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Violence in the Schools
By David W. Kirkpatrick (September 20, 2007)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us
Thirty years ago, one student in four said violence was a problem at their school. At one point, nearly half of the nation's students reported they were afraid to use their school's restrooms.
School violence thus has a long history and efforts to counter often show little success.
Fifteen times in five years violent death and injury struck at a school. Each time everyone asked why?
One standard response is that too many families are dysfunctional. Yet few if any of the families of the assailants have been judged to be guilty on this count. Frequently, they don't even fit the stereotype of low-income or urban families. Many, if not most, of the assailants have come from middle- and upper middle-class families, some from reportedly expensive homes.
But, even if the charge of family failure should be true, there is no way "society" can enter the homes of millions of families (and which families?) to determine the upbringing of their children.
Even more nebulous is the response that society has lost its bearings and no longer honors the old-fashioned values. Again, even if true, it's not a helpful guide. Even the federal government with all its resources cannot control "society."
More importantly, such broad-based explanations ignore the role of the schools. While schools cannot "correct" families or society, they can improve themselves.
Even the proposed and enacted solutions within the schools tend to concentrate on security. Some "zero-tolerance" weapon policies which result in students being suspended or even expelled for such things as pointing a finger and saying "bang," seem to border on the irrational.
Others responses, while perhaps having merit still have shortcomings. One call is for security guards. In at least one instance of school violence , one of the guards was among those shot.
Some people prescribe the use of more metal detectors. While this may have a deterrence effect, it should not lead to complacency. In one instance, two students set off a false fire alarm and, from a distance, shot at those leaving the building. Metal detectors would have been useless. In others, had the assailants faced metal detectors, the ones staffing them might have been among those shot, perhaps even the first ones to be victims.
What are some of the things many major tragedies have in common?
First, they have not occurred in inner city schools.
Second, with rare exceptions, minorities and low-income students have not been involved either as assailants nor as victims, which means race was not a factor.
In virtually every case the perpetrators indicated they were the targets of bullying, that they were loners who believed that no one cared for them or seemed to be aware they existed. These are things about which the school system can and should do something.
While it is true that these events generally occur in public schools, not in the 25,000 nonpublic schools, to frame it as a public vs. private school phenomenon is too simplistic.
Violent incidents have not involved many public schools in general but mostly large ones where attendance is compulsory.
Violence, at least of this magnitude, is rare in the nation's 100,000 public schools that are small. More to the point, and often overlooked in the school choice debate, thousands of public schools whatever their size, such as magnet schools and charter schools, are schools of choice. Everyone, staff and student alike, is there voluntarily.
One federal study of charter schools concluded that the average size of new ones is 137 students -- larger ones tend to be converted public schools. The average nonpublic school is also smaller than the average public one -- with about 200 pupils enrolled in each of the former to 500 in the latter. Even there, averages can be misleading. It has been reported that half of all public high schools enroll more than 1,500 students; 70% have more than 1,000.
Hundreds of studies have found that large schools are less effective and more dangerous than small ones. In addition to the research, we are repeatedly given living, or dying, proof.
Why can't we learn?
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"Research tentatively suggests that student improvement ‘may require sweeping changes in the organization, structure and conduct of educational experience.'...Change is unlikely to come from the schools themselves." Andrew Barnes, "Study Disputes Money-Education Link," p A-14, The Washington Post, March 8, 1972
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Copyright 2007 David W. Kirkpatrick
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Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633