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About three million thefts and violent crimes occur in or near primary and secondary schools each year. This represents 16,000 violent and criminal acts per school day, or one violent incident every six seconds. Almost 50% of the violence involving children between the ages of 12 and 19 years happens within school buildings, and 12% of violent acts involve lethal weapons. Almost 37% of violent incidents involving guns, knives, and children occur within the communities neighboring the schools (Stephens).
School violence crosses racial, class, and geographic boundaries. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the rate of arrests for violent crimes rose twice as fast among young whites as among young blacks between 1982 and 1992. While both ethnic groups accounted for an equal number of violent crimes, black youths were arrested and detained for violent crimes at five times the rate of young whites. Research reveals that black students are significantly more likely than students from other groups to be suspended from school and subjected to various disciplinary measures because of behavior that is considered disruptive, inappropriate, or violent. Students belonging to the middle and upper socioeconomic classes are treated in a more positive manner than are those coming from disadvantaged or lower socioeconomic classes (Persell). Many students experience a significant amount of frustration in school due to low academic achievement and related problems, and aggressive behavior often is the result of this frustration (Campbell-Whatley). Schools are failing to motivate and satisfy the needs and interests of underprivileged and minority students, such as Latinos, Native Americans, and African Americans. Because of this general dissatisfaction and frustration with the academic experience, these students are losing their interest in school and learning. Consequently, academic failure, dropping out, and vandalism and other forms of violence among these groups are increasing (Frederick).
The term “violence” refers to a broad range of situations that are considered inappropriate and unacceptable. Although they are not synonymous, such terms as hostility, psychological and physical aggression, anger, and rage have been associated with the concept of violent behavior. For this discussion, violence is considered an overt, aggressive act that results in physical or psychological pain, injury, or death. The causes of violent student behavior are complicated and involve social, moral, and economic changes in America. These changes make it difficult for parents to provide children with discipline, respect, and responsibility. Students who are troublemakers often are distressed and frustrated individuals whose problems may be caused by situations both inside and outside the school. Because of the important role that the teacher plays in the child’s intellectual and emotional well-being, it is important that teachers are sensitive to the changing moods and behavior of their students. Not all violent acts represent the same causes or necessitate the same responses. An awareness of different types of violence will provide opportunities for the teacher to interact effectively with the students when a potentially disruptive classroom situation occurs. In other words, there are different kinds and levels of classroom conflicts that require varied strategies for their resolution.
Levels of School Conflict
Potentially violent behaviors are categorized at five levels of complexity and are classified as either active or passive.
Observed Student Behavior: The passive student is indifferent, aloof, unconcerned, detached, disinterested, inactive, lazy, or unmotivated. The active student is mischievous, abusive, irritable, anxious, overzealous, or shows impatience or a lack of restraint in dealing with or reacting to stimuli.
Observed Student Behavior: The passive student wastes time in idle lingering. This student spends more time than is necessary when doing a classroom assignment. The student occasionally daydreams and may attempt to achieve objectives that are regarded by the teacher and peers as impractical and fanciful. The student may begin to alienate himself or herself from peers and does not participate in classroom activities. The active student displays inappropriate behavior that can involve other students, such as teasing or ridiculing another student publicly. This student occasionally clowns at a time when the focus should be on the assigned task. The student may engage in idle remarks and comments, but the disruptive behavior also can involve physical maneuvers. The student seeks affirmation or approval through unconventional means and may be pushy in declaring that certain information is correct when the teacher and peers have unanimously agreed on a different answer.
Observed Student Behavior: The passive student often avoids participating in cooperative or group instruction. This student becomes withdrawn, is socially detached and unresponsive, and is introverted and coldly impersonal. The active student is habitually disobedient and unruly, violates or disregards rules, and abstains from various types of social contact. This student will act in opposition to others, will not participate and is uncooperative, is disagreeable, and will go to extremes to contradict the teacher. The active student will engage in negative behavior and attitudes marked by regular denial of or skepticism about nearly everything affirmed by peers and the teacher. He or she tends to refuse to do what is asked or does the opposite of what is asked.
Observed Student Behavior: The passive student is depressive. He or she appears to be sad and unmotivated. This student is self-destructive and shows a tendency for engaging in such activities as using dangerous drugs or alcohol. The active student is aggressive. He or she has a hostile attitude and demonstrates it in culpable, unprovoked, overt, hostile attacks. This student fights, inflicts pain, and can engage in sexual attacks. The active student is destructive. He or she seems to possess an instinct to kill and tends to impair, damage, or wreck. This student expresses displeasure outwardly, becoming irate, indignant, and threatening.
Observed Student Behavior: The passive student can develop a dependency on alcohol or drugs that leads to depressive or aggressive behavior. This student can be suicidal. The active student exhibits emotional or physical behavior that can cause injury or harm to self or others. This student may commit vandalism.
Trowbridge and Bybee caution that these levels should be considered as incomplete explanations of adolescent behavior. They are guidelines, not a model for understanding and managing classroom conflict and violence. They provide five basic questions that the teacher must answer in order to understand conduct that may lead to violence:
If the majority of the answers are in the affirmative, the principal, the school psychologist, and the parents should be informed and consulted (Trowbridge and Bybee). There are measures that can serve to enhance a positive, productive, and harmonious teaching-learning environment. The levels and severity of school violence will diminish when efforts are made to:
School violence is not limited to any particular ethnic group, geographic area, or socioeconomic class. Preventing the escalation of school violence will require combined school-community efforts and the commitment of all Americans to protect and educate all of our children in nonviolent school environments.
Reflection Exercise #6
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