Perpetuating School Violence: How to Find New Ways to Keep Schools Safe

By Fox, James Alan; Levin, Jack | District Administration, May 2004 | Go to article overview

Perpetuating School Violence: How to Find New Ways to Keep Schools Safe


Fox, James Alan, Levin, Jack, District Administration


Although images of the 1999 Columbine massacre are still fresh in our minds, we appear to have turned the corner in the struggle to control school violence.

Five years ago, it seemed as though there was no end in sight to the growing threat of schoolyard terror. Survey after survey indicated that school safety was the most critical issue for parents, well ahead of concerns over curriculum quality or the availability of educational resources.

Amidst a pervasive state of alarm, many administrators responded by turning their schools into armed camps. They upgraded security and sought to identify potentially violent students by scanning for warning signs such as black trenchcoats or bullying. More and more students passed through metal detectors and were repeatedly reminded to be on the lookout for anyone uttering a threat.

Oddly, well meaning efforts to reduce school shootings may actually have had the unintended effect of intensifying fear in vulnerable students while encouraging angry students to take up guns against their classmates. These practices inadvertently reminded vengeful students around the country about one particular way to resolve their problems. Violence against classmates had become, if not an accepted way, at least a familiar way to respond to classroom bullies. The attention we paid to school violence only reinforced that notion.

The Evolution of School Violence

While most children identify with the pain of the victims, a few alienated youngsters identify more with the power of the perpetrators. They see school shooters not as villains but as heroes. Not only did they get even with the nasty bullies and insensitive teachers, but they're famous for it.

In many respects, the problems students face today are no different than earlier generations. There have been schoolyard bullies as long as there have been schools; there has been adolescent alienation as long as there have been teenagers.

Yet, earlier generations of disgruntled youngsters responded in less violent ways. School homicides committed by teenagers a decade ago were isolated cases of mostly one-on-one attacks. …

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