violence in the public schools. Teen violence in general has become a major concern in America today. One of the reasons for the issue being so prevalent is the number of school shootings in the last few years, especially the shooting at Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado. While the welfare of young people is always of concern, much of the fear being generated at the present time is excessive. For one thing, teen violence is not the new phenomenon many people seem to think it is, and an analysis of our history shows that violence in the schools has always been a problem and that in fact it is diminished at the present time. In truth, though, any school violence is too much, and ways of eliminating it and protecting students in school must be found. Several "solutions" to the problem have been offered.
One such recommendation is school uniforms, seen as a way of defusing tensions created by envy over the ability of some students to wear designer clothing, such as expensive sneakers. There are cases where clothing has led to violence. Another reason given is that administrators and teachers see the primary purpose of school a learning and believe that clothing differences are only a distraction to students. They note that at the elementary and intermediate school levels, students are not mature enough to understand the reason for clothing differences and for the ability of some students to dress better than others.
LaFalce states that when we send children to school, we expect them to learn and play with friends and return home happy. We expect them to be safe at school:
We do not anticipate that they should worry about being beaten up or shot at for their sneakers or designer jacket, or bullied for their supposedly unfashionable clothes, or robbed of valuable personal effects and jewelry (LaFalce).
School uniforms are not a new idea and have long been used at Catholic and military schools, as well as in certain school districts across the country. Uniforms are considered a way to promote academics and school spirit and a way to counter gang attire, suggestive or objectionable clothing, and pressure on students to wear designer clothing or expensive sneakers.
In 1996, President Clinton stated in supporting school uniforms,
Quality education is critical to America's future and the future of our children and families. We cannot educate our children, however, in schools where weapons, gang violence, and drugs threaten their safety. We must do everything possible to ensure that schools provide a safe and secure environment where the values of discipline, hard work and study, responsibility, and respect can thrive and be passed on to our children (Clinton 368).
Clinton links this idea to the issue of school uniforms and points out the primary reason why school districts are using school uniforms as a solution:
Too often, we learn that students resort to violence and theft simply to obtain designer clothes or fancy sneakers. Too often, we learn that clothing items worn at school, bearing special colors or insignias, are used to identify gang membership or instill fear among students and teachers alike (Clinton 368).
He cites several examples of districts that have implemented a policy requiring school uniforms and that have also reduced violence and crime by doing so. He cites the Long Beach, California school district which greatly decreased student drug cases, sex offenses, assault and battery cases, and fights by requiring school uniforms. Clinton also states that the learning environment was improved because teachers could focus more on education and less on discipline. He also refers to other schools in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dayton, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Memphis, Milwaukee, Nashville, New Orleans, Phoenix, Seattle, and St. Louis which have also instituted mandatory or voluntary school uniform policies with promising results.
Other authorities can also be cited. In California in 1993, Governor Pete Wilson signed a bill authorizing school districts to require students to wear uniforms; this law was inspired by the Long Beach Unified School District, the country's first major district to mandate uniforms for its 57,500 elementary school students. Members of the board of aldermen in Chicago asked the school board to examine the issue of whether students could legally be required to follow a uniform dress code. Administrators in Detroit conducted a survey to ascertain the degree of parental support for a district-wide uniform policy. Similar efforts were undertaken by schools in Connecticut, New York, Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana, and Maryland. According to the editor of The School Administrator magazine, Jay Goldman, the Internet has been filled with questions concerning uniform policies, showing how important the issue has become:
Advocates of uniform policies say uniforms eliminate competition over clothes and reduce the number of incidents of violence inspired by gang colors. Some even argue that uniforms aid in the retention of students by creating higher attendance, increased test scores and fewer disciplinary problems (Thomas).
Critics of such changes believe that school administrators are seeking conformity at the expense of developing the individuality of students. Other efforts to curb school violence have also been described as substituting harsh and unbending rules for the exercise of judgment. Many schools have instituted what they call "zero tolerance" policies for weapons at school, and this has resulted in such actions as suspending a seven-year-old boy in Cahokia, Illinois for having a nail clipper at school. Zero tolerance for drugs has led to similar responses for having an aspirin.
Some have considered even more intrusive methods for determining who might become violent. Research has been conducted on the sources of violence and how to decide who might become violent, though researchers in this field do so with great concerns for how any system they develop might be used. In recent years, this study has offered interesting findings and hypotheses about how hormones, genes, and the brain control aggressive behavior. Even so, "some are wary that if the field matures and starts producing new, specific antiaggression drugs, they could be abused by governments or doctors as a 'quick fix' for violence in society, rather than addressing the social and economic problems that often underlie it" (Enserink).
Administrators face a difficult situation given that parents demand a completely safe environment in schools while the truth is that absolute safety is impossible to assure:
Schools, by their very nature, will never be truly secure unless we turn them into prisons. And without a prison-like environment, anyone bent on recreating Columbine can certainly accomplish what he sets out to do. How many laws were broken by the Columbine gunmen? How do you stop an insider from destroying your school? Case after case of insider "terrorism" proves one thing: you can't stop it (Access Control & Security Systems Integration Staff).
Administrators can only do their best to create and maintain a secure environment. Experts suggest instituting a long-term Security Master Plan using the following steps:
Find out what you need to protect.
Figure out the cost of the best options to protect it.
Work out a multi-year budget for your most viable protection options.
Execute your plan (Access Control & Security Systems Integration Staff).
An important step is to encourage teachers and students to observe their environment and to report problems when they see them. Students often worry telling tales to teachers and administrators, and this reluctance has to be overcome:
Teach them there's a big difference between tattling and reporting. When child alerts an adult to something that could be dangerous or destructive, it's not tattling, it's responsible reporting ("Make Them See: Reporting Threats is NOT Tattling" 30).
Teachers and administrators must also be sensitive to the environment, for a federal study of school violence shows that there are usually warning signs including verbal threats, notes, or suicidal behavior which can alert the school to a problem. In particular, the study recommended taking suicide threats seriously: " Those who committed acts of deadly violence were nearly seven times more likely than their victims to have expressed some form of suicidal behavior prior to the event" (Bowman 12).
Companies are offering security programs and specific plans for schools, something that in the past would have been less likely to be used because to do so would be perceived as an admission by administrators that they could not handle the situation and that they had a problem. Today, virtually everyone has the problem. However, security measures are not always effective:
Some of these issues are the use of security technology, physical security measures, crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), school resource officers, crisis planning, training, crime prevention, and security consultants. But the heightened attention, even when coupled with implementation of some protective measures, has not always resulted in increased security (Trump 60).
Many schools have rushed to institute safety measures and so have not been as diligent as they should be in how these programs are designed. Such measures then become a waste of funds and can create a false sense of security. A…