December 1, 1997, Michael Carneal, a freshman in West Paducah, Kentucky opened fire on his classmates, killing three and wounding five. One year later, on March 5, 1998, Mitchell Woodward shot and killed five classmates and wounded eleven in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Just one year after that, Eric Harris and Dylan Kleibold committed the most heinous act of school violence in United States History in Littleton, Colorado. There, in Columbine High School, Harris and Kleibold killed twelve students, a teacher and later took their own lives. Random acts of school violence seemed to spread across the nation undetected, and protecting no one.
These events occurred only a few years ago, and it is important for college students to recognize the issue of school violence as a problem that must not go unnoticed. While for the most part, college campuses are isolated from the incidents of violence that engulf many high schools and middle schools, it is possible that college students could be indirectly affected by school tragedies. For example, one may have a friend whose sister was in a shooting, or a cousin whose school was on lock down. Furthermore, there may come a day when one’s own child will be at school desperately hiding from another angry classmate. For these reasons, it is important to address school violence as a significant problem and institute methods of prevention.
Following the shootings in West Paducah, Kentucky, Jonesboro, Arkansas, and Littleton, Colorado, many people began searching for similarities between all three incidents. Among these similarities were certain characteristics possessed by the shooters. Michael Carneal, the shooter in West Paducah was “fed up with school, parents not paying attention and nobody caring about him,” according to his defense psychologist Dewey Cornwell (Malone 80). In Jonesboro, Arkansas, Mitchell Woodard was described as angry, and had a long list of past incidents of trouble (Malone 80). Later, in Littleton Colorado, Eric Harris and Dylan Kleibold were also social outcasts, who were constantly teased, and therefor very angry and filled with rage (Malone 80). These common characteristics shared between shooters have led many educators and lawmakers to profile potentially violent students. Many educators have used a checklist provided by the National School Safety Center, which consists of characteristics of students who would be likely to commit an act of violence (NSSC). Such characteristics include, displaying antisocial behavior, having a history of bullying, or being bullied, and preferring read or watch material containing violence. In many cases, students possessing these traits have been suspended, and forced to attend personality changing counseling sessions. Is this truly a good solution in preventing school violence? Many people have disagreed. So what are the alternatives? Alternatives to profiling can be divided up into three approaches including the educator’s approach, the parental approach and the legislative approach.
The educator’s approach to preventing school violence is aimed at using school personnel as a positive way to combat school violence. Educators share two different ways to prevent school violence, including pairing students with community involvement and reducing school sizes. First, many educators see families and communities as the “root” cause of violence in schools (Casella 349). The belief is that school violence may be decreased by increasing school involvement with communities. So, in an effort to prevent school violence, many schools have formed strong alliances with communities. Their main purpose is to let students know that within the community in which they learn, there are people who care about them, and want to help them with any problems they may have. In New York City, community alliances within schools demonstrate a strong local commitment to, “the formation of partnerships among a community based organization, and a nonprofit organization with a demonstrated commitment to expertise in developing education programs or providing educational services to students. The city had also promoted, “a local law enforcement agency or any combination thereof and a high level of youth participation in such projects or activities” (Casella 349). Likewise, in 1999, at Brandon High School in New York, the town’s people of the city of Brandon formed a support group for students made up of volunteers, and many people who had been affected by school violence in the past. The group even held a meeting which was named, the Community Town Meeting to Re- Invest in Our Youth. Among the topics discussed were youth and police relationships organizing evening social activities for youth and creating supportive services for youth during and after school (Casella 349). The project coordinator expressed how great it was to see that, “people could come together in a joint effort to rid our schools of violence” (Casella).
The second argument that educators make is that schools need to be smaller in order for the threat of school violence to dwindle. James Garbarino, director of the Family Life Development Center and professor of human development at Cornell University stated, “If I could do one single thing to prevent violence, it would be to ensure that teenagers are not in a high school bigger than four to five hundred students. If you want safe schools, get schooling down to size” (Klonsky 65). According to the 1999 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, schools with over one thousand students are eight times more likely to report violence incidents than schools with three hundred or less students (Klonsky 65). In his article, “How Smaller Schools Prevent School Violence,” Mitchell Klonsky reports the success that one school in Rhode Island has had in having a low enrollment. At Perspectives High School in Providence, Rhode Island, the main purpose of having smaller schools it to increase the visibility of each student. With an enrollment of less than four hundred, teachers are responsible for fourteen students, which allows teacher to know their students better. As a result, the school has experienced one -eighteenth the rate of suspensions regarding violence as other schools in Providence (Klonsky 65). Both involving communities and cutting school size down are much more positive alternatives to profiling in the attempt to prevent school violence, and seem to be working.
Those seeking the parental approach believe parents should practice positive parenting techniques and need to be more involved in the lives of their children. According to Carolyn Pereia from the Educational Resources Information Center, parents should do two things when raising their children to let them know they are cared for. First, parents need to recognize positive accomplishments in their children. Pereia suggests, “Kids need to know they’re on the right track” (Pereia 1). Second, parents should have high expectations of their kids academically and socially. Pereia states, “If key people in a child’s environment give clear and constant signals that violence is not the norm, children will be more likely to develop anti-violent patterns of behavior” (Pereia 1).
Similarly, in the article, “School Violence- Family Responsibility”, Patricia Neufeld conducted an experiment proving that parent involvement reduces aggression that would cause a student to become violent. The experiment concluded that parental involvement was positively correlated with positive student attitudes towards schools and negatively correlated with problem behaviors such as school violence and aggression (Neufeld 207). The purpose of parents being more involved is to become more familiar with the feelings of their kids. Parents who are more aware of how their kids feel about school can help them to solve the problems that they may be facing before they become violent (Neufeld 207). Second, a child whose parents are more available is less likely to hold resentment towards their parents, and take their aggression out on classmates when they get to school (Neufeld 207). Overall, parents need to be more involved in their kids’ lives to become familiar with how their kids feel, and to decrease the animosity that their kids feel towards them, so that the anger is not brought to school.
Finally, the legislative approach is aimed at providing funding to schools to prevent violence, and impending tougher gun laws. In his article, “Where the Policy Meets the Pavement: Stages of Public Involvement in the Prevention of School Violence,” Ronnie Casella suggests that schools need to implement programs aimed at preventing violence, however, they do not have the money in their budgets to do so. Casella reports, that there should be more laws such as President Clinton’s Gun Free Schools Act. The law mandates that schools enact a zero tolerance policy in regards to firearms, and if the schools do not, then their funding will be confiscated. The purpose of establishing more laws such as the one above is to give schools initiatives to prevent school violence. This funding from the government can be used to support programs that link schools to community organizations aimed at preventing school violence (Casella 353). In fact, Casella reports that in 1999, three million dollars was given to schools to develop violence prevention programs (Casella 353). Casella believes that the establishment of more laws will decrease the incidents of school violence (Casella b353).
Similarly, legislators propose that there need to be stricter gun laws with harsher consequences to make students think twice about bringing a gun to school. According to Richard E. Redding and Sarah M. Shalf, in their article, “The Legal Contexts of School Violence: The Effectiveness of Federal, State, and Local Efforts to Reduce Gun Violence in Schools,” a gun law is currently being proposed. The Violent and Repeat Juvenile Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Act’s goal is to have strict consequences for juveniles having guns in school. The law would provide a maximum twenty year sentence for carrying weapons in school zones and adds semiautomatic assault weapons and automatic feeding devices as weapons forbidden for juveniles (Redding and Shalf 297). It is believed that if legislators provide funding to schools, and input tougher gun control laws, then school violence will be less prevalent.
All in all, the alternatives proposed by those seeking the educator’s approach, the parental approach and the legislative approach are all positive solutions to preventing school violence incidents in the United States. Many believe that profiling is not the best method of prevention , so educators, parents and legislators are seeking other alternatives in keeping America’s schools safe. It is important for college students to learn about these alternatives because their children’s future in school may be impacted by the preventions put in place today.