Tuesday, February 11, 2014

School Violence

Please read the whole post. It could be easy to take the beginning out of context.

I was listening to the news on the radio when I heard the teaser:

"Despite efforts, violence continues unabated in schools."

My first thought was that a riot had broken out in a high school somewhere and the authorities were having trouble quelling it. But, no, it was a story about school shootings and a study that showed that there are just as many now as in the '90s.

Don't get me wrong. One school shooting is one too many. All of them are tragedies.

But this headline struck me as irresponsible. It made it sound as though shootings and major crimes were happening constantly in the nation's schools.

Part of the story was that there have been 11 school shootings this school year. The school year starts in August in much of the country so that's in a period of six months.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics there were 132,183 elementary, middle and high schools in the US in the 2009-2010 school year. That includes both public and private schools. If 11 is an accurate number of school shootings this school year, that means that  0.0083217963% of our nations schools have experienced a shooting in the past six months. Less than 100th of 1%.

Again, statistics don't tell the whole story. It is not a comfort to a parent mourning the loss of their child that this is such a rarity. However, it should be a reassurance to parents who choose to send their children to school.

Remember, nowhere is perfectly safe... not our homes, our cars, the sidewalk, movie theaters, malls, worship spaces or schools. It's not just violence that is of concern, we also have fires, carbon monoxide, accidents and other things to worry about. We have to live our lives. Perfect security will hinder teaching, learning and living.

It may be true that 90% of schools have "violent incidents" each year although in most cases calling them that is an exaggeration of sorts. It includes schools that have school yard fights, tussles in the hallway, a student tripping another in class. These things aren't OK, but they hardly warrant a media storm. Sure we need to teach children to do better. They are children and they still have to learn. I witnessed school fights as a child, even participated in a couple. There were consequences, discipline. There still is for such things. Plus, what percentage of families with two or more children has had incidences of biting, punching, kicking, hair pulling? I wouldn't be surprised if it was all of them. Very few children come with a perfect temperament and manners in place at birth.

Schools have also been taking the problem of bullying more seriously in the past few years. Peer training, legal initiatives, firmer consequences and curriculum for all students are hopefully leading to reductions in that behavior.

I did an internet search on school shootings. The first article I found made disturbing claims. Said that 40% of schools have a problem with severe crime. Even said that our schools are terrorist breeding grounds because of the level of violence. Couldn't back those statements up, though. (If you want to check it out here's the link)

I found several other stories about school shootings. One mentioned, in a photo caption, that school shootings are relatively rare. The rest did not say anything about the statistics. Two Wikipedia articles came up. One defined school shooting and gave no examples. The other listed all the school shootings in the US from 1764 on.

We need to mourn for the people who are victims of school shootings and support and pray for those harmed by lesser crimes. We need to recognize that these things can happen in school and take steps to protect our children and teach children to protect themselves.

But we also need to remember that the vast majority of our schools are not awash in violence. We need to keep perspective and remember the hundreds of thousands of caring teachers, administrators and employees who are present to care for the children. I am sure they would appreciate our support and prayers.. and want us to know that, they too, want schools to be safe for our children. And they generally make it so.

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