ERIC Identifier: ED335806
Publication Date: 1991-10-00
Author: Gaustad, Joan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Schools Attack the Roots of Violence. ERIC Digest, Number 63.
School crime and violence have been major concerns of educators and the
public since the early seventies. According to Moles (1991), some types of
school crime, such as theft and drug use, have remained level or diminished in
recent years. However, some evidence suggests violent crime may be increasing.
In California, the first state to require school districts to keep statistics
on school crime, the Department of Education (1989) reported that assaults in
the schools increased by 16 percent in the four years ending with the 1988-89
school year; incidents of weapons possession rose by 28 percent. The lack of
comparable data from other states makes a national trend difficult to confirm.
In 1987, the National School Safety Center estimated that nationwide 135,000
boys carried guns to school daily (Gaustad 1991).
This evidence suggests that schools must work to improve discipline and
physical security. These measures are not enough, however, to halt school
violence; educators must go further and attack the roots of violence.
WHY IS VIOLENCE INCREASING?
Availability of weapons is one
cause. According to the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, for every household
in the U.S., two guns are owned by private citizens (Gaustad). It's not
surprising that some of these guns fall into the hands of young people. Barrett
(1991) reports that in Washington, D.C., which has one of the nation's toughest
antihandgun laws, juveniles can easily buy guns on the black market. Or, for
short-term use, a youth can even "rent" a weapon.
Increased gang activity and drug trafficking contribute to the escalation in
violence. Battles over gang "turf" and drug territories often spill over into
the schools. Sophisticated weapons financed by drug profits are making these
battles increasingly bloodier (McKinney 1988).
Many students in crime-ridden innercity areas carry weapons for "protection"
from robberies and gang fights, even if they are not gang members themselves.
"But if they're armed, as soon as they get into an argument--boom!--they're
going to use it," says James Perry, a former crack dealer turned youth counselor
For some students, violence is a part of life. Their parents interact
abusively; violent behavior is the norm in their peer groups and community. "In
addition to the culture saying it's OK to be violent, they also don't have the
skills not to be violent," says Catherine Schar, supervisor of the Portland,
Oregon, Public Schools Student Discipline Programs (Gaustad).
ARE SCHOOLS RELUCTANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROBLEM?
reluctance to acknowledge violence as a problem is all too common. Greenbaum
(1989), communications director for the National School Safety Center, explains
that administrators may mistakenly believe that bullying, fights, and
intimidation are "just something all children go through...(but) these are
CRIMES. The fact that they were committed by minors on minors does not make them
less than crimes."
In addition, attackers naturally prefer to act where adult witnesses can't
see and hear. Kids are afraid of looking like "tattletales" if they report
problems, Greenbaum points out, so administrators often remain unaware of many
In recent years, gangs and drug trafficking have spread from the big cities
where they originated to smaller communities and suburbs. But according to
police and gang experts, some educators and community leaders resist admitting
these problems exist until they have become firmly established--and much harder
Some school districts do courageously face the reality of violence. Following
a 1987 high school shooting death, Portland, Oregon, school officials acted
swiftly to counter gang activity. Superintendent Matthew Prophet held a press
conference in February 1988 to announce the school board's new antigang
policies. The district joined other agencies in a communitywide antigang effort
and was instrumental in persuading the governor to establish a gang task force
at the state level (Prophet 1990). Today, though gang violence remains a
citywide problem, it has been controlled in the schools.
HOW CAN SCHOOLS TEACH KIDS TO BE NONVIOLENT?
"When a child
is displaying antisocial behaviors," says Schar, "you can't just say 'Stop.' You
also have to teach them prosocial skills." Curricula that teach nonviolent ways
of resolving conflict are a promising preventive strategy.
Portland schools use a program produced in Seattle, Washington, "Second Step:
A Violence Prevention Curriculum" (Gaustad). Lessons work to build empathy and
teach impulse control and anger management. For example, in a lower grade
lesson, the teacher displays a picture of a face. "How is this person feeling?"
she asks. Other pictures show groups of children in social situations involving
conflict. Discussion is aimed at helping children identify and describe
In grades 6 through 8, problem-solving is added; students identify the
problem and think of different possible responses. When faced with conflict,
many youths see "fight" or "flight" as the only alternatives. Becoming aware of
other options is important.
The "Violence Prevention Curriculum for Adolescents," developed by
Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health Deborah Prothrow-Stith, shows high
school students how violent interactions begin and escalate, and teaches them
anger management and nonviolent problem-solving techniques (Greenbaum). First
tested in Boston area schools, the program is now used by 5,000 schools and
other community agencies nationwide, according to Millie LeBlanc of the
Education Development Center (telephone interview, September 26, 1991).
Peer conflict management, which evolved from successful peer tutoring
programs, is used at elementary, middle, and high school levels. Volunteer
"conflict managers" are given training in problem-solving and communication
skills, then act as mediators for conflicts among fellow students. Mediators use
a prescribed problem-solving process to help disputants find their own
A similar program, "Conflict Resolution: A Secondary School Curriculum," was
developed by the Community Board Center for Policy and Training in San
Francisco. The staff and students at Woodrow Wilson High School in San Francisco
have noticed a difference in halls and classrooms since the program was
implemented in 1987. "More tussles are being confronted with humor...a more
peaceful environment is being developed."
HOW CAN SCHOOLS KEEP KIDS OUT OF GANGS?
the importance of reaching kids before gangs do. In recent years "gang
prevention" curricula have been developed in cities around the nation, including
Portland (Prophet), Chicago, and Los Angeles (Spergel 1989). There is some
evidence that antigang curricula change attitudes toward gangs, reports Spergel;
however, it has not yet been established whether gang behavior is also reduced.
Reaching kids who are already gang-involved is more difficult, but not
impossible. An alternative program, implemented in Portland schools in spring
1990, yielded promising results, according to Schar. High school students
suspended for fighting, assault, weapons violations, or gang violence--most of
them hard-core gang members--were required to go through an antiviolence
curriculum before returning to their regular schools. Small class sizes and
specially trained teachers contributed to the program's effectiveness, says
Interactions with caring adults can make a difference. Some former gang
members who have turned their lives around credit the influence of officers who
took a personal interest in them, says Portland Public Schools Police Chief
Steve Hollingsworth (Gaustad). Ronald Huff, who conducted a two-year study of
Ohio gangs, heard similar stories from a number of former gang members (Bryant
According to Spergel, many gang youth would choose reputable employment if
they could; unfortunately, they usually lack the skills and attitudes needed to
hold good jobs. Programs that provide job training or referrals can give kids
alternatives to gang crime.
WHERE CAN SCHOOLS TURN FOR HELP?
Schools alone can't solve
problems with complex societal origins. Experts agree that comprehensive efforts
involving schools, community groups, and local agencies are much more effective.
And as California crime prevention specialist Dolores Farrell points out, "There's not the money to do it alone" (Lawton).
Schools can find willing allies in the community. Portland schools work with
local businesses to provide job-related programs for high-risk youths. Special
instruction prepares kids for job interviews and teaches them appropriate
on-the-job behavior (McKinney). Lawton describes a community antigang effort in
Downey, California, in which private funding supports self-esteem programs and
sports programs for at-risk youth.
Police departments and other city and county agencies are logical resources
for schools. In addition, districts that have developed effective programs are
usually happy to share information.
State leadership can also aid schools. In California, the state education
department and attorney general's office recently drew up a model plan for
school safety, emphasizing prevention and interagency cooperation. The "Safe
Schools" plan spares schools the effort and expense of creating their own
individual plans (Lawton). The state also provides minigrants to help districts
The preventive programs described above are too new to have yielded long-term
results. But if they produce the effects they promise, schools will have played
a vital part in breaking the cycle of violence.
Barrett, Paul M. "Killing of 15-Year-Old Is Part
of Escalation of Murder by Juveniles." THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, Western Edition
(March 25, 1991): A1, A5.
Bryant, Dan. "Communitywide Responses Crucial for Dealing with Youth Gangs."
JUVENILE JUSTICE BULLETIN (September 1989). U.S. Department of Justice. 6 pages.
California Department of Education. SCHOOL CRIME IN CALIFORNIA FOR THE
1988-89 SCHOOL YEAR. March 1990. 33 pages. ED 320 225.
Friendship Project. San Francisco: Woodrow Wilson High School, unpublished
Gaustad, Joan. SCHOOLS RESPOND TO GANGS AND VIOLENCE. OSSC Bulletin. Eugene,
Oregon: Oregon School Study Council, May 1991. 54 pages.
Greenbaum, Stuart, and others. SET STRAIGHT ON BULLIES. Malibu, California:
National School Safety Center, September 1989. 89 pages. ED 312 744.
Lawton, Millicent. "Calif. Educators Take Stock of Efforts to Ensure Schools
Are Safe, Secure." EDUCATION WEEK 10,27 (March 27, 1991): 1,19.
McKinney, Kay C. "Juvenile Gangs: Crime and Drug Trafficking." JUVENILE
JUSTICE BULLETIN. Washington, D. C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1988. 8 pages.
Moles, Oliver C. "Student Misconduct and Intervention." SCHOOL SAFETY (Winter
Prophet, Matthew. "Safe Schools in Portland." THE AMERICAN SCHOOL BOARD
JOURNAL 77,10 (October 1990): 28-30.
Spergel, Irving A. "Youth Gangs: Problem and Response, A Review of the
Literature. Executive Summary. Draft." Chicago: School of Social Service
Administration, University of Chicago, January 1989. 24 pages.