It was the week before spring break. Alex Orange, a popular student and football player at West Charlotte High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, was looking forward to spending time with his dad in Tennessee. But that Friday, he decided to stop by a house party being held by the Debonairs, a high school social club. It had been billed as a Stop the Violence Party. Word of the party spread. School would be out soon and students were ready to celebrate. More than two hundred teenagers were dancing, talking and having fun, when some students from a rival high school showed up looking for trouble. They began beating up people with baseball bats. Then Alex saw a man pull out a gun. He grabbed it, but when he lost his grip, the man pointed the gun at him and fired, blasting a hole in his chest. People began to run.
Unfortunately, what happened to Alex Orange is not unusual. Homicide is the third leading cause of death for children between the ages of ten and eighteen. And it is the leading killer of African Americans, both male and female, between 14 and 25 (Day 8). There is definitely a problem with school violence today. The last three years have shown us that violence in our schools society is more common today then ever before. People are at the greatest risk of being crime victims during their teenage years. It is not surprising, then that most of these crimes take place in schools. In the time it took you to read to this point, fifteen school crimes were committed. A school crime occurs every 6 seconds (Day 10).
There are many factors that influence and cause violence in schools but the major ones would have to be hatred, caused by racial prejudices or bullying within the school, effects of violence in media on children and the home life of students.
Sometimes school violence stems not from a disagreement between students, but from hatred. Hatred not of what someone does but of what someone is. These incidents are referred to as hate crimes because they stem from a hatred of an entire race or ethnic group. According to one survey thirty-four percent of school violence is of a racial or ethnic nature (Day 48). Prejudice is often the result of lack of experience with members of another group. In diverse communities, people grow up knowing members of other groups as individuals, not as faceless stereotypes. Racially mixed communities actually have the lowest levels of racial prejudice.
Bullying. It is a familiar story: one kid picking on another for being fat, wearing glasses, or talking funny. This may sound typical but, researchers say it is not accurate. Although victims of bullying may be younger and weaker than the bully, they are not necessarily students who are just different. Bullying has been defined as physical or psychological abuse towards individuals who are not able to defend themselves. It is widespread. In a study of fourth through ninth graders, ninety percent reported being bullied. The most likely victims of bullying are people who are anxious, insecure, cautious, sensitive and quiet. These individuals have poor opinions of themselves and feel stupid, ashamed or unattractive. Most bullies are boys, but girls can be bullies as well.
Many school officials feel that the media play a major role in the increase in school violence. Television programs, movies, video games and even music lyrics are often filled with violent images, violent heroes, and violent acts. Some people think that this has led to an increased acceptance of violence as a way to solve problems. Children see violence in movies and on TV with no ethical context. It is exciting and satisfying to see heroes live and villains die. Nobody ends up in a wheelchair or hospital bed and children may not realize that death is permanent, unalterable, final and tragic (Day 23).
Violent video games can also lead children to committing acts of violence against other children and adults. A child who plays violent video games will resort to violence more easily when faced with a problem than a child who has never been exposed to such interactive killing. Video game companies are continuously releasing more and more realistically violent video games into the market in order to sell more copies, because market statistics clearly show that violence sells. If a child is killing people in an almost perfectly realistic virtual world, it would quickly desensitize that child, making it easier for him/her to commit such acts in real-life. Heavy metal and rap music lyrics are also often violent. In-your-lyrics mock authority and glorify guns. Some of the singers emphasize the violent nature of their music through their clothes and appearance, what they say in interviews and their personal lives. These messages add fuel to the anger of disillusioned young people.
The home life of students can definitely contribute to school violence. The American family has changed a lot from earlier times. Currently fifty-seven percent of children under the age of ten have two working parents or a single parent and more than ten million students return to empty homes everyday. (Kipnis 19). Although having working parents means that a child has less parental supervision, it is also a necessity for many families. While lack of supervision can contribute to young people getting into trouble, it is not the only factor. Family problems such as divorce, family violence, poverty and illness all have significant effects on children (Tice 20). Poverty has become a major problem. Currently twenty percent of students live below the poverty level, compared with thirteen percent in 1970. The desperately poor conditions in which some children are growing up has created a culture with its own ideas of right and wrong. Students who have been abused, neglected and/or received little support from a caring adult are extremely likely to show their frustrations with violence (Kipnis 2).
Many people, particularly those who have never been victimized, have an It wont happen to me attitude, it is wise to know how to protect yourself. The key factors to remember in protecting yourself from crime and violence are to respect yourself, listen to your instincts, avoid drugs or alcohol, be alert and be confident and ask for help if you need it. School violence is a growing problem but one that can be stopped. Many incidents in school are treated as disciplinary problems and are not reported as crimes. Those that are reported may be downplayed to minimize their seriousness. Students dont want to get in trouble by reporting incidents. Teachers feel pressure to cover up problems to avoid the appearance that they cannot control their classrooms. Even teachers who have been victimized themselves remain silent, fearful that a violent incident will be a blot on their record (Day 11). This has to be stopped. Students and teachers should understand that it is ok to report these incidents should not worry about getting in trouble. Will school violence get worse? What, if anything well be the effect of the governments increased interest in law enforcement and penalization and its decreasing interest in social programs and rehabilitation? A few people believe that unless we fix our schools, give children opportunities, and stop racial hatred the current wave of violence will look like a picnice in comparison to the gangs and violence we will have in the future.