Back in what my daughter would call the olden days, local news was whatever went on in the hut next door. National news happened down the block. World news transpired in that village across the river. The flow of knowledge may have been primitive, but people paid attention because newsmakers were their neighbors. And forget any hand-wringing over how to prevent this or that from happening again; if they didn't like what they heard, someone just went over there and told them to knock it off. Information really was power.

Johnny Gutenberg and his Internet descendants changed all that. When news started coming in from far away, newsmakers became strangers. And without a familiar frame of reference or the means for taking action, being a news junkie turned into a spectator sport.

Which is why McLuhan's global village is really an illusion. Today's 24/7 media overkill may make us feel informed, but we rarely understand the whole picture ? and couldn't change it even if we did. We're as powerless as the frustrated fan sitting in front of his TV set, hoping whoever runs the Cubs will finally put together a bullpen.

At least, that's what we think. And because angry 21st Century villagers can't unravel American foreign policy or global energy shortages or economics, we've forgotten that there are still a few occasions where ? as individuals ? we still have the power to go over to that hut next door and tell them to knock it off.

Which brings us to the latest school shooting ? merely the most recent and sure to be followed by many others ? and why it's one of those rare occasions.

If we really can do something, why haven't we done it already? Because we've become a society of impotent observers, where every new outrage is just an opportunity to trot out the same old experts, trade clever opinions on talk shows, and wait for something else to catch our attention.

Well, we can skip the talking heads on this one. It's not that complicated. Some troubled kid got picked on until he couldn't stand it anymore, so he found a gun and started shooting. There are plenty of troubled kids around (which includes most teenagers at one time or another), unsupervised bullies in every school to push them over the edge, and enough guns in circulation so that the odds will catch up to all of us sooner or later.

Cut to the chase. We need metal detectors in schools. Right now. Today. No one likes the idea, but we just don't have any alternatives. Until the law-abiding gun owners of America ? and most of them are ? finally help the rest of us keep stray weapons away from potential killers, that's the only immediate option. And metal detectors are expensive, so we better take a little break from arguing about vouchers and test scores and praying before football games, and figure how to pay for them. If the kids have to double up on computers or skip a field trip, that has to happen.

Then the only parenting experts who really count ? that would be you and me ? need to sit down with our kids and ask: Is there someone you know who's being picked on at school? Someone who's overweight, or has a bad complexion, or can't afford cool clothes, or has some God-given physical difference that makes the other kids think it's okay to be mean to him? To torture him day after day?

And while we're at it, is there someone at your school who's just shy, or unpopular with the cliques, someone who recently moved here from another place or ? for whatever reason ? just needs a friend?

Kids know about power. And this is our chance to explain that they have the power to affect someone else's life, for better or for worse. What Eldridge Cleaver called being part of the solution instead of being part of the problem. Most parents have already done what we were told: We've talked to our kids about drugs, about sex, about gangs, about why they need to prepare for successful, American adulthood.

Now, we need to talk to them about being human beings. I plan to do it today. Copyright 2001 Newrite, Inc. All rights reserved. GLW's on WGN Radio AM 720 and Coming soon: Now, we need to talk to them about being human beings. I plan to do it today.

Copyright 2001 Newrite, Inc. All rights reserved. GLW's on WGN Radio AM 720 and Coming soon:

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