Some years ago, the great New York architect Philip Johnson as well as other modernist building designers such as Edward Larrabee Barnes and I. M. Pei set out to create a glass theme for the American cityscapes.  Anyone who walks up the glass-enclosed Park Avenue in the Manhattan borough of New York City can see what finally happened to the rendering fantasies of this school of glass-inundated architecture with the name of “Modernism.”  

As in so many fashions that begin in New York City, the modernist homage to glass gradually spreading itself to buildings throughout America – especially buildings representing culture and fashion and education.  When I interviewed Philip Johnson in New York for Women’s Wear Daily in 1985 in an attempt to create a story of record on this long-time builder, the most memorable thing he said was that the greatest influence on his architecture was philosophy – philosophy that strove to make our cities more spiritual.

In addition to corporate buildings that carried the Modernist emblem, glass Modernism also became extremely popular with museums, universities and with some restraint even with the building of many new high schools.

These high schools may not have the wall-to-wall glass that marked some of the new Modernist museums, but they do have more than normal glass on their walls and in their doors.

But in the wake of the heavy-ammo assault on Columbine High School, all the glass on the doors on the walls of Modernist-built is not today looked at as it used to be.

Heavy-ammo like that used at Columbine and subsequent copy-cat assaults at universities and public schools has bullets breaking up even the most heavily locked glass doors as if they were made up of Graham Cracker.

It turns out that I have had an experience of a school shutdown in the face of an actual danger near the campus – as opposed to another rehearsal of this.  In this case, the school was one of those immensely glass-walled schools built before Columbine.

The students of this school in California’s Riverside County have in recent years been long practiced in a routine.  The doors of the classroom – usually no more than two outside doors, with a possibility of an inside door – are first locked.  The lights are turned out.  The students are gathered in the far side of the classroom away from the windows and doors.

However, this particular school had been pre-Columbine built, with glass stretching from the top to bottom of the outside door.  In the kind of typical assault that had been raised against various schools since the Columbine massacre, it would take just a round of a typical assault rifle to crack the door open and walk right into the classroom.

My students were savvy enough to know this, and they suggested we would have more security in an inside room of the building where the faculty ate their lunches, understanding that this inside room had sometimes been locked from inside.  Since I did not use the building regularly, I had to ask permission from a teacher in an adjoining room who did.  The answer was no.

This reaction actually did not surprise me.  In today’s schools, everyone seems to be primarily motivated by fear of doing something different – even if the different thing may be safer for the students – and possibly getting into trouble for doing something “on their own.”

Fortunately, the danger passed and everyone on campus stayed safe and sound.

But I believe we have to acknowledge that there are people who live among us who are still thinking of committing an assault that would maximize the way they could break the heart of America.  These may be mentally ill people, or jihadists who talk and think constantly about the best way to break America’s heart.  Most commonly, these heart-breaking assaults have been directed against America’s young students.

In such glass-enclosed Modernist schools that I have just described, it would surely not cost a school district that much money to replace doors of glass that render any locks useless.


Chris Sharp- Commentary

Chris Sharp is an Educator and a prize-winning professional writer. He has recently published a new book titled How to Like a Human Being . His commentaries represent his own opinions and not necessarily the views of any organization he may be affiliated with or those of The SCV Beacon.