Even though I technically still live in West Virginia, I’m within spitting distance of the Mason-Dixon Line, the official line of demarcation between the North and the South. Up here, the West Virginia identity isn’t quite as strong as it is down home.

Therefore, I occasionally suffer from culture shock. In church Sunday, it was a good thing. I sat next to this sweet older lady who has become a grandma away from home and tapped my toe as a string band played old-time camp meeting and singing convention hymns. She grew up outside Lexington, Ky., so we talk farm business together.

Afterward, I shook the preacher’s hand and told her how much I enjoyed the service; I actually knew almost all the songs this time. She remarked that she knew very few of them. I haven’t quite mastered the songs in the newfangled Methodist hymnal they use.

I’ve been especially thankful this semester for a student who grew up on a ranch in New Mexico and moved east when her husband was transferred. She understands my stories and nods her head when I’m relating a farm tale to make a point.

It was in that class Friday that I got another jolt of culture shock. The state travel director had come from Charleston to hear my advertising students present their campaigns on West Virginia tourism.

Nearly all of the electrical outlets were taken by the amount of audio-visual equipment I needed on hand for their presentations. One student’s PowerPoint wouldn’t run on my laptop. We proceeded to hook her up to the PC in the classroom.

One student noticed the ethernet connection wasn’t plugged in. Ethernet is the cable plugged into the wall that allows Internet capability. Anyway, the ethernet and power cables to the PC were held together by those little plastic ties. I couldn’t get them apart to reach one cable to one wall and the other to another.

“Anybody got a pocket knife?” I asked. I got blank stares and no pocket knives. I have five male students in the class, one of whom is from Pocahontas County.

“Do any of you women have one in your purses?” I prodded. I got even stranger looks.

“OK, I’ll go get the one in my purse.” I fetched it and added, “If I had asked for a knife down home, I would have gotten everything from a knife I could skin a deer with to a pocket knife and everything in between.”

Maybe not. It hit me that knives are considered weapons and weapons are not cool. They aren’t allowed in public buildings, so I hope Shepherd cops don’t arrest me for pulling one on an ethernet cable.

When I was in school, which doesn’t feel that long ago to me, the boys carried their knives to school. Everybody had a pocket knife, and a lot of the boys had those 5- or 6-inchers in leather sheaths attached to their belts. We didn’t think anything about it then. I don’t remember a single time when a student used a knife improperly. The only time they came out was to peel an apple or whittle a stick.

Of course, smoking and chewing tobacco were allowed then.

Now, it’s rare for a month to go by when we don’t see a report of school violence, usually involving death. Common sense suggests that fewer weapons on campus would result in fewer reports of campus crime. Maybe the news media report more of it with the technology that disseminates news from the hinterlands to the world.

Maybe we have a hyper reality shaped by media coverage that bears no real resemblance to statistics.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports on its Web site that 7.3 percent of public high school students were threatened with a weapon within the previous 12 months in 1993. That number reached its highest level in 10 years in 2003 at 9.2 percent.

Yet, during the same decade, the number of high school students who reported carrying a weapon to campus in the previous 30 days declined from 12 percent to 6 percent.

That suggests the masses are being characterized by the few and that people intending to do harm will find a way regardless of policy and regardless of how many weapons are present. I’m not suggesting the panacea is to arm our children; yet, disarming them doesn’t seem to be working, either.

— Young is a

Register-Herald columnist. E-mail: ynerissa@adelphia.net.

© 2006 by Nerissa Young

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