The issue of school violence is not a new phenomenon. Today the possibility that a disagreement among students will be settled with some type of weapon rather than an old-fashioned fistfight has increased significantly. A major difference between violence in the schools twenty or thirty years ago and that of today is the presence and use of weapons, especially guns. Also, students seem to hold a grudge much longer. Some students wait until the last day of school to settle an incident that occurred weeks or months earlier. Violence in schools is not unique to public schools or the nation’s urban centers.
Media reports indicate that the issue of violence in school is a national problem that has seeped into the very heartland of America. No geographic region is excluded anymore. Newspaper articles report that communities large and small, urban, suburban, and rural are struggling with the issue of school violence. Factors contributing to school violence are numerous, complex, and mostly community-related. For example, some perceive that the major factors contributing to student violence are lack of parental supervision at home, lack of family involvement with the school, and exposure to violence in the mass media.
Others believe that certain types of parenting produce children who contribute to school violence. America’s children are exposed to a steady diet of verbal and physical violence that begins early and continues throughout their lives. It is a fact that children in the U. S. spend more time watching television than attending school. Most of what children watch, including cartoons, is unsupervised and much of it is filled with scene after scene of unadulterated sex and violence. The media plays a role in enhancing the typical feeling of immortality among kids and adolescents.
Kids grow up with a lack of understanding that life is transient. They get a steady diet of cartoons, movies and TV shows where someone who’s killed in one episode shows up in another. All too often children who behave violently are themselves victims of an overdose of violence. In too many communities, children constantly send signals that they feel isolated from and maligned by society. These feelings know no geographic, social, or economic boundaries. Increasingly, many youth come from communities where the vast majority of the experiences to which they have been exposed have been hostile.
They have had to fight to simply survive. These young men and women are filled with rage and a sense of rejection and, as a result, do not believe that they owe society anything. At the same time, an increasing number of students who have not grown up in mean, hostile environments are involved in acts of violence. They often cite boredom or the excitement of control as reasons for their actions. It is difficult to understand their rebellion against society. Children often receive mixed messages from parents and other adults about what is right and what is wrong.
The use of material goods to persuade children to behave in one way or to dissuade them from behaving in another is one example of sending a mixed message. In such situations, children are “bribed” by promises of expensive clothing or toys. In addition, today’s youth seem surprised when asked if they are required to perform chores in and around their home. Many indicate that they do not do chores unless they are paid to. These attitudes and actions convey strong lessons about roles, responsibilities, and the rights that must be learned in order to assume positions as citizens good in a democratic society.
How children learn these lessons is as important as what they learn. Victims and perpetrators of school violence represent all racial, ethnic, and economic groups. Although males are more likely to be involved in acts of violence in schools, in recent years an alarming trend indicates that girls are engaging more frequently in such acts. Often the perpetrators do not have or need a serious reason for lashing out. It could be something as simple as a look or stare or an accidental bump into someone that triggers a violent reaction.
An act of violence could result from idle gossip, courtship jealousies, extortion, feeling slighted or disrespected, or an attempt to impress friends. It could result from the perpetrator’s dislike for a person or the perception that someone is weak or is a nerd that gets good grades. In other words, a logical reason for the incident is not necessary. The tempers of many students today are triggered quickly and the results are often disastrous. When a fight occurs, for example, especially if it is outside the classroom, other students are not likely to try to stop it.
To the contrary, students are more likely to “egg on” their peers. It is disturbing that most high school students would probably stand by and watch a fight without doing anything to stop it or without reporting the incident to school authorities. This behavior reflects attitudes often seen in adult society-a belief that it is better to be “safe” by not getting involved. It also reflects the reverence for aggressiveness and violence as part of American culture, whether at a sports event or in films.
Children spend thousands of hours each year absorbing scenes of violence in the media, in their homes, and in the community. They are the products of the culture and the society that adults have created. It is little wonder youth exhibit violent behavior in school. Some would say that the best way to address the issue of violence in schools is to simply get tougher with the perpetrators. Others say that the solution must be to instill better moral values, for children are suffering from ethical confusion and media pollution.
Still others would say that the solution is to attack violence at its roots through a variety of efforts, such as providing parents with training in parenting skills, providing the whole family with social and economic supports and training in nonviolent conflict resolution, and providing children with a strong sense of right and wrong and a safe community in which to develop. Taken alone, each solution is too simplistic. Taken together, the three options make a strong program for stemming youth violence in schools and in communities.
Recognizing and accepting the need for change are critical steps toward any efforts to reduce violence in schools. Change is a process that requires a sustained commitment from those desiring it-individuals, families, schools, and communities. Working to increase discipline, order, and safety in schools requires all parties to examine the attitudes, behaviors, and values that define them. Finally, but most importantly, youths themselves must learn that they are responsible for their personal behavior and actions and that they are personally accountable for what they do in school and in the community.