Last Thursday was my niece’s birthday. Having spoken to her Thursday night on the phone, I woke up Friday thinking about Christmas activities that I could prepare for my own kids, nieces and nephews. I even tweeted about the beauty of childhood while I waited for my son to gather his stuff for school. From the time I drove, dropped off my son at school, I returned to my car and learned about the horrific news about Sandy Hook Elementary. My heart sank. My hands shook. My first instinct was to return to my son’s school and get him. Was I exaggerating? As a parent who taught elementary school for over one decade, I was at a crossroad. Connecticut was clearly the other side of our nation, so why did this nightmare bring me to uncontrollable tears and want me to remove my son from his school? I didn’t pick him up until after school. I just waited with the world to hear every account of this baleful, horrific incident.
The thought of a short essay question (from two years prior) then came to mind.
Two years ago, while in graduate school, I was given a short essay question: What is the one problem you see in our educational system? I wrote a short essay about it. As I now reread the essay, I am disillusioned. My response to that essay question then is now invalid. School violence is a nation’s problem, not a school districts’. School violence stems from kids’ home environment. I do not know- nor care to know- what home environment Lanza had, it’s too late. So, since our schools can’t possibly be fully protected from external violence, then what is left to tackle? Take the weapons perpetrators use? Absolutely. In the short essay I wrote two years ago, I clearly missed the most common denominator: firearms. All, with the exception of two students, had a firearm. How can we educators in every educational campus standup to firearms? We can’t.
Frankly, as I reread the essay below, I can’t help but to feel stupid. School violence is now a pernicious disease; its antidote is in the hands of our politicians- that is a scary thought.
Can School Violence Be Stopped? (written in 2010)
Having taught a wide range of students for a decade before becoming a parent, I assumed all educational issues would come with ease. While pregnant, I would often ignore unsolicited advice given to me by veteran parents. Then my son was born and I was humbled; all educational issues became instant worries. Now, the one unsolicited advice that resonates after eight years is, “when your son starts schools, make sure you warn him about school violence.” Needless to say, the current educational issue that is important to me as a parent and educator is school violence. Because school violence is both an internal and external problem in education, it must be addressed by parents, school staff, and communities. Unfortunately, ten years post Columbine, school violence still captures our attention; for example: Heritage High School (Atlanta), a student wounds six with a gun. Santana High School (Santee, CA), two students die and 13 are injured when a classmate opens fire. Parlier High School (Parlier, CA), a student deliberately struck and killed another student with a vehicle. Ahwahnee Middle School (Fresno, CA), seventh grader died of head trauma caused by a fight with a classmate. Forkner Elementary School (Fresno, CA), a 9mm semi-automatic handgun was found in a second grader’s backpack. These are only a few of the countless examples of school violence. Let us not exclude all the deaths that have recently occurred due to bullying. The above is evidence that parents, schools, and communities must tackle this dire issue.
School violence is an external issue due to lack of parental guidance. Taking the time to talk to one’s child about his/her school life makes a difference. Information about the Columbine incident revealed that parents of the shooter and his accomplice “had no idea that their children were creating a bomb in their garage, or target shooting for that matter” (articles.latimes.com /1999). Their tragic example should implore all parents to guide their children and get involved with their school life. If lines of communication with the school seem closed, parents must open them. “Studies show that youth are less likely to misbehave or engage in violent acts if parents from their neighborhood are visible on campus” (Aboutteens.org). Thus, school visits should be incorporated in our daily routine. In doing so, parents can ensure that their children have healthy friendships. Whether your child is a bully or a victim of such, parents must be aware of signs of both (displayed aggression, negative behavior(s), low self-esteem, excessive alone time, and/or anger management issues). In addition, the simple acts of checking your child’s backpacks and/or viewed internet websites can help in parental guidance.
As an internal issue, school staff must first acknowledge that school violence exists in their school. According to the CA Department of Education, not all school counties are trained to undertake the bullying issue. All schools have some form of violence (social banter/hurtful teasing, pushing/ shoving, subtle negative body language). Thus, every school must take part of program that trains all staff and students to prevent school violence. All schools are trained to handle a crisis, but not to prevent it. One way to prevent violence is identifying it before it occurs. Teachers must identify students with lack of parental guidance and seek proper help for him/her. Know the students. Schools must also promote positive home-school relations through constant, interactive communication so that parents feel comfortable turning to the school for help. School staff and students must know how to recognize the warning signs a student might be headed for violence in order to prevent it.
The issue of school violence must also be addressed by the community. First of all, policymakers must address lax school administration policies on discipline. Policymakers must create stricter discipline policies. Also, enforcement of existing school-site discipline and procedures must be physically reviewed; policymakers should conduct school visits to physically check for implementation of existing policy. All schools must be held accountable for their policies by policymakers. Just as citizens are cited for traffic violations, administrators must be cited when their policies are not implemented. Overall, violence in the school environment is detrimental to learning; it affects the scholastic achievement of all students. Hence, it affects us as a community. School violence impedes school reform and academic achievement. Teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn when violence crosses our path. Parents, school staff, and community leaders have the power to create a safe school environment. We are all part of the triangular problem as we are the solution in preventing school violence.