November 15, 2001
The headlines, large and looming, spread across the front page of every newspaper in the country. It makes first line mention in all the news stories for the night and sometimes for weeks and months to come. Allover America school violence is becoming more than just the bully on the playground. It is escalating to great proportions and this problem must be dealt with by our society.
School violence starts out with the bully on the playground, or the pushing and shoving in the lunch line, but given the right set of circumstances what might have been prevented with some supervision instead turns into something deadly.
There are many psychologists and clinical psychiatrists who along with independent researchers compile extensive lists and do studies on what may be the cause of school violence. The only common denominator that exists between them all is the fact that there is no one determining factor. Let us first examine the nuclear family.
School violence does not start in the school. Most behaviors are learned responses to circumstances and situations that are exhibited in our everyday life. Home life conditions are influences on all children. If a child grows up in a home where one of the parents is abused, whether verbally or physically, the child will take this as the norm. Studies have proven that a child living in an abusive home will himself become an abuser. Children who see violence view it as a solution to the problem. They see the stronger of the two components as the winner in the situation, and want to emulate the behavior.
A survey conducted by the Loeber’s group shows that parenting practices of severe discipline and voicing of negative attitudes towards young boys around the age of ten result in an increase of aggressive behavior in the school setting. Also the use of coercive methods to control children, such as the threat of violence for disobedience is another pathway to violent behavior (22 .Jones).
The extended family of the forties and fifties does not exist in our society today. In most family settings both parents work, mostly out of necessity to meet costs and to provide for the needs of the nuclear group. The consequence of having both parents out of the house results in a lack of supervision for the children. There is a breakdown in the general governing system of the home allowing the child to make decisions that would not be those of the parent. The child in essence becomes his own boss. Sibling violence can erupt setting the groundwork for later violence in the school setting. If a child can bully his or her sibling and get away with it then what is to stop them from attacking their peers at school.
Lack of discipline can also cause a child to become self-absorbed. A parent who over indulges his child is instilling in the child a feeling that he can do no wrong. He may act out with the knowledge that he will not be punished. This child will grow up with a lack of empathy for others, and be void of moral values for his fellow man (21 Day).
There’s probably not one of us who hasn’t sat in front of the television set watching the Coyote get hammered, the Three Stooges and their antics, or the Ninja Turtles with their high kicks and Karate punches, only to watch them walk away unhurt, and their adversaries walking away to fight another day.
Violence on television is learned from a very early age with the watching of cartoons. These funny harmless half-hour shows that make us laugh are the first viewing of violence that our children see. What these shows are telling our children is that violence is ok. It makes them numb to the horror of the actual violence happening around them. Statistically speaking 47% of the violent acts on television do not harm the victim, 86% of the violent acts have no negative repercussions, no one dies, no one goes to jail, and no ones life is ruined. And 73% of the time the “bad guy” goes unpunished (11 Menhard). Media glamorizes violence, teaching our children that it is ok to kill.
Music plays an even bigger role in the influencing of today’ s youth with its violent lyrics and cult like following. MTV, rock concerts, and CD’s all mock authority, glorify guns, and portray women as victims of violence, often mentioning them as deserving of punishment (24 Day). The performers seem to emphasize the violent nature of their music through their attire, and by the messages they leave with us during an interview. All these communication only add to the cynicism of our already troubled children.
The deadly connection of gangs, drugs and guns is probably the most evil of all types of school violence. Gangs are not a new phenomena. Philadelphia had children gangs in 1791 and big eastern cities had them in the mid-1800’s (19 Menhard). But these earlier gangs were not as violent as the ones forming today. Early immigrants banded together to give themselves a sense of identity and belonging as well as for security reasons. New families coming to America were only interested with survival and not so much with violence, not that it didn’t exist, because it did, but the gang concept was there to provide comfort and perhaps a gathering place, not a group of thugs with mischief on their minds. The gangs of the 1700 were more like the pizza shop crowd of today. The change took place in gangs when they began to experience harassment from different ethnic groups (83 Miller).
Today there is an estimated thirty-one thousand street gangs with a membership of almost nine hundred thousand young people. (20 Menhard). Gangs are of different types. You can have “Scavenger gangs” that are not organized, have different leaders all the time, and do random crimes. There are “Territorial gangs” these are turf loyal, very organized, ritualized, wear the same clothing, and are sworn to secrecy. Their main activity is fighting over the territory. Corporate gangs are the most highly structured. Their main occupation is selling drugs for profit. They have strict codes of behavior, and harsh punishment for those who break the rules (42 Kreiner).
There are many reasons why young children choose to join a gang. In the school setting students who are underachievers, poor learners, or have language difficulties see themselves as losers in the academic setting. They can be approached by a gang and be recruited into the organization. Here they become “someone”, part of an organization of kids just like themselves. They have a new “family” whom they tend to spend more and more time with. These gang leaders recruit younger members who are unhappy and struggling. The lure them with the promise of fraternity and brotherhood. They are told that the worst that can happen to them if they commit a serious crime is two years in a juvenile facility. A small price to pay for belonging.
Fear is a great determining factor in joining a gang. There is tremendous peer pressure to join. Badgering and harassment takes place until the individual feels it is safer to join. The neighbor hood you live in can become gang oriented to protect its “turf’. You either join or face the consequences of being a non-member.
A gang member is someone who is respected for his fighting abilities and toughness. Carrying a gun is a symbol of power. not a weapon that is dangerous and carries with it a fear of the individual. Most gang members have no fear or remorse of repercussions for their actions or of death. Their attitude is one of that ” if it happens then it happens”. One gang member states that kids join gangs to get respect and a sense of belonging, and for protection the same things you get from joining the YMCA, Little League, or the Boy Scouts (50 Jones).
Almost all gang members carry a weapon. According to the American Civil Liberties Union an estimated 270,000 guns are taken to schools in the United States every day (36 Miller). School youths whether in or out of a gang know that the guns are present, and try to keep a wide berth away from these gangs. The powder keg doesn’t take much to light. Perhaps all you did was bump into someone in the hallway, even apologizing for the disruption, but if it was a gang member and he is with his buddies he or she will try to show his authority and power by shoving you back, perhaps even pulling his gun to show you how wrong you were, and extract a more “appropriate ” apology from you.
Young children who have been bothered relentlessly by gang members have chosen one of two paths. One is to join and leave all the harassment behind~ the other has been to quit school. We do have a great population of pacifists, children who are attending school for the opportunity to learn. When fear and anger interrupt this learning process, the learning place becomes too volatile for them and choosing to leave school seems the best avenue of escape. Many children who leave schools do go on to get their GED and thus secure good jobs that will provide for a good future.
The drug aspect plays a big role in the conflicts on school grounds. Not only do gang members sel1 drugs to who ever wants to buy them, there is also a connection with psychotropic “legal” drugs and school violence. Prescribed drugs such as Ritalin for ADHD and Bi polar disorder, Luvox for depression, and Prozac for depression are being associated with the mass shootings of the late 1990’s. Children who are taking these drugs are labeled as having a mental illness. These drugs have been noted to have serious side effects when given to children resulting in psychotic and violent behaviors (53 O’Mera). Ritalin has been said to be pharmacologically similar to cocaine in its pattern of abuse. Abuse can lead to tolerance and severe psychological dependence. More studies need to be done to test the true effectiveness of these drugs in the treatment for children. While they may make the child more compliant, they may also be setting the stage for future violence.
Studies show that there are an estimated three million violent crimes occurring every year (5 Bosch). As concerned parents what can we do to keep this violence out of the schools? In recent years) due to the shockingly violent shootings at various schools in conjunction with school educators to see that their children are following all the rules. Following through with restrictions and punishments in the home setting when an infraction occurs at school is a very important step in letting the child know that disobedience will not be tolerated. The institution of “Zero Tolerance” policies must be adhered to. When you commit a crime you must know the consequences will follow. Weapons, drugs and alcohol on school grounds ” are cause for expulsion. In most states the school is within its right to expel a student for possession of any of these items. (51 Bosch).
Nonviolence should be taught as part of the school curriculum. Educating today’s youth about the affects of violence, how the police are there to help you and how to manage conflict in a non-violent way. Anger management is also taught for those in need (82 Day).
Early detection of possible problems would be a blessing. Teachers and parents need to watch for signs of unusual behavior and address it before it escalates into an uncontrollable violence. After school care is offered in many schools to help parents who can’t be home just when the school bus drops the children off. Keeping the youth of today involved in healthy activities leaves no time for mischief.
Like all problems that exist in today’s society school violence will not go away over night. It is a concern that will require diligent work of all parties combined. Parents, teachers, police, counselors, and communities working together with the students guiding them in the right direction, giving them the tools necessary to become non violent individuals. Providing a safe environment in which they can learn and grow will lessen the fears produced by outside forces, and help them to mature into responsible adults. There will always be someone who wants to hurt you or cause trouble because of an insecurity that they are suffering, but with the proper instruction students can handle their problems in a non-violent way.
Ayoob, Alyssa, (2000), School Violence, Greenhaven Press, Inc., San Diego, California
Bosch, Carl, (1997), School Under Siege: Guns Gangs and Hidden Danger, Enslow Publishers, Inc. Springfield, NY.
Day, Nancy, (19-96), Violence in School: Learning in Fear, Enslow Publishers Inc., Springfield, NY
Jones, Jeff P., (2001), School Violence, Lucent Books, Inc., San Diego, California
Kreiner, Anna, (2000), Everything You Need to Know About School Violence, The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., NY
Menhard, Francha Raffe’, (2000), School Clinic: Deadly Lessons, Enslow Publishers, Inc., Springfield, NY
Miller, Maryann, (1999), Coning With Weapons and Violence at School and on Your Streets, The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., NY
Omeara, Kelly Patricia, (2000), School Violence, Greenhaven Press, Inc. San Diego, California