The recent violence on school grounds (including elementary, middle school and high school violence) has created a climate of fear in American public schools, and the literature presented in this review relates to that fear and to the difficulty schools face in determining what students might be capable of mass killings on campus. Television coverage of school shootings leave the impression that there is more violence on school campuses than there really is, but the threat is real, students are being killed, and the background into how and why these murders take place is a main point of this paper. Moreover, the acts of violence at schools create perceptions that may or may not be valid, and that issue is part of this literature review as well.
Perceptions of School Violence
Why do Americans have the perception that schools are places where violence takes place on a regular basis -- when that is not truly the case? A scholarly article in the peer-reviewed journal The Clearing House points to the fact that when there are highly publicized acts of brutal violence at schools, because of the bold, up-close-and-personal video reports on television sets across the nations, the rare acts of violence stick in the minds of Americans. The article explains that there are upwards of 55 million students attending public schools in the United States today, including from kindergarten through 12th grade (Algozzine, et al., 2011), and obviously not all schools are places where killings take place. And moreover, "…reports of school crime and violence" from administrators, students, and teachers "…differ in severity and in nature from what is perceived" by the greater society (Algozzine, 91). The salient point this paper presents is that Americans perceive that schools (per se) are not safe, Algozzine explains (91).
The authors research existing studies of administrators, teachers, and students, to tap into their perceptions of exactly how much violence they witness or personally experience in public schools. A credible survey by several authors (Sprague, Smith, and Steiber, 2002) points out that principals in public schools "…perceived schools to be safe" (Algozzine, 92). Administrators reported that up to 80% of their problems (discipline referrals) result from "…ineffective classroom management on the part of teachers" (Algozzine, 92).
As for teachers, a recent study (Smith and Smith, 2006) reflects that their "…perceptions of violence…influenced their decision to leave" and go to schools that are less chaotic; the abuses teachers reported include drugs and weapons in schools and teachers also leave because of their perception that community violence had "…seeped into the school" and hence, it was time to leave (Algozzine, 92). Meanwhile, studies involving middle school students show they are not as concerned about gun violence as they are about bullying and being "…victimized at school" (Algozzine, 93). Research conducted by Hughes, Middleton, and Marshall (2009) reflects that about 15% of students surveyed "…reported being bullied often or daily" and that girls were more frightened of bullying than boys and younger students were more concerned about bullying than older students (Algozzine, 93).
Parents' concerns and perceptions were along the same lines as the teachers' perceptions; parents that stay in touch with teachers and listen to teachers' issues, know that the main interfering actions that disrupt schools aren't killings and shootings. Rather, according to Ashford (2001) parents understand that 80% of all problems teachers deal with are "nonviolent infractions" of rules (profanity, disruptive behavior, tardiness, etc.); the other 20% generally involves bullying (Algozzine, 93).
School Violence from Students' Perceptions
Author John Chapin has conducted research on youthful perceptions of school violence in the peer-reviewed journal Adolescence, and he reports that adolescents have misperceptions about the actual risks associated with being in school. Because children are "…bombarded daily by a broad array of violent messages in the media" (including shootings at schools and crime dramas on television), they are in fact receiving "mixed messages" and hence are left to decide "…what is accurate, what is real, and what it all means" (Chapin, 2008, 461).
Chapin discovered (through "multiple studies") that many students have an "optimistic bias" -- they believe they are "less vulnerable" than others are to "health risks" -- and they operate intellectually from a "third-person perception" (meaning they are less susceptible to violent media portrayals than the average person) (462). Chapin conducted a study involving 350 students in urban Pennsylvania (60% female and 80% Caucasian); these students participated in one-day "violence awareness" sessions and were asked to complete a survey following the sessions. One, they were asked to relate the degree to which they are influenced by violence in the media (third person perceptions); and two, "optimistic bias" was measured by asking, "Compared to other schools in the U.S. The chances of violence happening in my school are (-3 meant much less and +3 meant much greater) (Chapin, 465).
From the data collected, Chapin posits that students who believed they were "…less influenced than were others by media violence" also believed that "violence was not likely to happen in their school" (Chapin, 466). And students that had prior knowledge of school violence were associated in the survey results with "decreased levels of third-person perception, but not for optimistic bias" (Chapin, 467).
School Violence from Teachers' Perceptions
Why do some teachers leave schools that are located in urban settings? Because they believed there is an important "research gap" in data about why urban teachers leave their positions in inner city schools, Deborah Smith and Brian Smith researched that issue by interviewing twelve former urban educators (Smith, et al., 2006, 34). As background the authors point out that "…because of inferior working conditions" in low income neighborhoods the average public school teacher leaves after three to five years (Smith, 35). In fact, during any five-year period in an inner city school "…approximately one-half of the urban teaching force leaves the profession" (Smith, 34). It comes as no surprise that among the reasons inner city teachers abandon their schools (or their profession entirely) violence is at the top of the list.
But that having been said, the sum and substance vis-a-vis perceptions of violence is that some new urban teachers "…misinterpret students' actions as deviant" and as a result those teachers "treat [minority students] punitively" and tend to lower "expectations" as to how capable minority students are (Smith, 35). As to why the dozen teachers interviewed had left the inner city schools, "…ten of the twelve respondents" reported it was the "stress" that builds up at the very thought of potential violence, and is later manifest in actual fights witnessed by teachers on the school grounds that escalate into racial conflicts in their classrooms (Smith, 38). Whether factual or not, the majority of the 12 teachers surveyed viewed "…the students' social worlds as being violent and drug-ridden" (Smith, 40).
School Violence in Context - Victimization
In their book School Violence in Context, authors Rami Benbenishty and Ron Avi Astor explain that school violence relates in a very real way to "victimization" -- and not just to shootings and/or physical combat between students. Victimization takes many forms, and researchers are aware of these forms: "verbal harm; physical harm; sexual harassment; threats (think bullying); and weapon-related threatening and violent behaviors" (Benbenishty, et al., 2005, 9).
A positive school climate has a better chance to reduce victimization than a negative school climate, Benbenishty explains (11). In fact the more negative a school is -- and negativity in schools is described as those schools that are "less focused academically" -- the more the problem of bullying is usually present. Schools with large class sizes are also known to be conducive to students being victimized, Benbenishty continues (12). The authors run through a list of students that are particularly vulnerable to bullying, and those are: a) younger students; b) smaller students (that are shorter and perceived as weaker); c) students perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual (LGBT); d) a student that lacks "emotional support" from parents may become a bully; and e) and parents living in "socially toxic neighborhoods" who teach their kids to be aggressive and defiant -- those children are more likely to be bullies (Benbenishty, 16). School Violence -- Bullying
Is bullying an activity that is always learned in school? In some cases that might be true but in general, students learn bullying at home, according to Bully Busters, a teacher's manual published in 2003. Students may well learn to push and shove at home, and by the time they enter school they bring "…their aggressive means of interacting with them" (Horne, et al., 2003, 68).
Horne points out that most children report having experienced bullying "…at some point during their school years," in fact about 70% of students say they have been bullied (Horne, 68). A survey of 1,200 students from 85 schools reflected that 98% had witnessed bullying in their schools; of those 1,200 students, 40% indicated they had been bullied (Horne, 68). The authors assert that "…as many as 160 thousand children" stay…