You are on page 1of 7

Kristen VanDeRiet AP Language and Composition School Violence It took just two students to forever change peoples perspectives

on the safety of schools in the United States. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were seemingly typical teenagers; they were well-liked within their group of friends and had bright minds. However, they planned and executed an event that was not typical by any standards. On April 20, 1999, the two teenagers shot and killed 15 victims teaching at or attending Columbine High School. Schools have responded to this tragedy by implementing measures they hope will reduce violence and keep weapons out of their buildings; many have initiated zero tolerance policies. Although security is tighter and rules stricter, schools may not be any safer today than they were when the Columbine tragedy occurred. In an interview with the Grand Rapids Press, Dave Cullen, an expert on school violence and the author of Columbine, says, Failure to come to grips with the real reasons students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold embarked on a killing spree on April 20, 1999 increases the chances of a nasty surprise (Kopenkoskey). He implies that since most people do not understand why Dylan and Eric committed their crime, schools cannot figure out how to prevent a similar tragedy. This explains what schools should be doing to determine policies that would prevent acts of violence: paying attention to the reasons why those acts occur. However, many schools have instead initiated ineffective policies that often do more harm than good. These policies also do not involve parents and communities, which have a major influence on student violence. Schools today are not taking the right approach to prevent acts of violence. A common mistake schools make when trying to prevent school violence is implementing extremely strict policies that tend to backfire. These programs often include

placing police officers, metal detectors, and security cameras around the school. They also severely punish offenders of the rules. Many schools have adopted zero tolerance policies, which are the harshest school violence policies. Peggy Parks, author of School Violence, describes zero tolerance policies as policies that make most any infraction of school rules or behavior violations punishable with severe disciplinary measures (82). This specifically applies to guns, threats, and violence at most schools employing the practice. Initiating these policies may seem like a good choice at the surface level; however, doing this turns out to be a poor decision once examined more closely. One negative effect of this strict policy is that it discourages students from reporting any threats their friends make because doing so could get the friend expelled. This is a problem because, as Dave Cullen reports, 81 percent of shooters had confided their intentions. More than half told at least two people (323). Students often have information that could be used to prevent their classmates from carrying out violent plans. However, fear of the consequences discourages many students from sharing this information. This is not the only issue. The punishments used in many zero tolerance programs are counterproductive. Tamara Orr puts it this way in her book, Violence in Our Schools: To date there has been no data to support the effectiveness of suspending or expelling a student for bringing a weapon to school. In fact, in several cases it has only served to accelerate the students anger and push him or her over the edge into action (148). Punishing students with strict disciplinary measures does not teach them that violence is wrong. In fact, it aggravates them and increases the likelihood they will act on their threats. Since the punishment often involves suspension or expulsion, students are kept out of school, often resulting in time at home without supervision. This may provide more opportunity to plan and prepare for attacks. The strict rules also severely punish students for harmless offenses. Students have been suspended or expelled for matters such as bringing

Swiss army knives or toy guns to school. Tamara Orr writes, The biggest problem with zero tolerance policies is that they are so rigid and absolute, so all-or-nothing, that they dont allow room for circumstances to be considered (148). Even when students have good reasons why they should not be punished, their school administrators are unwilling to rescind or lessen the punishment. This is frustrating and exasperating to students and their parents. Another problem with zero tolerance policies is that they create a negative atmosphere and environment. The rules and enforcements increase tension and defiance in students. Michael Easterbrook writes about this effect in his article Taking Aim at Violence. Psychologists say that surrounding troubled young people with the accoutrements of a police state may only fuel their fascination with guns and increase their resistance to authority (171). The security measures taken with strict policies increase students interest in guns and violence. Treating every student as a potential criminal increases fear and creates a hostile environment. Another problem with the way schools are trying to prevent violence is that they are not taking the root causes into consideration when determining policies and regulations. For instance, bullying is one of the most significant contributors to school violence. Tamara Orr writes, It is reasonably clear that a major root cause of the recent school shootings is a school atmosphere that ignores or implicitly condones the taunting, rejection, and verbal abuse to which a great many students are subjected (115). Many schools do not realize that they have a bullying problem. Others recognize that bullying is occurring, but do not take action to prevent it. These schools may think that bullying is just a part of growing up. They do not realize that it can lead to violence. The Secret Services National Threat Assessment Center and the Department of Education found that in two-thirds of 37 school shootings over the last 25 years the attackers had felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others before the attack and that the bullying was often long-standing and severe. (Greenya 94)

This bullying can cause the subjected students to feel enraged; they want to have revenge or control over those who hurt them. They feel the only way to do this is through a violent attack. Bullying is a common reason for school shootings and violence and the issue definitely needs to be addressed when considering policies to help protect students. However, only 7 percent of schools have anti-bullying programs (Birkey). A study conducted by the Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education concluded that metal detectors, student profiles and police officers patrolling school hallways are less likely to prevent school shootings than anti-bullying programs (Danitz). In addition to bullying, schools should also consider individual risk factors when creating programs to combat school violence. Individual risk factors include mental issues such as depression, mood swings, or learning disorders. A history of aggression and a preoccupation with weapons or explosives are also signals that a student is likely to be involved in violence. Dylan Klebold, one of the two Columbine murderers, suffered from severe depression and mood swings. The other Columbine shooter, Eric Harris, also exhibited many individual risk factors. Since many risk factors are related to feelings, efforts to prevent school violence should be directed towards students emotional states. However, schools are not working to identify students who need intervention. Rather, they are putting too much effort into making sure students do not take weapons to school. In the movie, Bang Bang Youre Dead, a teacher stated, Its not whats in a kids backpack that makes him dangerous, its whats in his heart. The teacher is saying that guns or weapons are not the causes of school violence. Students mental and emotional conditions are. Schools need to figure out how students are feeling rather than what they are bringing to school. Another reason schools are not effectively preventing acts of violence is that they are not working together with the families and community. Family and community risk factors are

major contributors to school violence. One serious family risk factor is when a child receives little parental supervision or discipline. When parents fail to nurture and reinforce positive behavior, a child may develop violent behavior patterns. Helga Schier explains this concept in her book The Causes of School Violence. Children from all backgrounds, if left with little or no parental supervision, may act out violently to receive the attention they need and to offset their sense of loneliness (52). Many kids are not getting the help and support they need from their parents. This can lead them them to lash out in order to receive the attention that they lack. Programs that give students attention and supervision would be more effective in preventing school violence than strict policies such as zero tolerance. Another significant community risk factor is gang activity. 52 out of 220 incidents of school related deaths occurring between 1994 and 1999 were associated with gangs (Stanton). Helga Schier summarizes why gang activity is a major contributing factor to school violence. Gang activity can be disruptive to the school environment because it may insight fear among the general student population and increase the level of school violence (23). Gangs raise the level of fear in the student body and cause individuals to act out more violently. Gangs cause other problems with violence, as well. Members of gangs often find committing acts of violence to be more acceptable than others would because they place the blame on the gang rather than themselves. This is a problem because they are not held back by their own conscience. When creating policies to prevent school violence, schools should consider incorporating programs that would reduce gang activity. Schools need a more effective way to prevent violence. One measure schools could consider is one such as the Speak Up campaign. This is a program that gives people the opportunity to report weapon-related threats through telephone calls. This way, students would

not have to worry about being the source of their classmates blame if he or she receives punishments. This is an excellent idea because 80 percent of students participating in a survey said they would be more likely to report threats if they could do so anonymously (Parks 79). Another idea schools could think about is rewarding students for reporting threats, so that they are more inclined to come forward. Experts also suggest having students complete a questionnaire that would reveal any signs of depression. Students found to have symptoms could then receive help, thus lowering the suicide and homicide rate considerably. In order to reduce gang activity, schools could offer organizations that would provide a place where students feel accepted. Although incidents of school violence continue to occur and multiple studies show that schools should change their approach to violence, some people still argue that the measures currently being taken by schools are effective in preventing acts of violence. They believe that strict regulations such as zero tolerance policies prevent all mention and threats of school violence, and therefore stop it from occurring. However, this is not the case. Zero tolerance policies increase anger and resentment, and actually exacerbate any plans for violence. Other supporters of the current system say that schools should focus only on academics and that providing additional services such as counseling, supervision, or after-school activities is not a schools responsibility. However, in order to create a successful learning environment, schools need to take all necessary measures to make that environment secure. Addressing school violence is essential if schools are to effectively educate students. It is necessary that students feel safe in schools in order to maintain a favorable learning environment. However, many students currently have to try to learn in a fearful atmosphere. Because of this, schools need to change their approach to preventing violence. Although school

administrators are trying to create measures that would make their schools safer, they are doing so without adequate investigation. Many policies turn out to backfire and harm the school. However, there are alternative methods that would be successful. Schools need to take the root causes of school violence into consideration and involve parents and the community. They need to listen to experts advice and invest in learning more about policies that would prevent students from acting out violently. By doing this, schools would indeed be doing all they could to prevent another Columbine.