School Violence and Safety Promotion
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Over the past several years, incidents of school violence have intensified. Disasters like the shootings at Columbine High School are not unheard of, and precautions for school safety are on the minds of numerous communities. Johnson and Johnson claim that “Teaching is different from what it used to be. Fifty years ago, the main disciplinary problems were running in the halls, talking out of turn, and chewing gum. Today’s transgressions include physical and verbal violence, incivility, and in some schools, drug abuse, robbery, assault, and murder” (1995). When examining school violence, researchers have begun to investigate how society has redefined violence as normal and acceptable, claiming that this is the root of the problem. In addition, I have considered other factors that lead to violence in schools. As violence increases, pressure for safe and orderly schools does the same. I feel that the first step to ensuring school safety is to work with the students themselves to establish a safe school. The purpose of this research paper is to investigate the occurrences of violence in schools across the United States and to articulate strategies to promote school safety.
Two forms of school violence
When assessing violence, it is important to know that it occurs in two major forms. First, violence can penetrate the climate of schools, allowing negative events to escalate into increasingly damaging patterns. The second form of school violence entails random mayhem, where the school is simply the setting (Hill & Hill, 19). An example of the latter form is the sniper shooting that occurred at Walt Whitman High School on October 8, 2002. Both forms of school violence among young people in society are increasing, forcing educators to search desperately for causes.
Causes of school violence
One cause of this increase in school violence is the fact that society is slowly beginning to redefine violence as normal and acceptable. What is probably most alarming is that violence is becoming so commonplace in many communities and schools that it is considered the norm rather than the exception. Johnson and Johnson believe that the media is most responsible for children falsely believing that violence is acceptable:
Mass media influence how people view violence and deviant behavior. Some television shows obliterate or obscure the boundaries that society has created between good and evil, public and private, shame and pride (Abt & Seeholtz 1994)…Killing is sometimes portrayed as understandable and righteous when it advances a certain point of view on a controversial issue.
When children watch television shows that fail to realistically portray violence and its effects, violence is more likely to occur, whether at home or in the classroom.
Obviously it is not always the case that parents know exactly what their children are watching on television - many children watch particular shows without their parents’ permission. However, when parents are able to see that their children are picking up a false sense of normality in violent incidents, it is of even greater importance that they explain to their children what was viewed, and how the effects of violence hurt people.
Another factor that is increasing the occurrences of school violence is the changing patterns of family and community life. Children are more isolated from their parents and extended family members more than ever before. According to Bilchik, “as many as 40% of white children and 75% of African American children will experience parental separation or divorce before they reach age 16” (Bray and Hetherington, 1993). Divorce, abuse, poverty, drugs, and other forces that interfere with healthy parenting disrupt many families. The sense of community that once was abundant has given way to
isolation, separation, and a lack of socialization. No one is teaching children how to manage conflicts constructively, indirectly or through example. Even worse, some communities promote violence as a means to resolve disputes. Common in inner cities, children grow up “surrounded by teenagers and adults who are themselves deviant, delinquent, or criminal” (Johnson & Johnson 1995). As a result, children from this background are taught to be violent when faced with conflict.
The not-so-difficult access to weapons is another cause of the increase in school violence. Because many young people have easy access to weapons, conflicts that in the past would have resulted in a bloody nose now result in a deadly shooting. Many school authorities believe that metal detectors are the answer, but if determined, a student will do whatever it takes to carry out his/her plan. If a student wants to shoot a person or people, it is not too difficult to sneak a gun in through a bathroom window or onto a school bus.
Another cause of the increase in school violence is the steady climb in drug use and youth gang involvement. Howell and Decker give three possible relationships between drugs, drug trafficking, and violent crime:
1. The “pharmacological” effects of the drug use on the user can induce violent behavior.
2. The high cost of drug use often impels users to commit “economic compulsive” violent crimes to support continued drug use. (An example: Robbery)
3. “Systemic” (drug distribution) violence is a common feature of the drug-distribution system.
Children are becoming part of these gangs, gaining access to weapons and drugs, and bringing the mentality they use on the streets to school. Because they are interrelated, battling drugs, weapons, or gangs will bring about the fall of the other two. Usually when a child is involved in a gang, he/she has easy access to drugs and weapons. Just because a child has easy access to a weapon does not mean that he/she is in a gang or does drugs. Thus, it is clear that focusing on the prevention of youth gang involvement should be the top priority of school officials and community leaders.
Consequences of school violence
There are numerous consequences that follow as an immediate result of school violence. The obvious is the pain that echoes in the hearts of students, family, and community members whom have lost someone they loved or were simply witness to tragic events. However, a not-so-obvious consequence of school violence is the damage it can do to the students’ daily routines. Take for example the sniper shootings that plagued the Washington D.C. metropolitan area a month ago. Students were not allowed to go out to recess; in one school, the younger children were told that they had to stay in because someone was spraying outside for mosquitoes. In such instances, children become rambunctious and are incapable of learning. Aside from getting cabin fever, students who fear for their own safety may not be able or ready to learn. To combat this fear, schools take every attempt possible to keep future violent acts from happening.
Installing metal detectors, banning paraphernalia, and hiring specialized guidance counselors is typical in the aftermath of school violence. This plays a detrimental role on the school environment and learning (OJJDP 2002).
Definition of “child safety”
After dealing with traumatic events, school officials, parents, and communities in general want to know what is being done in response to school violence, as well as what measures will be taken to insure that similar acts of violence will not occur in the future. When reaching for the ultimate goal of school safety, it is essential to know the exact meaning of child safety. As offered by the ERIC online thesaurus, child safety is described as “freedom from, or prevention of, harm or danger to children” (2002). Thus, it can be concluded that school safety means freedom from, or prevention of, harm or danger to children in school.
Methods for safety promotion
In response to the growing number of children that have been or will be directly affected by family transitions, researchers are calling out for community involvement. Schools and students should be proud of the communities they stem from, and vice versa. By involving parents and communities, we can get back to the customs that were abundant in previous decades. “The importance of enhancing relationships between schools and their communities has recently gained national attention,” claims Hill & Hill (1994). Society cannot guarantee an intact, stable family for every child, but we can make every effort to counteract the negative effects of family disruption. Communities’ approaches should include emphasizing the role that parents, residents, and community leaders play in supervising adolescents (OJJDP 2002).
En route to achieving school safety is the ability of staff to recognize potential threats. It has been argued that one way to do so is to note common characteristics of at-risk youth. According to Sandhu (2000), there are ten characteristics common to at-risk children:
3. lack of responsibility
4. adult life experiences
5. drug abuse
6. no sense of guilt
8. highly manipulative
9. non-trusting of others
Surely, these characteristics are good indicators of potential threats to the schools, and Sandhu argues that any student displaying several of these characteristics should be treated with psycho-therapy. Metal detectors and cameras are a quick fix to a serious problem. Getting to the heart of the problem- the emotions inside the child, will prove much more effective.
Everyone can think back to that one weird student whom everyone thought would shoot up the place. They are stereotyped as wearing black, being depressed, withdrawn from society, and for lack of a better term, weird. However, sometimes it is not so cut and dry as to which students are planning out violent disasters at school. There is “no consistent profile of a school shooter,” argues Bowman (2002), so the characteristics mentioned above must be taken with a grain of salt. Take, for instance, the case of Michael Carneal, the 14-year-old boy who began shooting on a prayer group at Heath High School in December 1997. Carneal was the son of a respected lawyer and homemaker, and the brother of one of the school’s valedictorians. He grew up with substantial support from his parents; this is usually thought to prevent violence and delinquency in youth. However, Michael killed three students and wounded five.
Conflict resolution is another method for safety promotion. People have been resolving conflicts constructively for quite some time, and today we utilize diverse resources to develop school programs. There are two approaches to conflict resolution: a cadre or a total student body approach. The cadre approach emphasizes training a minute number of students to serve as peer mediators. Proponents to this approach believe that “a few specially trained students can defuse and constructively resolve interpersonal conflicts that occur among members of the student body,” states Johnson & Johnson (1995). There is usually a one or two day workshop involved. This approach is relatively easy and inexpensive for a school to use. However, its effectiveness is not as encouraging as its price. The student body approach, on the other hand, emphasizes training every student to manage conflicts constructively. Because training all students and staff takes up a lot of time and requires considerable commitment, this program is considered relatively costly. School officials are then faced with the decision of which two programs to use. Spending a small amount of money on an approach that is futile is not practical; putting a price on safety is ridiculous. However, funds are usually lacking- extra money is often spent buying new computers, making the school look nicer, etc. etc. A middle ground between the two approaches would be ideal, but so far nothing of the sort has been used.
Conflict resolution can also be used as a disciplinary program. To deal with discipline problems that interrupt the flow of learning, schools are developing discipline programs. At one end are programs based on rewards and punishments, often administered by faculty. In this method, teachers manage and control their students’ behavior. At the other end are programs based on teaching students the skills required for them to manage their own and their schoolmates’ behavior. In this method, students themselves manage their own conduct (Johnson & Johnson 1995). Most discipline programs are concentrated on the rewards/punishments end. These programs teach students that adults or authority figures in general are needed to resolve conflicts and have been proved futile when students are not under surveillance. Critics argue that students do not learn the procedures, skills, and attitudes necessary for resolving conflicts constructively in their personal lives outside of school. Programs based on the students acquiring their own skills teach them to act in socially approved ways in the absence of teachers. Teachers will not be present all throughout a student’s lifetime, so students should be given the opportunity early on in life to regulate their own actions.
While all of the efforts above surely can aid to the development of a safer school, the best way to prevent violence is to involve the students themselves. Who better to carry out these plans and judge their success than students themselves? Principals should speak to individual students to see what can be done to combat their fear. By reducing fear, students will be able to focus more on the tasks at hand rather than worrying about what violent act might occur next. The top priority of principals should be to “remove the 2% to 5%,” as offered by Hill & Hill. These numbers represent the small percentage of students that harass, intimidate, and cause fear in others. These students do not feel responsible for their actions but instead blame others for their behavior. Additional services are required for these students; their aggression must be dealt with expediently, as it can be corrected. Other priorities include assuring students of their rights, making counselors free to all students, regardless of whether or not they are considered “at-risk”, and involving students in developing plans to reduce violence. Extreme incidents of school violence are not the norm and should not prevent any child from learning.
In conclusion, violence in schools is becoming out of control. From the incident at Columbine High School to the recent shooting by the D.C., the call for immediate safety measures is louder than ever. The increase in school violence has stemmed from the change of view that violence is now normal and acceptable, modern patterns of family life, easy access to weapons and drugs, as well as gang affiliation. Because school violence ultimately affects everyone, it is up to the community as a whole to deal with and prevent it. There are numerous strategies that researchers, school officials, principals, parents, and community leaders have come up with in response to the increase in school violence. However, the best way to get through to these kids and to counteract perhaps what they are being taught at home is to involve the students themselves in establishing a safe school.
Peterson, R.L., & Skiba, R. (2001). Creating School Climates that Prevent School Violence. Clearing House, 74 (3), 155-63
The authors stress that there are several ways to help prevent school violence, some methods working better than others. Some prominent categories for schools to focus their energy on are as follows: parent and community involvement, character education, violence prevention and conflict resolution curricula, and bullying prevention. These approaches focus on preventing violence and improving student behavioral conflicts.
Sandhu, D.S. (2000). Alienated Students: Counseling Strategies To Curb School Violence. Professional School Counseling, 4(2), 81-85.
The alienated students in this study have qualities characteristic of most alienated students. Some common characteristics are as follows: intelligence, alienation, lack of responsibility, adult life experiences, drug abuse, no sense of guilt, street-wise, highly manipulative, non-trusting of others, and suicidal/homicidal. The author believes that psycho-therapy is needed to reach out to these troublesome students; the installation of metal detectors and cameras simply is not enough.
Raywid, M.A., & Oshiyawa, L. (2000). Musings in the Wake of Columbine. Phi Delta Kappan, 81(6), 444.
This journal article claims that until community members value the communities in which
they are part of and feel welcome within them, another shooting like the one at Columbine High School is fast approaching.
Mulvey, E.P., & Cauffman, E. (2001). The Inherent Limits of Predicting School Violence. American Psychologist, 56(10), 797-802.
The authors’ goals in this article are to place school shootings in a relative perspective to other risks of violence that children face, as well as to provide a reasonable approach to improving the safety of schools.
Hill, M. Somers, Hill, F.W. (1994). Creating Safe Schools: What Principals Can Do. California: Corwin Press, Inc.
This book provides principals and other educational administrators with support and
assistance in their efforts to free their schools from violence. The authors review the sources and causes of violence and describe nine approaches for creating safer school environments.
Included in the studies are examples from rural and urban areas.
Johnson, D.W., & Johnson, R.T. (1995). Reducing School Violence through Conflict Resolution.
Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
The authors of this book offer an approach involving interrelated programs for preventing violence and helping students learn to resolve conflicts constructively.
They also discuss methods schools can utilize to create cooperative learning environments where students learn how to negotiate and mediate peer conflicts.
Strauss, V., & Trejos, N. (2002, October, 8). Striving to keep students safe and calm while taking precautions, area school officials try to avoid inciting anxiety. The Washington Post, pp. 13A.
Students handle the fear of a local shooting of a 13-yr. old student outside Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, MD. Officers were sent in to Montgomery Country to provide police presence after a similar shooting of an adult one day prior.
Yettick, H. (2002, April, 20). Echoes of tragedy; Effects of 1999 school shooting are shrouded yet unmistakable. Rocky Mountain News, pp. 1B.
The impact of America’s deadliest school shooting at Columbine High School is evident
everywhere these days. However, statistics show that most students are able to move on
from the violent incidences; not everyone is still traumatized.
Zoroya, G., & Thomas, K. (2002, October, 23). Sniper threats takes toll on kids. USA TODAY, pp. 4A.
Another fatal shooting by the DC sniper on October 22, 2002, and a threat to harm children raise the question of whether schools should be closed until the sniper is captured.
McCabe, K. (2002, March, 3). Youth violence is on the rise; Police concerned as female, school sports incidents soar. The Boston Globe, pp. 1.
Recent murders, threats, and other incidents of violence in schools throughout Massachusetts are examined. The article states that police officers are present in more schools as part of a community policing effort. Also, conflict resolution has become more common as schools attempt to crack down on poor behavior.
Magiera, M.A. (2002, January, 6). Area schools are taking safety seriously; Programs aim to curb threats. Worcester Telegram & Gazette, pp. A1.
The numerous incidents of school violence and threats of such have almost caused
abandonment of the view that schools are a safe haven from what is going on in the rest of society. This article claims that Central Massachusetts schools are no exception.
However, schools and communities have responded.
Thesaurus:(2002). Child-safety. Retrieved November 24, 2002 from the Eric database.
BJS. The bureau of justice statistics: Indicators of school crime and safety (2001). Retrieved November 17, 2002, from http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/iscs01.htm
This site presents statistics on crime at school from the collective perspectives of students, teachers, principals, parents, and the community as a whole. The report contains information concerning violent occurrences at, before, and after school.
OJJDP. The office of juvenile justice and delinquency program: Family disruption and
delinquency. Retrieved November 17, 2002, from
This site takes a closer look at the families that children with aggression problems are coming from. An interview of 4,000 youth and their caretakers was conducted in 3 cities to analyze the prevalence of delinquent behaviors, drug use, and the number of family transitions the youth had experienced.
Howell, J.C., & Decker, S.H. (1999, January). The youth gangs, drugs, and violence connections.
Retrieved November 17, 2002, from http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org/pubs/gang.html#183015
The relationship between drugs, drug trafficking, and violent crime is the topic that the authors above are concerned with. They offer three possible relationships for the three topics and declare that preventing adolescents from joining gangs should be a top priority. One way to begin is by preventing youth from dropping out of school.
TSPR. The texas school performance review: Safety and security (2001, August). Retrieved
November 17, 2002, from http://www.window.state.tx.us/tspr/sanangelo/ch12.htm
The Texas School Performance Review (TSPR) describes a model plan for safety, including
prevention, intervention, and enforcement strategies. Ten steps to be abided by are listed in a table that includes: look for trouble before it finds you; leave no room for double standards; and establish clear expectations for students, parents, teachers, and administrators.
Bowman, D.H. (2002, May, 29). Lethal school shootings resemble workplace rampages, report says. Retrieved October 28, 2002, from http://www.edweek.com/ew/newstory.cfm?slug=38shoot.h21
Studies by the National Research Council show that violence in rural and
suburban schools closely resembles the rampage shootings that occurred
relatively around the same time in work places across the country, rather
than stemming from poverty, drug trade, and racial segregation, as
previously assumed. These factors are said to fuel violence in inner-city
schools. This report claims that prevention is difficult because there is no
exact profile of a school shooter.