Students across the country are taking their First Amendment rights out for a walk today, and are protesting against school violence – or guns. While it is a good thing to see them speaking out in general, the problem is that they are taking a media and politician provided shortcut on the issue. Instead of honestly exploring and discussing the problem of school violence in the classroom (or among themselves), they are choosing to blame guns. That is approximately the same as blaming cars for car accidents, as opposed to blaming the drivers. More importantly, it is ignoring an honest exploration of the real causes of school violence. They are students, so they may not be prepared to deal with the uncomfortable possibility that they bear some of the responsibility for the problem. Following are a handful of issues that are being ignored today, because it’s easier to just blame some inanimate objects.
1. Bullying – Like it or not, one common trait among the majority of people who commit mass attacks (with guns or other weapons) in schools is a history of being bullied. This is an age-old problem, and it’s unlikely that anyone will find a solution for it until human beings cease to have feelings of envy and hatred. We would also need to reach the point of living in a society that no longer has any kind of social classes. Since we can’t change nature, the best that we can do is mitigate the problem.
Students should be demanding local laws that levy fines against the parents of bullies. They also should be demanding that schools be held harmless in court for acting in good faith to prevent bullying – or in common speak, they should request laws that prevent parents from being able to sue schools for reasonable disciplinary actions against their children when they are bullies. For those who would be concerned about how the schools would use the money from fines, demand that the funds be used for school programs and activities that have been suffering from budget cuts.
2. Zero Tolerance Policies – Most schools have zero tolerance policies on violence in schools, and on a very simplistic level that seems like a good idea. However, most schools also have security cameras just about everywhere, so the reason for having those policies no longer exists. The policies theoretically were adopted because teachers and administrators can’t be everywhere, so they can’t always tell who started a fight in school. In reality, the typical reason why these policies are adopted is to avoid litigation. Schools don’t want to be sued (usually by the parents of the aggressor in these fights), so it’s easier if everyone involved in a fight gets punished.
Students should demand the right to defend themselves in school. This issue is related to bullying, and it is no secret that many bullies tend to back down when they realize that their targets aren’t going to take a beating without fighting back. Obviously this issue becomes far more complex in many urban schools with gang problems, but punishing both aggressors and victims does not help students. It definitely doesn’t lead to safer schools either.
3. The Media Spotlight – The students from Parkland, Fla. have become the media darlings since tragedy hit their school, and eventually there will need to be a debate over how the spotlight affected their behavior. For now, it’s just necessary to point out that the media doubled-down on its negative role in mass attacks on schools by putting the spotlight on students who decided to speak up before they had time to process what had happened and grieve.
Part of the allure for people who end up engaging in this kind of violence is the desire for the spotlight, so students need to think about ways to remove the “instant celebrity” factor. The adults certainly are failing miserably in this area, since the media and politicians have been quite happy to use children for their own agendas lately.
Perhaps students should demand that their schools adopt “media blackout policies” particularly when any acts of violence occur on campus. Maybe state that the media can know that there has been an incident, but may not know the identity of the suspect. Law enforcement agencies should also be encouraged to adopt similar policies. Press freedom is involved in this, but because there is no shortage of experts in psychology and criminology who would freely state that media attention is often part of the motivation for these attackers, a case definitely can be made for preserving public safety.
While not quite to the level of shouting fire in a crowded theater, the media definitely has been glorifying mass attackers simply by putting their photos out as quickly as possible. The public is curious, but that doesn’t mean that the public is entitled to know the identity of these people, particularly when they are minors. Unfortunately, many of these attackers end up dead, so we can’t question them to find out exactly how important media attention is, but based on writings they’ve left behind, it’s not unreasonable to think that many of them wanted that moment of fame when they died.
4. There’s (Almost) No App for That – Some regions and schools in the country have smartphone apps for students to report questionable behavior of classmates. There are also some programs that teach students how to recognize risk factors for suicide and violent behavior in their peers. Schools that have continual and comprehensive education about safe and respectful social interaction are a rarity, since this kind of education typically falls under the umbrella of sexual education.
Students should be demanding local apps that they can use on their devices to report questionable behavior before it reaches the boiling point. Of course, that means they’ll also need to demand comprehensive education on psycho-social skills and best habits, which probably will open debates on sex education, since that’s where that kind of curriculum currently exists. If parents don’t like that, the schools might want to consider online courses, so students can “home-school” those classes. But, the fact that many schools do not offer this kind of education from day one of kindergarten or preschool through high school graduation contributes to the problem of all kinds of school violence – not just mass attacks.
5. Social Media Mayhem – Social media is a cesspool, and there is no shortage of violent content there in spite of the attempts of the platform developers to prevent it. It’s also the place where students put up photos and writing that can be highly disturbing. They do it there because it tends to fall under the radar of parents and teachers.
Students should be learning to police themselves, and report content to school officials when they see it. They shouldn’t stop there. Their parents should know about it. Their local police department should get a report. When students see their peers post content on social media that implies that the people in question intend to harm themselves or others, students should report it to every adult they can think of until someone actually does something about it. They should report it repeatedly, if necessary. This is not being a tattle-tale or a “narc”, or whatever other negative term a student wants to call it. It is the responsible act that must be done, period.
Note that there is no talk about guns in any of this, and there is a very good reason for that. Once someone reaches the point where he has decided to commit a mass attack in school, acquiring the weapon is the last act. If we are going to be serious about stopping this kind of violence in schools, we need to intercede long before someone reaches that point. If we don’t, then we will never see an end to these attacks. At best, we will see fewer attacks with guns, but more attacks with knives, bombs, or any other weapons that are easier to acquire. Everything we do will be useless until we recognize that fact, and act on it.