Practical approach to violence must be taken

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Our society has expectations and most of us seem to make concerted attempts to fulfill those expectations in one form or another.

This fact is supported by a plethora of research and is considered fundamental when we rear our children – they all want to live up to what they perceive to be our expectations as parents.

The same holds true for students’ perceptions in the schools – they seek to live up to the expectations of the teachers.

Sometimes when students either do not, cannot, or will not live up to these perceived expectations violence occurs in our schools.

Now, this is not a reference to the gang violence which is invading schools in some of our major metropolitan centers.

Nor is it a reference to the tragic outbursts similar to Columbine in Colorado.

Rather it is the “little” forms of violence which take place on a somewhat predictable basis beginning, arbitrarily, in the first through the third grades, and escalate, if unchecked, through the remainder of the student’s schooling in K-12.

These kinds of violence do not always become categorized as “violence” because they have become so much a part of the landscape in schools owing to the general development of our children.

The “teasing” and the bullying – the brow beating and the intimidation – the “picking-on” of certain youngsters by the “in” group – all of these activities are forms of violence, which, if left unchecked, can build to a cataclysmic crescendo and result in some serious harm to students.

The roots of this phenomenon are not new nor are they unknown.

Simply, as stated above, they are the result of human development, the exercise of one’s personality in a domination over others, and the reigning in of certain undesirable character traits which hopefully the school setting can assist in minimizing.

Our contemporary world being what it is, it would be folly for us to ignore the very real fact that what happens outside the protection of our schools has a profound impact on our children.

Witness the fantasy of violence in some of the video games available, the violent language of some of the music our youngsters listen to, and the apathy of Hollywood when it comes to presenting consequences for anti-social actions, i.e., the romanticization of violence in “action” films.

At least the film scripts of by-gone eras had a message of punishing the wrong-doers and the rewarding those who upheld our societal principles.

Today, graphic and gratuitous violence seems to be the hallmark of successful Hollywood scripts and this does not go unnoticed by youngsters who can somehow get into theaters even though the film may have received an “R” rating.

So inasmuch as schools are vulnerable to the whims of society, it becomes crucial to a child’s development and socialization that a real and practical approach to stemming violence, however limited or extended, be established in our schools.

And this is no easy task for a teacher with a room full of energetic, socially aware, and active students who are all seeking to “establish” their own personalities.

But this is exactly where the battles against violence are won and lost.

Parents are no less culpable or responsible for the development of the children, but their role at home, if, indeed, it is a “home,” is confined and can be more effectively controlled.

What parents need to do is to be more cooperative with school authorities and with classroom teachers in curbing their child’s violent tendencies.

Melissa Kelly in her excellent article entitled “Combating School Violence” which was published in the on-line version of Secondary School Educators isolates the responsibilities of parents and teachers in controlling violence in schools.

Kelly says that there are seven signs parents need to be aware of when trying to identify traits which lead to violence on the part of their children:

* Sudden lack of interest

* Obsessions with violent games

* Depression and mood swings

* Writing that shows despair and isolation

* Lack of anger management skills

* Talking about death or bringing weapons to school

* Violence towards animals

Likewise, there are certain things teachers can do in concert with parents and students to see to it that serious violence does not evolve:

* Similar to parents, watch for the above warnings signs

* Talk to parents about concerns they might have – remember to keep the lines of communication open

* Bring concerns to guidance counselors and administration

* Be consistent in enforcing classroom and school policies

* Make your room a prejudice-free classroom – set the policy from the first day and enforce it

* Teach anger management skills as the need arises – be a good role model for the students yourself

* Create a plan of how to handle emergency situations with your students

Students are not without their responsibilities, according to Kelly, who offers four things students can do to avoid violence and not support it:

* Refuse to succumb to negative peer pressure, especially when violence is involved

* Report any knowledge of weapons on campus

* Tell your teachers about suspicious behaviors of other students

* Walk away from confrontations

Even though violence, or the acknowledgement of its pervasive presence in our society, can easily find its way into our schools, there are actions which can be taken, as Kelly has pointed out.

Whether it be calling a child on the carpet at home for bullying younger siblings, responding to violence-tending behaviors in the classroom, or avoiding situations which can escalate into violence, none of us has to succumb to the societal omnipresence of violence or of its celebration.