The Children Strike Back

By From the July 1999 issue

Like McCollum, politician after politician, commentator after commentator, talk-show host after talk-show host insisted on a societal meltdown. The therapy industry called for more counselors and insisted that there aren't enough anti-violence programs. Andrew Greeley, famed priest, best-selling novelist, and sociologist at the University of Chicago, summed up much of the indictment in a syndicated column. "For all practical purposes there is no such thing as discipline. The school does not dare to expel a student or even to impose anything more than the most general rules of civilized behavior, and for all practical purposes, teachers and administrators are peripheral if not irrelevant to the school's social order. The animals run the zoo."

This was news around our house, where our middle school child has served detention for chewing gum, not to mention talking in class and giving a teacher lip. Meanwhile, school shootings have been decreasing. There is more crime in urban schools, but things are improving there, too. Anti-violence programs are numerous and well-attended.

Schools are certainly more violent than one would like. According to the Center for Education Statistics, one in ten reported at least one serious violent crime during the 1996-97 school year (murder, rape, or other type of sexual battery, suicide, physical attack, or fight with a weapon, or robbery). But according to the Centers for Disease Control, less than one percent of all homicides among school-aged children (5-19 years of age) occur in or around school grounds or on the way to and from school. School killings have decreased steadily since the 1992-1993 school year, the CDC also says, though the total of multiple-victim shootings has increased.

And there is also a great deal of disciplining going on, at least of a certain type. The CES asked principals whether their school had "zero-tolerance" policies; 79 to 94 percent said they did on activities ranging from violence to tobacco, alcohol, and various weapons, including guns. As for the lack of anti-violence programs: Seventy-eight percent of schools reported having some type of formal violence-prevention or violence reduction program or effort, and 50 percent of public schools with violence-prevention programs indicated that all or almost all of their students participated in these programs.

Yet statistics make for a thin blanket in the chilling aftermath of Columbine, and they don't tell the full story of what is happening in schools, at least according to various experts interviewed for this story. The problem, as they see it, is that kids are being raised and schooled in an environment that reflects their parents' values.


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About the Author

Dave Shiflett is a writer in Midlothian, Virginia.