Violence in society is more prevalent today than ever before. Media and entertainment have opened up violent images for children to see. Availability of weapons to school age children seems incredulous. News stories of elementary school children bringing guns to school and killing classmates are sickening yet true. What is happening to our country? What is happening to our schools?
It is no secret that academic performance has declined over the last thirty or forty years.
Today’s students are not as proficient in the “three R’s” as are parents or grandparents was. “Cultural illiteracy,” is rising. Cultural illiteracy indicates a failure to “possess the basic information needed to thrive in the modern world,” or to “be deficient in one’s understanding of the basic terms and concepts that a person needs to function properly in our society.” (Schroder 75).
As public education has grabbed the attention of parents, policy-makers, and political candidates, the problems of school violence have received increased attention. School safety has become the sixth initiative of the U.S. Department of Education’s Goals 2000 program. They propose Safe, Disciplined, and Drug-free Schools by the year 2000. (Perlstein B. 02)
Despite heightened public attention following a surge in multiple homicides in schools, overall school crime rates are declining, according to the new 1999 Annual Report on School Safety. (Journal of American Medical Association 34)
“Although America can be glad that school crime is decreasing,” said President Clinton; “we must take firm steps to ensure the safety of all our young people in their communities and in their schools. Congress should finish its work on the juvenile justice conference and finally pass a comprehensive and balanced bill that includes common sense gun provisions that will keep guns out of the hands of children and criminals.” (Quindlen 98)
A source of conflict in many schools is the perceived or real problem of bias and unfair treatment of students because of ethnicity, gender, race, social class, religion, disability, nationality, sexual orientation or physical appearance is what a report noted. An update on hate crime legislation and related statistics is included, but the report also notes that hate crimes are often underreported and data collection is further complicated because state definitions of hate crime vary. Recent data shows that about fifteen percent of eleven, thirteen, and fifteen-year-olds have been bullied because of their religion or race, and more than thirty percent have had sexual jokes, comments or gestures directed at them. (Schroeder 75)
Gun laws are an interesting issue in the never-ending civic debates that is this nation. There is hardly any true debate about them at all. Polls have long shown that the majority of the American people, even the majority of gun owners, support government efforts to make sure guns are less dangerous and less often in the hands of the violent, the deranged and the very young (Schroeder 75). This makes any reasonable person wonder how such public consensus can have spawned such an illusion of strife, and so much stillborn legislation. The answer is simple. Many of the elected officials who oppose gun laws aren’t true believers.
Many experts believe that the shootings at Columbine and other schools are not just a school problem. They say that problems in American society also play a role. Some experts say there is too much violence in the media, including movies, music, and TV. The American Academy of Pediatrics has urged a limit to the amount of TV kids watch because it is too violent. (Perlstein B.02) Just recently I found an article on a teenager in an Oregon school shooting who received one hundred and eleven years in jail. Kip Kinkle pleaded guilty to a jury in September of 1998 to a May shooting that injured twenty-four students at his high school. As a 15-year-old high school student, Kinkel shot his parents who were both popular Spanish teachers, Bill and Faith Kinkel, at home on the day he was suspended for bringing a handgun to school.
The next morning he drove the 10 miles to school and opened fire with a .22-caliber rifle in a crowded cafeteria, killing two students. (Online 1999)
While there are can be no guarantees, many cities around the country are turning to community programs to make hallways and playing fields safe. Something I also found is that the residents of New Haven, Connecticut have come up with a plan that is successfully lowering the levels of violence. First, police officers are assigned to neighborhoods, not just for a month or two, but long-term. That way, officers get to know the neighborhood, its problems, and its people, and the residents get to know the police. Police are also assigned to schools. Five schools have a policeman or woman who spends the whole day there, knows the students and can respond if there are any signs of violence. The police also work with psychologists at the local university, Yale. Doctors and psychiatric social workers are on call 24 hours a day. They are summoned to the scene of a crime to help children deal with the violence. Research shows that young people are more likely to accept violence and act violently if they witness it in a very firsthand way, like when family members commit the violence, or are victims of violence.
Finally, there are mentoring and after-school programs for kids who show signs of violence. (Spinner C.03)
School boards are addressing the problem of school violence through multiple approaches: education, prevention and intervention. Peer mediation programs are being implemented, particularly in middle and high schools, to assist students in finding nonviolent solutions to conflict. Increasingly, school boards and local law enforcement agencies are collaborating by placing uniformed security officers in secondary schools and finding positive results. Many school boards are also adopting tougher school policies and practices in an effort to create safer schools. (Schroeder 75)
Recent events have again focused the nation’s attention on violence in United States public schools, an issue that has generated public concern and directed research for more than two decades. Despite long-standing attention to the problem, there is a growing perception that not all public schools are safe places of learning, and media reports highlight specific school-based violent acts. The seventh goal of the National Education Goals states that by the year 2000, “all schools in America will be free of drugs and violence and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol, and offer a disciplined environment that is conducive to learning.” In response to this goal, the Congress passed the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act of 1994, which provides for support of drug and violence prevention programs. As part of this legislation, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is required to collect data to determine the “frequency, seriousness, and incidence of violence in elementary and secondary schools.” NCES responded to this requirement by commissioning a survey, the Principal/School Disciplinarian Survey on School Violence in 1996 and 1997. (Perlstein B. 02)
Personally speaking, I just want to look back beyond the 1990’s and focus on a much earlier generation, the 1960’s. The television show “Leave it to Beaver” was a cultural icon. It was suburban family perfection, the backdrop for the life of elementary school student, Theodore Cleaver, known as “the Beaver.” Anxiety in the Beaver’s life came most often from strong, often unfitted attempts to understand and cope with family and friends. On rare occasions such attempts landed him in the principal’s office. Or perhaps his parents, June and Ward Cleaver, would be called in to talk to his teachers. But father, mother and mildly devious son certainly never went in for group therapy.
In conclusion, today, talks of violence among school students have become a normal lunchtime conversation so to speak. Why didn’t we have these problems before? As I noted in this paper already, I strongly feel that the media has something to do with this problem. I would also like to comment about a guest we had at school a few weeks ago, Sut Jhally. I found him to be a very intelligent man and some things I agreed on while others I did not. The one thing he said, was how most of the violence in today’s schools is committed by young boys. This I agree on. Really, you do not see young teenage girls killing other girls or boys. In my opinion it comes from the way we are taught, but also boys have always been the dominant one’s who were almost taught to be strong and take care of a women. Although this may have something to do with the violence, it also is what kids see. I don’t think society knew exactly how to handle some of these cases of school violence and some teens figured if others could get away with it, why can’t they. I also feel that parents should be there to spend more time with their kids. Yes, a career is important and you have to be able to support your family, but you also need to take care of them and show them love and comfort. If there were a logical solution that would help solve the problem of school violence, I would definitely be one to help out.