School Vandalism: Individual and Social Context

Article excerpt

Various disciplines such as psychology and sociology have examined vandalism from different perspectives, and it is difficult to reach consensus on a definition. Nevertheless, some of the definitions have common elements, such as: "an intentional act aimed at damaging or destroying an object that is another's property" (Moser, 1992); "a voluntary degradation of the environment with no profit motive whatsoever, the results of which are considered damage by the actor(s) as well as the victim in relation to the norms that govern the situation" (Goldstein, 1996, p. 19); and "the willful or malicious destruction, injury, disfigurement, or defacement of property without the consent of the owner" (Casserly, Bass, & Garrett, 1982, p. 4). Most of the definitions highlight intentionality, destructiveness, and property ownership. This form of destructive behavior is thus motivated not by profit but by other factors. Cohen (1984) suggests that acts of vandalism are motivated by anger, boredom, catharsis, erosion of alrea dy damaged objects, or aesthetic factors.

Research on vandalism is divided into two categories. Some studies look at vandalism from the point of view of the individual who commits it: personal traits, difficulties in adjusting to society at large and to school in particular, and emotional problems. This perspective is derived mainly from epidemiological studies. Other studies look at vandalism in a broader social context. Research on vandalism as a social phenomenon began in the 1930s with ecological studies by the Chicago School. Vandalism was explained as a malaise of modern society that is characterized by alienation and meaninglessness. Zimbardo (1969) used the term deindividuation to describe a situation in which individuals lose their uniqueness. According to Zimbardo, the malaise of modern society is related to a high level of social mobility, rapid growth, and instability. Erikson looked at modern society from the point of view of adolescents who experience social mores and values inconsistently and therefore become involved in nonnormative b ehavior.

According to Casserly, Bass, and Garrett (1982), the social explanations of vandalism until the 1970s were too amorphous and unfocused; consequently, their explanatory power was limited. A new line of explanations began to look at specific institutions, one of them being school. Pioneering research on school violence and school vandalism--the Safe School Study--was conducted in the mid-1970s (U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1978). The study, carried out in approximately 25,000 schools throughout the United States, examined objective parameters as well as subjective ones (i.e., students' perceptions). The objective parameters found to have an effect on school vandalism were school size, age of the student population, teacher turnover, and parental support for the school's discipline policy. The salient subjective parameters were the students' views of how their teachers function (e.g., how fair they are, whether they use grades to exert power over students) and whether school rules are unambi guous (U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1978).

Following this major study, research was conducted that focused on the connection between vandalism and school effectiveness and climate. It was found that when school climate was not positive and did not enhance students' social welfare, the rate of vandalism was high, and when the school did not effectively promote learning, vandalism tended to increase (Zeisel, 1977). It was also found that vandalism increased in schools where students did not have a sense of belonging.

Some researchers have emphasized teacher-student interaction as a causal variable (Heller & White, 1975). Others have noted that tolerance, respect for others, and motivation to achieve are important in mitigating vandalism (Dust, 1984; Geller, 1992). In an Israeli study, Horowitz and Amir (1981) found that students who were involved in vandalism were socially marginal at school; they felt alienated from school and were low achievers though not necessarily low in terms of competence. …