Bullying. Of course bullying and school shootings are directly linked to each other. Research by Crawford in 2001 reported that of the 37 school shootings he identified and studied, 75% of the school shooters felt bullied, threatened, or were attacked or injured by others. Several of the shooters he reported on said they experienced long-term bullying and harassment from their peers. J. Klein’s 2007 description of today’s school culture and why school shootings take place is noteworthy:
In every school shooting, boys targeted girls who rejected them, boys who called them “gay” or otherwise belittled them and other student’s at the top of the school’s hierarchy—white, wealthy, and athletic—and then shot down other students in the effort to reinstate their injured masculinity. In high schools as well as colleges, popular kids tend to be wealthier and the boys at the top of the school caste are often perceived as “jocks”. Those that do not fit into these categories are often teased, or seen as relatively unimportant or even invisible. The boys who killed generally came from less wealthy backgrounds than those they targeted and almost all of them specifically aimed at those perceived as wealthy and popular; the “jocks and preps” in the school who were also the ones who bullied them (Klein, 2007).
School personnel too often accept that children get teased and bullied every day, because teachers, parents, students, and other adults have grown up thinking that bullying is a normal part of school life. It has too easily become an accepted part of today’s school culture.
Many people believe that school shooters are deranged individuals when actually they are retaliating against the pain they have felt on a daily basis. Those who solely blame mental illnesses miss the real concerns and effect of bullying. These individuals are severely troubled (Klein, 2007).
Of course it’s easy to blame the shooters, but most of the shooters reached out to someone before the event ever took place. As Crawford noted: “In more than 80% of the cases [he studied], at least one person knew the attacker was planning something; two or more people knew in almost 60 percent of the cases” (Crawford, 2002, p. 64). Crawford also noted that most of the attacks he reviewed were planned events and not spontaneous. This ultimately means that adults and other students have to be listening closely to the messages that individuals in distress are sending. In most cases that message is “stop the bullying”!
The Individual, The Family, and Society. Aside from bullying being a major risk factor leading to school shootings, there are other risk factors involved. At least two studies have compiled a list of risk factors and categorized them.
Study 1. The Center for Disease and
Control (CDC) lists three categories of risk factors that they say demonstrate a history of violent incidents in our schools (Understanding School Violence, 2008):
Some personal risk factors that can lead to violent incidents in school include:
· Attention deficits; hyperactivity or learning disorder; history of early aggressive behavior; association with delinquent peers; involvement in gangs, drugs, alcohol, or tobacco; poor IQ; poor academic performance; low commitment to school; poor behavioral control; deficits in social, cognitive, or information processing abilities; high emotional distress; antisocial beliefs and attitudes; social rejection by peers; and exposure to violence and conflicts in the family.
School Violence: R eported School Shootings And M aking Schools S afer / 1 4 7
Some familial risk factors that can lead to violent incidents in school include:
· Harsh, lax, or inconsistent disciplinary practices; low parental involvement; low emotional attachment to parents or caregivers; low parental education and income; parental substance abuse or criminality; poor family functioning; and poor monitoring and supervision of children.
Some community and societal risk factors that could lead to violent incidents in school include:
· Diminished economic opportunities, high concentrations of poor residents, high level of transiency, high level of family disruption, low levels of community participation, and socially disorganized neighborhoods.
Study 2. In 2005, Lisa Snell and Alexander
Volockh also studied school violence patterns and outlined a few of the most important things that lead to violence in schools. They are:
· Poverty, which lays a foundation of anger and discontent;
· Illegitimacy and the breakdown of families, which led children to seek the stability and caring environment of gangs;
· Domestic violence and child abuse, which foster learning and behavior problems, frustration, and retaliation;
· Society-wide violence rates and juvenile violence rates, which spill over into the school;
· The drug culture and its violent distribution network, which encourage students to arm themselves;
· Immigration, especially from countries where formal education is less valued;
· Population mobility, which creates an atmosphere of anonymity;
· Discrimination, which exacerbates the frustration and anger of minority students.
· Violent cultural imagery, from TV shows to sympathetic news coverage of militaristic foreign policy, which numbs children to the effects of violence;
· Materialism and advertising, which creates a culture where children are manipulated and feel exploited;
· Competitiveness and high parent expectations, which make children, lose the identity and uniqueness of childhood before their time.
A closer look at both lists points to the role individual experiences and the role family and society can play in violence.
Relationships and Past Traumas. A deeper look at both lists of risk factors also points to the role relationships and past experiences of trauma can play in school shootings. For example, the lack of attachment with their parents or caregivers at the beginning of their life has contributed to some of the actions of school shooters. Seung-Hui Cho, who was the shooter in the Virginia Tech Massacre on April 16, 2007 suffered from this kind of risk factor. Chou did not communicate with his parents and those around him (Manthley, 2007). Most of the shooters either had a very poor relationship with their parents or had no relationship at all.
Also, some of the shooters the CDC analyzed were from dysfunctional home environments. They were often unhappy with themselves, fearful and afraid of the future, or concerned they would die with no identity.
Finally, a recent traumatic event can also be a risk factor for an already troubled student. Some of the shooters, as identified by
the Center of Disease and Control, were rejected by a school in various ways: not being able to graduate, given a failing grade, or not being admitted into the post-secondary school of their choice.
Brain Development. There is a good possibility the research being done by Joe Manley has identified yet another risk factor of school shooters: a link between the psychological effects of the lack of attachment and how the brain develops. Manley’s work was reported in Men’s Daily News in 2007. In an article titled “Risk Factors in School Shootings” Manley notes that his work demonstrates that there is compelling evidence that the human brain has a specialized region for making personal and social decisions. This region is located in the frontal lobes at the top of the brain and is connected to deeper brain regions that store emotional memories. In his discussion he notes that boys suffer the majority of childhood brain disorders and diseases, many of which eventually translate into immoral and undisciplined behavior. These disorders, according to Manthey, affect the male’s brain and specifically their self-control. Of course Manthey’s work is speculative, but very insightful for a number of the issues surrounding the violence demonstrated by a number of the shooters of recent years.
The major intent of this paper is not to dwell on the extent and/or depth of what is the makeup of school shooters, but it is more to give insight into how to create a safe school and a safe school environment. It’s interesting to note that today’s schools face many different problems from those of sixty years ago. Lisa Snell and Alexander Volockh (2005) describe how the top three disciplinary problems public schools faced in the 1950’s were talking out of turn, chewing gum and students making too much noise. Today the top three problems schools face are drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and pregnancy. Crime and violence have infiltrated our schools, and educators have been forced to change the way they discipline and monitor their schools.
Today’s school administrators are doing many things to foster a positive, safe environment, and most are accomplishing this end in a variety of different ways other than turning their school into an armed fortress. It’s also interesting to note how that the federal government’s response to school security has been dismal. Redlener even reports in 2006 that federal funds to improve school security have been severely cut back, with fewer than two percent of the nation’s school districts having received emergency-response grants from the U.S. Department of Education (Redlener, 2006).
So what can schools do for themselves to create safer environments? What kinds of “home grown strategies” make sense, and how do we keep from making our schools armed camps? According of Redlener (2006), the common sense steps that should be taken are:
· Points of entry into schools or school grounds need to be limited and controlled, and staffed by an adult trained to determine if potential visitors belong there or not.
· Wireless panic alarms need to be made available in every school. If a situation warranting concern arises, an alarm could be sounded to simultaneously alert the school and local law-enforcement officials.
· Schools need to have strategically placed telephones for making all calls.
· Relationships between school officials and local law-enforcement and first-responder agencies need to be established long before disaster strikes.
Response protocols should be clear and understood by all parties.
· Teachers and students need to become “situationally aware” – they need to notice and report any behavior among their peers that seem concerning, or the presence of people who do not belong in the school at all.
· Parents need to be the main advocates pushing educators and elected officials to do whatever is necessary to improve the security of their schools.
These steps or guidelines for making your school safes are not unknown to most nor confusing, but they do help us rethink and reevaluate our schools and their environments. One interesting guideline from above has to do with communicating and working with law-enforcement and first-responders. This area for proactive engagement is a must for creating that newer version of safety in our schools. Even though there will never be the school or school system that can prevent every conceivable act of violence, there are actions on the part of school administrators that can help discourage or reduce the chances of a violent school attack, and that is well worth investments of time and money.
Other insights about creating a safe school environment come from the work of Snell and Volokh (2005). Meant to be preventative in nature, they tell us that there are actually three different types or groups of programs that currently exist. Here are some summary remarks about each.
· School-management based programs that look within the school itself and its student body – These kinds of programs focus on alternative schooling and integrating law enforcement within the educational programs.
· School-management programs that look to environmental modifications – These kinds of programs basically seek to change students’ social environment. These programs literally attempt to make schools safer through cameras and metal detectors. They also focus on after school programs and a decrease in school size.
· School-management programs that are educational and more curriculum-based programs – These programs are the least drastic overall, working inside of the existing curricular framework through “violence awareness education” and “developing appropriate life skills”.
In the end, the program a school utilizes or the manner it operates to combat violence depends on the type of school and the type of students attending that school. These authors do feel that incentives for good behavior and attendance as well as punishments for bad behavior are important aspects. Sound school discipline is by nature a system based on good decisions and bad decisions, but always reacting with appropriate demeanor and always making sure that the students understand what is expected of them.
Student Profiling? One other possibility for creating a safe school environment, and many individuals think is a reasonable action, is to develop a school shooter’s profile. Typically, a school shooter’s profile would include ideas and signs such as students who wear all black and are always alone. It would also include students who do little talking, fail then- classes, come from dysfunctional homes, and were abused when they were younger.
The facts on profiling however, point to something entirely different. Many of the schools shooters studied came from ideal families. They were on honor rolls, and were often enrolled in higher level classes. A few of them were failing their classes and had disciplinary record, but only a few. Also it is important to remember that not every student who is a loner will be a killer, and that not
every killer is considered a loner. The point is there is no clear and concise mold that these shooters can easily fit into, which of course would make it easy to pick them out of a crowd (Dolan, 2005).
This being said, there is at least one warning signal – one critical sign for which school administrators, faculty, and staff need to watch and listen. According to Dolan (2005), this warning sign is if a student talks about killing. This may even include the killing of animals and their mutilation. The theme of killing may even appear in student work assignments and artwork. Regardless of this student’s popularity status or if he or she seems to be joking, Dolan advises: Take this student seriously!
As previously stated: “In more than 80% of the cases, at least one person knew the attacker was planning something; two or more people knew in almost 60 percent of the cases” (Crawford, 2002, p. 64). This means that everyone needs to be listening closely to the messages that distressed students are sending.
School violence is something that will continue to exist. But that doesn’t mean that school administrators, faculty, and staff can do nothing to curb it. There are still proactive things to keep it from happening. This paper discussed at least six “home grown strategies” (Redlener, 2006) and at least three school-management based programs (Snell & Volokh, 2005) that can be used to make our schools safer without making our schools armed camps or resorting to useless shooter profiles. Administrators need to use these ideas to establish and publicize a school safety plan for potential school shootings (Redlener, 2006).
But perhaps the simplest prevention of all comes from the ideas of Redlener (2006) and Dolan (2005). In school environments, everyone – school administrators, faculty, staff, and students – has the job of looking and listening closely for students who talk about killing and for school visitors who do not belong, and of notifying school administrators. Situational awareness is critical (Dolan, 2005; Redlener, 2006). Administrators need to establish and publicize an open door policy for such communication.
(2008), Understanding school violence. From Center for Disease and Control Web site: http://www.cdc/gov/ ncips/dvp/YVP/SV_FactSheet.pdf.
Crane, G (2006). Basic facts about school shootings. From Response Options Web site: http://www.re- sponseoptions.com/basicfacts.html.
Crawford, n. (2002). New ways to stop bullying. Monitor on Psychology. 33, 64.
Cromwell, S. (2006). Stop bullying before it starts. Education World, from http://www.educationworld.com/ aadmin/admin/adminl 17.shtml.
Dolan, S. (2005). School violence, from University of Michigan: Sitemaker Web site: http://sitemaker. umich.edu/356.dolan/who_s_a_school_shooter.
Klein, J (2007). Bully rage: Comon school-shooter misery. From The Huffington Post Web site: http://www. huffingtonpost.com/jessie-klein/bully-rage-com- mon- school b 46548.html.
Manthley, J. (2007). Risk factors in school shootings:
Lack of attachment is a common thread with boys and violent behavior, from Men’s News Daily Web site: http://mensnewsdaily.com/2007/09/08/riskfactors-in-school-shootings-lack-of-attachment-is-a- common-thread-with-boys-and-violent-behavior.
Redlener, E. (2006). How to make school safer.
Time, from http://time.com/time/nation/arti- cle/0,8599,1543803,00.html.
Snell, L. & Volokh, A. (2005). School violence prevention: Strategies to keep school safe. From http:// www.rppi.org/ps234/.
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