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School Violence Essay, Research Paper
May 21, 1998: Loner Kip Kinkel, 15, murders his parents, booby-traps his home with explosives and then kills two classmates and injures 22 during a rampage at his Oregon high school.
April 20, 1999: Columbine High School misfits, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, stage a bombs-and-bullets massacre, slaughtering 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide.
May 21, 1999: Lovelorn sophomore, T.J. Solomon, wounds six students at a school in suburban Georgia after being dumped by his girlfriend.
Feb. 29, 2000: Flint, Michigan, six-year-old shoots to death his fellow classmate, Kayla Rolland, also six-years-old after a dispute that erupted in the school s playground.
These are just a few horrid examples of the recent growth of school violence that is taking place in schools all across America. Reducing school violence has become one of the top challenges that public schools are being faced with as we enter the 21st century. The big question now is how do we go about preventing incidences like the ones above from ever happening again. With theses recent spates of violence at high schools across the country, including the highly publicized ones in Colorado and Georgia, the hue and cry went for stricter gun laws.
The U.S. Government has responded with large amounts of hot air and gesturing, including several new gun control proposals. The question to ask is if this is really the answer, or are we answering the wrong questions? The real answers do not lie in gun control, school uniforms, home schooling, or any other legislation that attempts to modify teen behavior. The real questions and answers lie underneath these superficial responses. These recent violent outbreaks are not the problem, but only a symptom of a deeper, stronger one. Here we will explore some of the possible causes.
One of the problems we are seeing is an accelerating change in the social dynamics of high school society. The emotional and social aspects have changed greatly over the last decade, and even more when contrasted with the experiences of the parents of current high school students. The old ideas of acceptance and fitting in have grown into an almost overriding pressure on students to fit in somewhere. Jerry Adler comments in Newsweek that high schools were once divided into the in-crowd and everyone else (1999). Today, there is much more to the social structure than this simple analogy. In today s soundbyte laden way of life, students are having to cope with an ever-changing definition of what is cool, and what is not. The clothes one wears to school, for example, are in style one day and out again in what seems like overnight. Dealing with these pressures, as well as the traditional teen problems, leads to confusion. The teen years have always been full of angst and confusion, and the constant pop culture bombardment from ads, music videos, and even peer pressure as to what is acceptable and cool does not help the situation. It is enough pressure to cause adults to have doubts and self-image problems, let alone an already insecure 16-year-old. Small problems become big, as teens are emotionally ill equipped to deal with so much pressure. This causes some to lash out violently. Fear, as well as a lack of knowledge and skills, help to contribute to the precipitation of violent student behaviors. Students who take guns or knives to school do so because they fear for their safety.
This fear can also lead to the individual to join a gang. A gang can be recognized by their distinct aggregation by others in their neighborhood. They use a name of their group to recognize themselves as a denotable group, and usually are involved in a sufficient number of illegal activities to call forth a consistent response from neighborhood residents and/or law enforcement. Most kids who join gangs do it to either make more friends, want people to look up to them, or most likely to protect themselves from other gangs. An interview with a gang member, who called himself T.J., clearly shows the reasons why people join gangs. He states that gang members, were my family. We stick together. We d kill and die for each other. They gave me love I never had before (Natale 35). He says a lot of the violence that goes on today is over money. It s all money. Who s got the biggest car, who s got the best [clothes], who s got the best girl. Without money, you re nothing, he says. To stop the problem, stop the drugs from coming over here. Ain t nobody growing no cocaine bushes in the United States. It s all overseas. He says young people need more attention (Natale 35).
Some schools are trying to relieve some of this pressure. The Paideia School, located outside Atlanta, GA., is trying to curb the effects of one of the classic teen cliques-the jocks . The school now requires every student to be on a sports team (1999). The concept seems to be working, and more schools are picking up on the idea by adding more sports and student clubs. But athletics events are not violence-free either. In fact, athletic events provide a particularly attractive environment for violence. A Galveston, Texas, high school football player in a game near-by was wounded in a drive-by shooting. School officials were forced to stop the game and reschedule the event for the next day, but as a precautionary measure, barred any fans from attending. In Richmond, VA, a student was shot in a high school parking lot during a Friday-night basketball game. As a result, school officials switched the remaining games in the season to afternoon tip-off times (Riechers 36).
However, as a society, we appear to have adopted a course of aiding and abetting troublemakers at school. In reviewing the literature concerning schools and violence as well as in interviews with school administrators, it is apparent that a minority of students may be causing excessive strain on the work of schools. Teachers are beginning to feel the problem on many levels as they spend increasing amounts of time attending to students disruptive and inappropriate behavior in the classroom, off-task behavior on assignments and interpersonal conflicts both in and outside of class. The kids who are forgotten are the vast majority of students, who do not make any trouble.
The issue of school violence is not just an issue on campus. The problem actually begins at home. Teens today are dealing with more time alone, as the amount of dual income and single parent families increases. For example, David Whitman cites U.S. census data that shows the percentage of single-parent households was as high as 73 percent in some urban neighborhoods (1999). This much time in the hands of a restless teen can lead to trouble. With the increase of unsupervised time, as well as greater access to violent themes (such as television, the internet, and even video games), teens are running into blurring lines between what is acceptable and what is not.
Also, the actions of the parents when they are home sends a strong, if confusing, message to children. Children often receive mixed messages from their parents as to what is acceptable. Some parents resort to bribery, such as promising expensive gifts, to modify their behavior (Franks 30). This adds to the idea that every action should have instant gratification. In addition, some parents can not find the time to actually be a good role model, and would rather ignore behavior than do something about it. This has the effect of telling a teen that there will not be any repercussions for bad behavior, and even good behavior will not be acknowledged. In effect, the child is asking for attention, and when none is received, then he/she tries screaming louder. This can be used as an analogy for the escalating violence we are seeing in schools today- as a twisted sort of louder scream for attention. Franks goes on to say that:
Parenting that indulges, neglects, abuses, or ignores children, and that fails to provide strong, positive guidance, discipline, and nurturance contributes to the spread of violence in schools. Even students themselves realize that the lack of parental control is a major factor in school violence. In a 1993 survey by The American Teacher, 36 percent said just that (1993).
The recent deadly episodes, carried out in such spectacular fashion, have overshadowed the fact that school violence is an everyday occurrence in most communities. Since these everyday incidents are not as deadly in respect to raw body count, they are not reported in the media. They do, however, underscore the fact that our school system is in need of a serious overhaul in the way that it treats these offenses. It is staggering how many students and teachers are touched by violence every day. For example, according to Keith Geiger, president of the National Education Association, 900 teachers are threatened, and over 2,000 students and nearly 40 teachers are physically attacked on school grounds every hour of each school day each year (Stone A1).
In addition, the Justice Department claims that every day in the U.S. 100,000 students carry guns to school and 40 youngsters are injured or killed by guns (Stone A4). The current school system is woefully unprepared for this relatively recent rise in these types of violence. That fact is underscored by a 1994 survey from the Justice Department stating that a staggering 82 percent of school officials surveyed think that school violence has increased dramatically over the last five years. Part of this problem is the education system itself. When students perceive that they are not receiving an adequate education, or when they cannot maintain the standards of the class, often develop a sense of helplessness and frustration (Futrell 28). When students do not know how to handle these situations, they often withdraw socially and academically as a way of dealing with this stress. Some even give up totally, or begin skipping class, which in turn leads to delinquency, anti-social behavior, and criminal activity-all which can lead to violence. Underscoring this fact is a Constitutional Rights Foundation Network report that found that, Youth who lack basic skills and a strong sense of self worth are more likely to be drawn into violence (Sausjord & Friedman 1).
Often, students who are having trouble coping act out by being disruptive in class. This creates an atmosphere in the classroom that prevents adequate teaching and learning. Education in this environment is affected in two ways: Teachers lose the motivation to teach, which in turn causes the students to lose any motivation to learn. Also, the teachers are not immune to truancy of a different sort. Faced with this unhealthy environment every day, they, as with the students, are less eager to go to school. Wise states this causes the students to be taught by a never-ending parade of substitute teachers, which reinforces the uncaring classroom environment (1993).
It is essential that we try to attack the behaviors that are associated with school violence such as:
aggressive behavior with peers, negative and defiant behavior with adults and peers, a tendency to rush into things without forethought, high levels of attention-seeking behavior, low levels of guilt feelings, and self-centered responsiveness to others, exemplified by interrupting others, blurting out their thoughts, and talk which is irrelevant to the ongoing conversation (Second Step 1).
Often gun control is touted as the answer to all the problems that plague schools today. The views taken by its most vehement supporters, and the press in general, is to attempt to ban guns completely. The only problem is that there is no evidence to suggest that gun control has had any effect on crime, much less at the school level. For example, one of the arguments of the gun control lobby is that gun laws keep criminals from obtaining guns. In fact, most criminals can find a gun through other sources, effectively circumventing current laws. In a Heartland Institute study, Polsby states that, Three fourths of felons surveyed report that they would have no trouble obtaining a gun when they are released, despite legal prohibitions against firearms ownership by convicted felons (1997). It is therefore unrealistic to assume that gun control will keep weapons out of the hands of students, who, without much work, can obtain a gun from these same sources. In addition, a large amount of the weapons that are confiscated from students are not from illegal sources. According to the Justice Department, most of these guns were taken from the student s own parents (Justice Department 1991). The realistic view is that on the streets getting a gun is as easy as getting a pair of sneakers. The least expensive ones run around $100. The more military-like the gun, the higher the price.
The current school system is not prepared to handle the huge jump in school violence. We must realize that even though there has been a sharp increase in the intensity of school violence, violence is not something that is new to our schools and society. Even in the 1950 s, student subcultures at school promoted misbehavior; in New York and other large cities, fights between members of street gangs from different neighborhoods broke out in secondary schools frequently. West Side Story captures the spirit of gangs and reminds us that gangs have been a part of the American scene for a long time. This does not change the fact that if our schools are left to run as they are today, it is almost certain that we will continue to see more of the deadly outbreaks that we witnessed in Littleton, Colorado. The answer to our dilemma seems deceptively simple on the surface, but it will take involvement from parents, students, administrators, and the government. There is not one solution to the problem, such as adding metal detectors to campuses, but a step in the right direction involves the integration of several tactics.
Alternative schools are beginning to be established as response to the violence by some school districts. Alternative schools such as the Woodbourne Academy in Baltimore are beginning their third year of operation. This school is an alternative middle school for violent and disruptive youth. At Woodbourne students receive not only intensive academic support but also psychological counseling, sessions in anger management, and help with conflict resolution (Harrington-Lueker 18). We have three goals, explains Woodbourne Vice President Patricia Cronin. We want to help these kids get their behavior under control, we want to remediate their academic deficiencies, and we want to get them back into the regular setting. Congress authorized $44 million for the program called the Youth Challenge Corps in 1992. Today the corps, which uses National Guard facilities and staff in 15 states, continues to help kids turn themselves around. Youth Challenge has graduated 4,500 young people. Seventy-six percent of those who start the program graduate from the residential phase and nearly 91 percent of those complete their GED. No graduate has gotten into trouble with the law (Harrington-Lueker 95).
Peer mediation has been shown to be a helpful weapon in the fight against school violence. It has been shown to increase self-esteem in students, reduce truancy, decrease incidents of fighting and offer an alternative to suspensions and expulsions. Implementing a system of prevention and intervention must start in the home and carry into the schools. One promising solution is conflict resolution , which teaches students how to constructively channel their anger and frustration (DeJong 11). This is accomplished by involving both students and parents as a means of helping troubled teens and classmates by the use of intervention tactics. Other strategies include peer counseling, parent classes, expanded teacher support, and even the establishment of crisis centers for teens. If we can implement and use these tools effectively, it will go a long way in pulling the school system out of the downward spiral it is stuck in.
After all the research is done and the all the statistics have been recorded, the issue remains that violence is a serious problem in our schools. Our school system is just a reflection of the society we live in; as violence sweeps across the streets of America it will remain to affect the education process. Unless we find a way to prevent violence from taking place inside and around our schools, the education process will always be at a struggle.
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