Terror in the Classroom

It was a cold and snowy day in February of 1995. I was in seventh grade. I remember walking to my locker in the morning, and as I turned the corner, I saw it happen. My young eyes peered upon one of the scariest things I have ever witnessed. My heart started pounding, and my body began to tremble. I had no clue what to do. I said to myself, “How could this be happening? Not here, this school is very safe! ” Fortunately, a teacher walked outside of her door, turned, and saw the very same horrifying sight that I was witnessing.

She quickly went over and grabbed the young boy and escorted him to the principal’s office. I was later summoned to the office to state what I had seen. I then told the principal exactly what I had witnessed. What I saw was an eighth grader hold a little six grader at knifepoint, for money. With all of the recent attention that the media has given acts of violence in schools, it is hard to ignore the fact that our society has a serious problem. Elementary aged children are being expelled for bringing guns to school.

High school students choose not to attend class in fear that someone is going to hurt, or harass them. Even more alarming, children are actually killing fellow classmates over humiliation, popularity, or the newest pair of Nike’s. What is the cause of this? Maybe it is alienation from peers, their family environment, an overcrowded classroom, living in a bad neighborhood, lack of attention, or they simply think that violence is the best way to resolve problems. Whatever the intentions, our society has to face the realization of this problem, and we must work together to make schools safer for our children.

To understand where the problem originates, we must first look at the history of this problem and what actions have already been taken. Taking in account the violent nature of some of these events, we need to analyze the facts. We need to look at some of the issues facing schools and students right now and find out what solutions are and are not working. Understanding the problem is the first step in creating effective solutions. Research of some issues and statistics will aid in the understanding of this problem, to better produce a solution. Over the last few years this problem has been on a dramatic increase.

Although numbers point in both directions, to fully understand this problem we need to analyze each school system individually. In 1994 the United States Congress passed the Gun-Free Schools Act. “This act required all states to pass laws that require a mandatory expulsion for any student caught bringing a firearm into school” (Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994). Over the last couple of years, we have experienced a dramatic number of incidents with fatal shootings and violence in schools all across the country. In 1998, in the small town of Gainesville, Florida, a young boy shot his teacher and two of his classmates.

In April of 1999, in Littleton, CO, two students went on an outrageous killing spree. “And most recently, on September 26, 2000, a 13-year-old boy shot a 15-year-old boy after a former student slipped him a gun under the schoolyard fence” (Ibanga 1). With all these outbreaks of school violence, the Department of Education is scrambling to find better solutions. “In September of 1999, President Clinton announced that more than one hundred million dollars in grants, spread over fifty-four communities nationwide, would be awarded to help safeguard our schools” (Corbett 1).

Closer to home, in Indiana, the Indianapolis Public School Board voted unanimously to approve a policy that allows the IPS officers to carry guns during school hours. Even though we have recently made new policy decisions, laws, and procedures, there are still many cases of violence in schools all across the country, but why? Most people would blame the cause of school violence on many things. The average person that is at risk of being an “aggressor” of violence in a school is classified in several ways.

He or she is considered to be most likely from a troubled home, frustrated from lack of attention, pressured from his or her peers, and live in a violent neighborhood. Also, a violent act is more likely to take place in a public high school than in a private high school. In chapter two of Lives on the Boundary, Mike Rose talks about the setting in which he lived. He lived in a horrible neighborhood in South Central, LA. He saw countless acts of violence around the community. If Mike Rose had not gone to a private high school, but to a public high, he would very well have encountered a violent act at school.

He grew up in that very projected neighborhood where students would be more apt to commit violent acts within the school. He did not write specifically about violence in schools; however, he could have easily been unfortunately involved with it, had he gone to one of the public schools in his area. When looking at the facts, it is important to define a few things first. Statistics and reports are being developed everyday, but it is hard to say if these facts portray a generalized feeling for every school system nationwide. In looking at statistics, it is important to note that according to the U. S. Department of Education, school aged children range from 5-19 years in age. In breaking these down into smaller groups, the U. S. Department of Education recognizes four levels of education, pre-school, elementary school, junior high school, and high school.

The structure of what grades fall into which level of education, varies from state to state. In analyzing some statistics, there are frightening results. “In 1998, nearly one million, U. S. school aged students, took a gun or some type of weapon to school” (Mintle 9). Out of those one million, a total of three thousand five hundred twenty-three students were caught and expelled for bringing a firearm to school. In looking at this total, fifty-seven percent of those expelled were high school aged children, thirty-three percent were in junior high, and ten percent were at the elementary level” (Mintle). “Indiana in particular, a total of one hundred-three students were expelled in the 1998-1999 school year; in comparison to the 1997-1998 school year, where only sixty-two expulsions were handed out. That is an increase of sixty-six percent over one year.

Indiana ranks as the thirteenth highest state in the country for the number of expulsions, with the State of Texas being the highest, reporting two hundred ninety-four cases last year” (U. S. Department of Education, 1998-1999). There are literally thousands of statistics and reports on violence in schools, but with these few statistics, it is easy to see that this is not just an isolated problem. This is something that every state, city, town, and school is facing in today’s society. It is important to pay attention to these figures so we can begin to understand how to solve this problem.

In this day and age it is hard to say that any effort to curb school violence is not effective. There cannot be one overall policy that will work for each and every school. “Because each school has different demographics, different crime rates in their surrounding communities, and different staffs and budgets, there can never be just one way of controlling the violence in schools” (Flannery, 1997). In choosing a policy that will work for their school, each school district needs to evaluate their situation, staff, budget constraints, and laws to determine what type of action may work for their school.

Wilson High School in Washington, D. C. , decided to install metal detectors to deter students from bringing any type of weapon to class, and still, they could not prevent a fatal stabbing just outside the building last year” (Marcus 1). Some schools are trying the intervention approach, where teachers and administrators look for troubled students by signs in assignments, general attitude, and cliques. They try to report these observations to the principal, and if efforts fail to correct the problem, then suspension could quickly follow.

Most school systems will find that the violence prevention policy they are following is very different from that of the next school. Some programs have been proven to work in some cases, and not work in other cases. Any measure a school can take to prevent violence in their school is something. Over time, administrators, teachers, and parents will have better control over the violence in their schools, and a better understanding as to why kids have these violent tendencies. Great efforts have been taken to help prevent violence in schools. One of the many solutions is to address school violence as a security issue.

Some school systems have installed metal detectors at all school entrances to prevent weapons from entering school grounds. Some school boards are adopting a zero tolerance policy, which automatically suspends a student for any type of disruptive or abusive behavior, and with the Gun-Free Schools Act, requiring an immediate expulsion to any student caught with a firearm. To resolve conflict among students or settle disputes, nonviolent methods such as mentoring programs, where specially trained people teach students how to talk out problems rather than resorting to violence, have been created.

This program helps build character and develop moral reasoning. To increase control of students, schools have installed video cameras and alarm systems, and have police officers and guards during school hours. A report on school violence published by Mary Anne Raywid, a professor at Hofstra University and an international educational consultant, suggests that smaller schools are the key. She explains that larger schools have higher levels of violence, disorder, and teacher dissatisfaction. She thinks that smaller schools create a more personal sense of community and make the students feel less alienated and ignored.

Professor Raywid explains that research has proven that smaller schools have fewer problems because they are simply less in numbers. “Place children in smaller schools where they are individuals and will be missed if they are absent” (Raywid 1-7). There is always room for improvement, and there is a need to continue to work on new and creative ways to handle this problem. As we have learned, this problem is facing every American community. With all the resources and information out there in the world, as a society, we need to examine this problem and pay attention to the details.

We need to recognize those children with problems and get them the help they deserve. We need to hold accountable the teachers and administrators to become more aware of their surroundings. Politicians need to be held accountable to make the teachers’ jobs easier and the schools less crowded. Parents need to stay involved in their children’s lives and notice behavior patterns. This issue affects every one of us; some are parents now, while others are future parents to be. We need to continue working hard to discover new ways to stop this problem, and preserve the future of America.