alternative theory is that, while students certainly didn’t like school, it was clear that the violence in the songs was a fantasy.
Consider also Adam Sandler’s “Severe Beating of [various faculty members]” skits from 1993.
I knew and enjoyed almost all of the songs you listed. Here’s one more, which became popular at my cub scout summer camp. Our counselor actually had us do a rendition of it as part of a final presentation to the camp:
This is almost entirely unrelated, but Cocojams, the site hosting that archive of taunts, looks like a treasure and I’m sad that it seems to be off the non-cached web. Nuts-and-bolts anthropology and ethnography is really hard to find, and it’s often more useful than the dramatic stuff: if you’re writing about a particular culture, you need to know what’s for breakfast more often than you need to know what its ceremonial weapons look like.
(Kids, as we’ve found here, are a foreign culture.)
A better, more navigable archive here.
I remember about half the songs from when I was in school in the sixties. They were sung on the school bus (no lyrics about killing school bus drivers), not on school grounds.
Born in ’87, I definitely remember the “On top of old smokey” variant, but it may have faded rapidly once schools adopted a “zero tolerance” policy for jokes about violence in schools. I think that stuff hit my city when I was in 5th or 6th grade. All the kids thought it was ridiculous and one of my friends made a joke about blowing up the school just to show how dumb he thought it was.
He got suspended.
Scott, we sang songs in my convent school about hanging teachers from sour apple trees, and the sum total of school shootings in Ireland remains zero.
Also, the nearest thing we had to a school song (e.g. singing when our team was playing other schools in basketball matches – our sixth year girls were all-conquering that year!) was The Wild Colonial Boy, sample lyrics:
We got into severe trouble for the songs we sang on the bus for school tours etc. 🙂
Secondary school attendance: 1975-80. All-girl Catholic school run by the Sisters of Mercy. Male and female lay teachers as well as the nuns. Socially mixed, which is to say split between country and town, and not all the town girls were middle-class. Some of us came from homes with no running water, some of us had parents who didn’t have jobs, they had careers because they were professionals.
Sorry to say, I think it’s less about “singing violent songs/playing violent games” and more to do with “America, what is it with you lot and guns????”
(deleted post re: guns, per suggestion below)
Can we not have this discussion here? It never ends well.
Sorry, I never saw this one explode here or in LW before, so I supposed it was safe enough.
(sadly though, I’m honestly curious)
Here is a link to a previous article Scott Alexander wrote on the subject of gun control, to help ease your curiosity without causing a comment catastrophe.
Thanks, just what I was looking for. Part 1 includes the exact point I mentioned.
You misspelled Finland. You also misspelled school shooters.
I did not misspell Finland since being Irish and living in Ireland I did mean Ireland when I typed Ireland.
If we’ve had school shootings, I’d be interested to know because I can’t think of any (which of course does not mean they didn’t happen before my time or that I was unaware of them when they did happen in my lifetime).
I can tell you about a local school principal who was sentenced to a jail sentence for gun-running for the IRA, though – and when he’d served his sentence and got out, the teacher’s union made the government give him his job back?
So I don’t know if listening to pupils singing violent songs had that effect, what do you think?
He was suggesting that you could substitute Finland for the United States, not Finland for Ireland, in order to undermine your claim that there was something unique about US school violence.
The chart illustrating that ‘rampage shooting’ article seems ridiculous. If you restrict yourself to looking at a low-frequency, high-impact class of events (mass shootings), over a short period of time (four or five years), such that a single incident in a low-population country is sufficient to rocket them to the top of the chart, what do you expect to find? Right: of the hundreds of small countries in the world, a few of them had a mass shooting and are therefore at the top of the chart.
The source is offline, so I can’t check this at the moment, but surely to claim any anti-gun-control significance for those results you’d at least have to show that, of the low-population countries in the world, roughly as many (or more) are ‘permissive’ as ‘restrictive’. If most of the small countries in the world have ‘restrictive’ gun control policies by whatever standards were applied by the authors of the report (or if those standards were rigged to produce the desired result, but again, I can’t check that now), the results in that chart are exactly what one would expect regardless of the relationship between gun control and mass shootings.
Norway demonstrates that it’s not a good chart, but it’s probably right for Finland.
If we use the number of things in subcategories of this category and divide by population, 26 / 318833000 = 8.1 * 10^-8 for America, and 5 / 5439000 = 9.2 * 10^-7 for Finland — so Finland comes out with an order of magnitude more spree shootings per capita, even though the English Wikipedia would be expected to have better coverage of American spree shootings than Finnish ones. (Filtering out the spree shootings that didn’t involve a school will probably make the ratio even larger.)
The claim I responded to isn’t anything about gun control across cultures; it’s saying that America has an abnormally high rate of school shootings because of its fascination with guns. If America does not have an abnormally high rate of school shootings, its abnormally high rate of school shootings can’t be due to anything, because it does not exist.
(Also, this assumes that we treat school shootings as completely unrelated to other forms of violence. Maybe the reason Ireland hasn’t had any school shootings is that the people sufficiently violent to want to shoot up a school joined the IRA instead, or maybe no one wanted to shoot up a school because everyone knew there were people an hour away spending decades blowing each other up, or anything at all along those lines.)
Did you look at the pages in those linked categories?
If you do, one thing becomes immediately obvious: the US subcategory is much more restrictive than the others, defining “spree shooting” as multiple shooting incidents by the same perpetrators in different locations, thereby excluding almost all school shootings and many notable multiple-victim attacks.
There is no sign that the other country subcategories are similarly restricted, and spot checks suggest that the Finnish incidents would not have qualified for inclusion under the standards used for the US list.
A rough scan of other lists suggests there have been at least 90 school shootings with fatalities in the US since 1960, compared to Finland’s 3. That still gives Finland a higher per-capita rate, but that could easily be statistical noise.
You can eliminate statistical noise by combining all the non US countries.
Andrew G.’s comment seems like a very good rebuttal of your Wikipedia methodology. (The link given by peterdjones also looks pretty damning at a glance, but I’m tired and haven’t given it any real scrutiny.) So I don’t think you’ve provided any good evidence to back up your first link, and I think the first paragraph of my reply still stands: it’s completely unsurprising that a few small countries would have a higher per capita rate of spree shooting deaths than the US over a period of a few years, even if the long-term rate in the US is abnormally high.
(I’m temperamentally very anti-gun, and my prior is definitely that more (or more easily available, or more effective) guns will tend to lead to more shootings (including more school shootings), not all of which will be substitutes for non-gun violence of equal severity. So I will take some convincing, but I am genuinely open to fresh evidence. (I’m well aware that it’s a highly politicized issue and that 95% of the data presented by both sides is probably cherry-picked at best.))
That introduces the noise that you get when you compare the US with China and Swaziland.
My prior is that, since school shootings that are planned weeks to months in advance can’t be stopped by the level of regulation in Finland, and since Switzerland isn’t even in that database, the relevant factors are probably social ones — and even if it’s a combination of the two, it’s far more politically possible to address the social factors than the guns.
I don’t think there’s any data convincing enough to conclusively resolve the question either way — which itself is evidence that, if an effect exists, it’s probably not very large.
From a 2012 report on “Addressing Violence at School”:
So is there a rising incidence of violence in Irish schools? Seemingly yes. Is the kind of violent behaviour getting worse? Seemingly yes; bringing knives and scissors as weapons, breaking glass to use as a weapon.
So I would conclude that it’s not unreasonable to think that the reason Irish students don’t shoot other students/teachers is not that Irish students are more peaceful or less violent, but that there is not the same access to guns, or what seems at least to be easier access to guns, and a wider range of guns, by non-criminal people.
And what noise do China and Swaziland introduce?
I has talking about small countries where shootings are statistically rare. You seem to be talking about something else. Note that you don’t to cherry pick data according to your preferred conclusions.
Are you sure it’s zero? I tried to confirm, but I can’t find statistics on school violence outside the US at all. Presumably there’s less violence in Irish schools than in the ones in the U.S. but I find zero a little bit hard to believe.
For my part, I find it a little hard to believe that apparently the idea of school shootings is so normal in an American context that your reaction is “Oh come on, not ONE instance of Johnny bringing in his dad’s rifle or shotgun or Grampa’s WWII souvenir pistol or an Uzi he ordered at a gun show, and shooting up the place?”
Irish here; I’m in my final year of Secondary School (Highschool.) Born at the end of ’96.
I don’t recall any such songs. At all.
We had songs *mocking* authority figures and fictional characters, but it was more along the lines of “X smells bad” than “I want to brutally murder X”. I suspect, generalizing from my one data point, that this is a practice that had begun dying out in Scott’s time and has now successfully been replaced, in most places, with tamer fare.
Which is a shame, because some of those are pretty great.
EDIT: I also have a vague feeling that there’s been a couple of school shootings in Ireland. They clearly attracted very little attention, though, if they happened at all.
So far I’ve found references to one air rifle incident and one flamethrower attack in schools in Northern Ireland, but nothing at all in the Republic.
I’ve also found only two shooting incidents in mainland UK schools (one being Dunblane), so it seems quite plausible that there have been none in Ireland.
Mentioned this post to my (Irish) parents – for Science! – and they were vaguely horrified and assured me that such violent songs would never happen in Ireland, and were probably caused by America, or possibly boarding schools.
Depends on what kinds of songs; as I said, we had songs about hanging teachers and throwing them out of the window of the bus. Perhaps your parents went to more salubrious schools than I did, or maybe it’s just “Oh, we never sang about shooting anyone!” 🙂
1993. I never heard anything like these, but I came up with one independently and almost got expelled for it. I do remember the Barney ones.
Born 1992, small rural public school in New Hampshire. Can’t recall having heard any of these but it’s not unlikely that they were sung and I just didn’t notice. I did hear variants involving Barney (notably of “Joy to the World” from upthread) many many times.
“…is what I’d like to say. But looking through Wikipedia it seems like there were in fact quite a few school shooting.”
If those songs really don’t cause school shootings, then wouldn’t you expect around the same number of school shootings? You’re not suggesting they prevent them, are you?
There are still quite a few school shootings; do you never watch the news? They can hardly shut up about them.
I think you completely misread my comment.
I was saying that, if you don’t think these songs have anything to do with school shootings, then you should expect that school shootings would remain constant. I never said anything about the current rate of school shootings.
For what it’s worth, I never watch the news. I do know significantly more about school shootings than the average person because I looked into it once. Ironically, it was because I was trying to explain that school shootings aren’t something worth thinking about. What I found was that, if you increase the length of PE by five minutes (total, not per day), it will save as many life-years as completely getting rid of school shootings.
Heard pretty much of of those at NY private school preschool through first grade. Born early-mid 80s.
A couple kids got expelled from my high school ten years ago for doing a rap version of one of these sorts of songs. Maybe mark that down for evidence of both “this stuff still happens” and “this stuff isn’t tolerated anymore”.
In my prejudiced imagination, it’d have been fine if they’d rendered it as a proper melodic a capella choir piece in a school play. But rap? Please.
Ten years ago would have been soon enough after the Columbine shootings that the moral panic was still going strong. But even before Columbine, there probably would have been a big difference between high school and elementary or even junior high; when a ten-year-old talks about burning down the school, it’s mostly just evidence of disrespect, but when a fifteen-year-old talks about burning down the school, you might actually want to hide the matches.
Born 1990, suburban private school in the mid-atlantic. I wouldn’t say these were common, and most of them I don’t recognize, but I definitely heard DavidS’s ‘Joy to the World’ one.
Born in 1980, sang “Deck the Halls” and “Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay” (I never knew there were any other lyrics to that song!). Also
(To the tune of Joy to the World)
Joy to the world, the teacher’s dead
we barbecued her head!
What happened to the body?
We flushed it down the potty!
And round and round it goes,
and round and round it goes
and a round and round and round it goes.
Combined with the post about outgroups, I wonder whether Scott’s environment growing up really was unusually bubbled off, or whether he was unusually unobservant.
Heh, I was homeschooled and my friends were evangelical Christians, and I learned that song with an s/teacher/devil/ (and of course, s/her/his/).
Born early 90s, I had thought I hadn’t heard any of these and was thinking “wow, the past sure was weird” but reading your comment I realized that I had heard both of those (and also hadn’t thought that there were other lyrics to “Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay”. I wonder how quickly we forget what its actually like to be children.
Massachusetts, public school, 1983-96. Joy to the World is the only one of these songs I heard (from my younger sister, not my classmates).
The version I remember went:
Joy to the world, the school burned down
And all the teachers died
The principal is dead
We shot him in the head
The janitor is gone
We flushed him down the john
Oh joy, oh joy, the school burned down
I feel kind of bad for the janitor there. He’s not making anyone miserable.
Quite often, detention includes helping the janitor with cleanup after school. Some janitors were cool. Some were sadists.
I think maybe this is another red area v. blue area thing. I’ve never heard of this, and forced child labor is the sort of thing one would expect reds to approve of and blues not to approve of.
Yeah, that wasn’t a thing at my school when I was a student there.
We had cleanup gangs in detention, but not until high school — prior to that detention usually meant missing recess or staying after school for quiet study. And they weren’t led by a janitor, but by a bored-looking teacher. On the other hand, my elementary school janitors were often pressed into service as playground and hall monitors.
Middle school in suburban Bay Area in 1978. The administration wasn’t particularly conservative, and the population was more mixed then. Friends of mine from Boy Scouts, etc., reported the same at other schools.
The working-class kids were more likely to prefer working with the janitor while on detention – better than sitting around doing nothing. (I remember it being difficult to do homework during detention, though I’m not remembering why.)
“I thought that because social science was difficult and not always trustworthy, we should investigate social science extra carefully. He – I hope I’m getting his position right – thought we should trust social science less and default more toward our intuition and conventional wisdom and common sense of what is obviously true.
In a sense this is good Bayesian reasoning – if the evidence isn’t very strong, stick with the prior. I only object because today’s conventional wisdom is too often yesterday’s pop social science, the social science that has reached fixation so that nobody remembers its origins in social science anymore.”
The prior may be derived from yesterday’s pop social science, and that may be problematic. But consider the alternatives – I’d say they’re often even worse. The prior may also be the result of a belief your uneducated 60-year-old nanny expressed 20 years ago, where she tried to teach you why people do the things they do. Is the nanny better than the social science in expected terms? Are the life lessons your mother taught you? Is an old fiction novel from the 1800s? (I’ve seen people argue in all seriousness that Dostoyevsky is better than social science when you want to understand how people work). The prior is an amalgam of all of those things, and many others. Children are gullible, and the views they adopted when they were children often follow people around once they grow up. Why would all that stuff be more accurate than the science, even if the science is bad? I’m sympathetic to the argument that large chunks of ‘common wisdom’ is just old social science in disguise, but a related point needs to be made that if it’s not, that doesn’t make it any better – and it may well make it much worse.
Being skeptical about results from the social sciences to me seems perfectly fair e.g. when the methodology is obviously questionable and there are strong reasons to assume that before some specific problems are addressed this research is unlikely to add much new information of relevance to the issues at hand, which is unfortunately often the case. Withholding judgment often seems like a good idea. But being skeptical and withholding judgment is often not what people are doing when they’re expressing skepticism about this kind of stuff and ‘sticking to their priors’; people often to me rather seem to express an opinion that they’re actually really quite certain that specific results from the social sciences are wrong. I.e. they have strong priors. But where does this certainty come from? Isn’t the entire point of doing science that you can’t always trust your intuitions and ‘common sense’ and all that other stuff? If it’s almost impossible to get a good picture of what’s going on when using tools from the scientific toolbox, how can one possibly have much confidence in one’s own views, which seems often to be derived from a multitude of very questionable sources as well?
A personal preference of mine would be for more people skeptical of social science research to say ‘I don’t know’, and for fewer skeptical people to say ‘this is obviously wrong’. Why have an opinion at all, if you may very well have no good reason for having it?
The link at my name is incidentally to a post on my own blog where I talk about related matters (point ii).
If you notice that you don’t know where the prior comes from, ISTM you should decide how much to trust it (i.e. what new prior to adopt) before and separately from considering any new information.
People will speak of the shortcomings of the social sciences when looking for reasons not to accept some result or other, and just go on believing whatever they believed previously.
If they applied the same reasoning to the previous belief, however, they’d be forced to conclude those same shortcomings are even more strongly present, and combined other problems not present in the science they reject.
But they don’t. They don’t realize they don’t. It’s amazing.
Humans are fucked up.
Is that the case? I mean, obviously most ‘common sense’ folk wisdom lack well-designed long-term randomized study and meta-study, but that’s not what critics of the social sciences believe we have as an alternative. Critics of the social sciences don’t hold that its research produces ok results that just don’t compare to the elegance of the wisdom of the ages : they feel that social science research holds no or nearly no predictive capability at all (in extremes, pushed all the way to anti-predictive capability by publishers that only listen to “surprising” results), and thus the results it produces are overwhelmed even by the very small evidence and predictive capability provided through practical experience. Which social scientists often lack.
I mean, “folk wisdom hilariously wrong or misunderstood” is such a known path that it’s a non-story, or clickbait at best. That’s true for critics of the social sciences as much as for advocates thereof. The difference is in amount of trust in social science research.
I agree that traditionalists should strive to back up their attachment to old attitudes and institutions with data. Even when it is not readily available, however, one thing that can often be said for them is that we have a good idea of what were are getting. New ideas can bring new problems, which is why, for me, they call for added scepticism.
One danger of appeals to common sense and tradition is that people can dress whims up as ancient wisdom. I remember someone justifying their fad diet as food one’s grandmother would serve and think, “My Gran’s food is nothing like this.”
(Eeny, meeny, miny, moe has been applied to teachers – and that’s the soft version, because when nursery rhymes were not about executing one’s educators they were often based on racial slurs.)
That might be a Typical Gran Fallacy. Different Grans cooked in different styles, especially if the Grans were born in different eras.
For example, current ‘low-carb’ diets distinguish fibrous carbohydrate items such as celery from ‘starchy’ carbohydrate items such as potatoes. A Google word-frequency test for ‘starch/starchy’ might indicate how widespread that distinction was during what periods.
No, they’re just stealing a phrase from Michael Pollan, probably without even knowing what their own gran ate. But Pollan phrased it carefully as negative advice just to mean: don’t eat processed food, ie, things invented in the past 50 years that none in his grandmothers’ cohort recognized. Such negative advice is compatible with many different positive advices, and he did continue with his own.
The problem with saying “I don’t know” is that we still have to keep on living in society anyway and making decisions somehow.
It’s a bit like civil engineering and mechanical engineering for most of the 19th century. The theoretical work all sucked but people kept on building boats and bridges and basements anyway by rules of thumb and lots of prayer. (These still play a significant role.)
I heard and sang these songs (well, variants) in school as a kid, so it didn’t fade out evenly everywhere.
I heard about half of these when I was in primary school (in the late Eighties and early-to-mid Nineties, in rural California). By middle school I don’t have any direct memory of singing them, but I do remember one of my friends claiming to be the author of the “Deck the Halls” song in sixth or seventh grade.
From what I recall, they were definitely Things Not Allowed — singing one in front of a teacher would have been a bad idea — but there doesn’t have been any serious effort to stamp them out.
These are all coming back to me now. A variant I don’t see on the linked page, vintage circa 1990:
Definitely heard this.
I would have been in elementary school in suburban California in the mid to late 90s, and remember that one.
I also remember the phrase “teacher teacher what’s it to ya” sung the the tune of une of the battle hymn, (rather than”teacher hit me with a ruler”), but I don’t remember any of the other lyrics.
Over the course of my school experience, I heard about half of those. I have no information about their relative penetration over schools (and I heard them mostly in elementary school, which I spent largely at a school which catered largely to children with intractable behavioral problems). But there’s a data point, anyway.
Single from 1960.
That’s the song these girls (WWII-babies all) made up in junior high that got them discovered; Mr. Lee really was one of their teachers. At first they were guided to rewrite it into a romantic song (“Mr. Lee”), which was a hit in 1957.
Then they insisted on releasing the original, which also made the Hot 100. 🙂
At my school in the ’80s we still sang the “Deck the Halls” and “Battle Hymn” ones, and I also heard the “On Top of Old Smokey” one for agemates.
When was your father in school?
Hmmm. This is a B-side from 1984. By time I encountered it (probably 98 or so), it was definitely not mainstream; how mainstream was it in 84?
That song was big, at least as a novelty song. As I remember it, people knew Julie Brown from that song, and only later associated her with MTV (where she was “the other” Julie Brown).
That song was big, at least as a novelty song. As I remember it, people knew Julie Brown from that song, and only later thought of her as the host of a show on MTV (where she was “the other” Julie Brown).
That suggests a pretty big change between the mid eighties and the nineties then; I couldn’t imagine that song getting major radio play after, say 1995.
There were still popular songs about school violence later — Jeremy is 1992 — but they were gritty and angry, not silly. (I also just learned that Jeremy kills himself, not his classmates, which I hadn’t realized. Was shooting others in school already too taboo for radio?)
A famous case of backfiring censorship – the scene where Jeremy shoots himself was cut from the video by order of MTV, which resulted in the widespread mistaken impression.
Hm, we definitely had that sort of thing at my elementary school; for comparison, I was born in 1986. “Burning of the school” in particular we had, though with different lyrics.
Dubbing this the “I heard these when I was in school” thread:
I heard the “Oh My Darling Clementine”, “Deck the Halls”, and “Battle Hymn” ones when I went to middle school (2006-2008)
That “Deck the Halls” variant was very popular in my (suburban, private) elementary school in the late 1990s, as were songs about the violent deaths of various uncool children’s-show characters. (Barney comes to mind.) These were part of a tradition of songs that felt like they were deliberately pushing boundaries and trying to offend people.
This land is my land, it isn’t your land;
I got a shotgun, and you ain’t got one.
If you don’t get off, I’ll blow your head off;
This land is mine, and mine alone.
This met with some disapproval, but more I think out of a sense that it was rude, disrespectful, and ungrammatical than out of any fear that we would actually start shooting. (Certainly, there were never serious enough consequences that any of us thought twice about singing. The majority of the fun was in needling the adults, anyway.)
In 2000, I remember coming up with some very pointed alternative Christmas carol lyrics about Bush v. Gore, but I’m not sure anybody else at my school found them quite as amusing as I did.
I don’t remember any songs about harming teachers or any real people, but I definitely remember the songs about killing Barney.
I vaguely remember the shotgun one, and I also have vague memories of a song about running over “fat kids” in an ice cream truck.
I remember the latter song too. It was called “Ice Cream Man”, and was sung to the tune of “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath (an exception to the general pattern of the songs being based on traditional tunes).
Born in 1982, I heard the “Deck the Halls” and “On Top of Old Smokey” variants in gradeschool, plus some others that Scott didn’t mention (which I can only vaguely recall).
My kids aren’t yet old enough to have encountered these much (the oldest just started kindergarten), but I would be surprised if they had actually died out. If there really was a generational decay, it must have happened in the pretty small window between when I was in school and when Scott was in school. Much more likely is the theory that Scott’s gradeschool was an outlier.
I was homeschooled through elementary and junior high but I still heard the “on top of old smokey” and “battle hymn” and “heigh-ho” (in below comment) songs, via the boy scouts (early ’90s)
Hell, I was homeschooled for K-10, and I *still* heard those songs by the time I was 12.
As far as I could tell, teachers considered this sort of thing way less of a problem than graffiti in the bathroom. We had a whole assembly about that.