Reducing Violence in Schools

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On January 18, 1993, Scott Pennington, a seventeen year-old student from Kentucky, shot and killed his East Carter High School teacher Deanna McDavid and janitor Marvin Hicks, and then held his twenty-two classmates at gunpoint for about fifteen minutes. On September 15, 1995, Daniel Watson, eighteen, was charged with one count of kidnapping, two counts of unlawful possession of a weapon on school property, and fifteen counts of first degree endangerment after holding a fellow student at gunpoint at his high school. Watson had been in a fight before school, and then went home and returned with two handguns. In November of 1996, Drew Golden, 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13, opened fire on their fellow students and teachers in Jonesboro, Arkansas, killing four students and an English teacher. Is this what should be happening in America’s schools? Should students have to be more concerned with their safety, rather than obtaining a good education? Incidences similar to the ones just described occur every year in school systems across the country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, fifty-seven percent of public elementary and secondary school principals reported that one or more incidents of crime/violence occurred in their schools during the 1996-1997 school year. The center also reported that ten percent of all public schools experienced one or more serious violent crimes (defined as murder, rape, or other type of sexual battery, suicide, physical attack or fight with a weapon, or robbery) during the 1996-1997 school year. Physical attacks or fights led the list of reported crimes in public schools, with about 190,000 reported incidences in 1996-1997.

Schools should be places where the objective is to give students the skills and knowledge to help them with their future; they should not be havens for violent acts. Something obviously needs to be done to decrease and hopefully one day eliminate violence in America’s school systems. There have been numerous proposals made to help the problem, but there still has not been a significant improvement in the problem nationwide. Several recent reports-one by the American Psychological Association and another by the National Education Association-show a dramatic increase in the incidence of school violence. It is going to take a team effort by the government, communities and the schools to help reduce violence in America’s school systems. The government has attempted to address the issue of school violence. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Gun-Free School Act, mandating a one-year expulsion for students who bring weapons to school.

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The Act also promoted the “zero tolerance” for weapons policies of some states and school districts. Currently, the federal government and most states also make funds available for prevention activities through anti-crime and education legislation. This year, money was allotted in the federal budget for the hiring of more teachers in the schools. Although the government has put some effort into helping the schools, is it enough? The problem of violence of schools is often overlooked by the government and instead more emphasis is put on political scandals, foreign policy, and welfare. It seems unfair for the students who fear going to school each day that the government concentrates more on the private relations of the president and the status of people from other countries, than on the future of its own citizens. The government needs to grant more money for the improvement of schools, both externally and internally. This money needs to be put toward the hiring of more teachers, violence prevention programs in the schools, and improvements on the school buildings. The government also should be monitoring the schools’ use of the “zero tolerance” policies, making sure that they are strictly enforced in every school across the country. The second ingredient to solving the problem of violence in schools is community initiatives. An important one is providing an assortment of out-of-school programs to students. It is important that these programs keep youth constructively engaged when their families are unavailable, and provide them with attention from caring adults and good role models. They also need to encourage teamwork, respect, and positive personal relationships. These programs keep kids away from negative influences on the street and in the media. Helping youth find employment in the community is another important way for communities to help build the self-esteem and sense of responsibility among adolescents. Having a job also helps youth appreciate how important staying in school is to their future career plans. The most important element to the solution of violence in schools is the improvement surrounding the actual schools.

The first key is to reduce violence through personalization. Overcrowded schools and classes hurt both the educators’ efforts to know their students and students’ efforts to know one another. The result from this is often misunderstanding, frustration, and increasingly, violence. Smaller classes can enable schools to become communities in which students know and value one another as individuals. They would also allow educators to form steady caring relationships with the students most likely to start or suffer from physical and psychological violence. School violence frequently results from conflicts that are inappropriately managed and therefore intensify. Conflict resolution programs should be offered in schools to both students and educators to give them skills to effectively and constructively handle the controversies that naturally arise in learning environments. Schools should also promote the development of good character. “The missing piece in violence prevention programs is character development though the skills of empathy and self-discipline,” write character education experts Diane G. Berreth and Sheldon Berman. “Without these skills, we run the risk of schools becoming locked-down and oppressive institutions built around fear rather than responsiveness.” Teachers also play an essential role in dealing with school violence. Studies have shown that children consistently admire and respect those teachers that are strict in setting high standards for behavior and academic performance, and who demonstrate a personal interest in their students. It is also important that teachers follow strict codes of conduct throughout the whole school. This code of conduct should be shared with the students, and should not be altered by the teachers. Students should never have the feeling that they might be able to get away with something, because a teacher rarely enforces the rules. It is with longing that teachers remember the days when disruptive behavior in school meant running in the halls, throwing spitballs and pulling ponytails. Today, the disruptive behavior is much more frightening. It takes the shape of brutal beatings, stabbings, and shootings. Youth violence disrupts schools and is taking its toll on students, teachers, parents, and communities. Youth violence is threatening the entire structure of public education. The issue of school violence needs to be attended to quickly. This problem cannot be solved by the efforts of one force, but rather it will take the teamwork of the government, communities, and the schools to help reduce the violence. If policies such as the ones described are not implemented, students will continue going to school in fear.


Bibliography

Adderton, Donald. Violence Has Coast Alert for Bad Signs. Online. Internet. 28 October 1998. Available http://www.sunherald.com/news/docs/kids032898.htm.

Effective Data Collection for Safe Public Schools Exemplary Practices. Online. Internet. 28 October 1998. Available http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/ACTGUID/datacol.html.

Heller, Gary. Changing the School to Reduce Student Violence. Online. Internet. Available http://nassp.org/news/aprilbul.htm.

Safe and Caring Schools Initiative Project. Online. Internet. Available http://www.teachers.ab.ca/news/v31no8/safe.html.



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