Education Opinion

Schoolyard Shootings

August 01, 1998 4 min read

The school year closed last spring not a minute too soon. As we entered the lazy days of summer, the evening news telecasts carried images of schools wrapped in yellow police tape and the grim details of teens turning guns on their classmates and teachers in Jonesboro, Arkansas; Springfield, Oregon; and Edinboro, Pennsylvania. Columnists and newspaper editorial writers agreed the violence was no aberration, but they found precious little common ground when devising ways to stem the violence once schools reopen in the fall.

We have become too good at grieving. The ritual of school violence feels as methodical as a church service, as familiar as a family holiday. Random shots ring out, and we dutifully take our places. Paramedics fly into the schoolhouse with stretchers. Classmates weep and search the ground for answers, caught in media headlights. President Clinton issues a statement. The public devours profiles and photographs of the victims, the shooters, the towns, the vigils, as if they were riddles with answers to be swallowed like tears. All that changes is the location, as random as if the gods threw darts at a map of the United States. . . .

This community has two choices: wage the all-out campaign or wait our turn. . . . What can educators do? Expelling students and then denying their existence will no longer work. Administrators must communicate with police and families to carefully monitor students who’ve been disciplined and alert their staffs to potential problems. Too often, the rights of individual students with serious discipline problems win out over the demands for school safety.

Seattle Times

The repeated incidents of gun violence by children should alarm even the most die-hard opponents of gun control. . . . Amid this tragic toll, it is not too much to demand that Congress rise above its traditional allegiance to the contribution-wielding gun lobby and enact legislation to keep children from getting their hands on loaded guns. Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy of New York plans to introduce a bill that would strengthen the laws prohibiting children from having access to handguns, impose criminal penalties on adults who fail to lock away their firearms, and mandate that gun manufacturers produce safer and child-proof weapons.

Beyond that, schools and police departments badly need guidelines, drawn up with the help of national authorities, that set forth how best to react when youngsters make threats or pull weapons on their classmates.

New York Times

In a recent [Christian Science] Monitor article on school violence, a middle school principal summed up what it takes to work with youngsters and turn them around: “You have to let them know they count. And you can’t say, ‘I don’t have time for you now.’ ”

That simple advice works across the board--for parents, teachers, counselors, religious leaders, and even other teens. Acting on it takes unselfishness, a genuine concern for others. Such elements of thought are critically needed to counteract the alienation and anger all too common today--and all too often glorified on screens and CDs.

Police methods and tough rules have their place. But the crucial changes will be less visible, occurring in the thinking of both students and the adults responsible for guiding and protecting them.

Christian Science Monitor

As the last bullet ricocheted through the latest schoolyard this spring, parents and teachers across the country were feeling helpless against the onslaught of violence that suddenly swept through suburban education. How can you protect innocent children at a time when American households still have more guns than computers and the average child has seen more than 100,000 acts of violence on television by age 12?

Yet, as summer comes, authorities are pointing to a growing number of experimental solutions that are showing promise and could be adopted by others before schools reopen this fall. No one claims they will be perfect, but they would surely reduce the carnage of this past year when 70 people were gunned down--22 of them killed--by young teenagers. . . . This school year brought a flood of copycat killings; now is the time to begin a new season of copycat solutions.

--David Gergen
U.S. News and World Report

Modern educational theories are built up around the notions that wrong answers are as good as right answers, that grades are oppressive, that “truth’’ is a relative concept. In countless schools, students are encouraged to think that they can have what they like and do what they like because encouraging them to think otherwise would bruise their self-esteem. And nothing, but nothing, is more important than a child’s self-esteem.

Steep schoolchildren in the belief that they are entitled to much but responsible for little, and you raise a crop of irresponsible and demanding adolescents. Train teachers and administrators to flee from discipline, to retreat before student obstinacy, to abhor authority--moral and otherwise--and you wind up with middle and high schools that are little more than day care for teenagers. In parochial and most other private schools, educators still manage to convey to students the axiom that benefits must be earned and that choices beget consequences. Perhaps that is one reason these bloody assaults have not been occurring in their cafeterias and classrooms. In far too many public schools, by contrast, students learn one thing early and well: No matter what you do, there is no price to pay. . . . When American public schools were serious, they weren’t the scene of monthly murder sprees. But we have taken rigorous education, clear values, and serious discipline out of the classroom. Something else was bound to

--Jeff Jacoby
Boston Globe

A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1998 edition of Teacher as Schoolyard Shootings