• by Bradley Scott, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • May 1998 •
The nation has been dismayed by the recent rash of violence on school campuses. Media coverage has made each incident seem close to home. We are confused about what is actually happening, why it is happening – particularly as it is exhibited by our children and youth – and what we can do about it.
Three years ago in the IDRA Newsletter, I described the fourth generation of desegregation and civil rights. Among other things, it concerns the need to “create school and community collaborations on social issues affecting school operations and outcomes including issues such as violence, drugs, changes in families, employment, poverty and empowerment” (1995). My concern has not lessened since then. In many respects, it has increased.
While there are reports that violent crimes among youth have been decreasing since 1995, there are other reports that violent crimes motivated by race are not only increasing, but are becoming more broadly distributed. Let me explain.
Violence Decreases While Hate Crimes Increase
The National Center for Health Statistics reported that gun deaths in 1995 of children had decreased by 10 percent (5,820 to 5,277) from the previous year. It also reported a lower number of youth homicide incidents overall in 1995 than in 1994 (Martinez, 1998).
Similarly, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reported that in 1996, violent crimes such as rape, murder, aggravated assault and robbery fell 12 percent during the previous two years. Juvenile homicide arrests fell 31 percent since 1993 (Martinez, 1998). The only area with an increase in crime was crime against older teenagers (16 to 19 years of age).
Evidently, the public campaigns to address crime and violence, the push to re-create safe communities and schools, the reaffirmed support for prevention strategies, and the increased funding for tougher community and policing activities are making a difference. We should be encouraged that when we put our minds and will to it, we can make a difference.
Yet as we breath a sigh of relief, we find that during the same period noted above, the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the number of active hate groups motivated by race, religion and ethnicity has risen by 20 percent to a total of 474. These groups continue to grow in number and membership. They are found in almost every state in the nation. There are at least 163 web sites representing 81 hate groups that spew their venomous hate demagoguery through the Internet (Intelligence Project, 1997).
The Intelligence Project also reports hundreds of acts of violence motivated by hate that happen in communities and schools throughout the 50 states. We are improving in some aspects of violent crimes, while in other areas, it seems as if we have hardly scratched the surface.
Reasons for the Trends
Why is this happening after so many years of working to make things better? There are many suggestions to explain the trends.
Diane Levin from the National Association for the Education of Young Children provides one suggestion. There is a media culture of violence that affects children. It can be seen in the following seven ways, as reported by the American Medical Association.
- Media violence causes an increase in mean-spirited, aggressive behavior.
- Media violence causes increased levels of fearlessness, mistrust and self-protective behavior toward others.
- Media violence contributes to desensitization and callousness toward the suffering of others.
- Media violence provides violent heroes whom children seek to emulate.
- Media violence provides a justification for resorting to violence when children think they are right.
- Media violence creates an appetite for viewing more extreme violence.
- Media violence fosters a culture in which disrespectful behavior is valorized as a way of treating others (Levin, 1998).
In the absence of other intervenors, this media violence shapes and produces children who accept violence not as an exceptional way to handle life, but as the typical way to handle life.
Exhaustive reviews of the evidence, accumulated for more than 40 years in more than 3,000 studies, have lead researchers to conclude that the media significantly contributes to the aggressive behavior and attitudes of many children, adolescents and adults (Donnerstein, Slaby and Eron, 1993).
Another suggestion is offered by a report by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. David Johnson and Roger Johnson suggest that changing patterns of family and community life are partially responsible for this tendency toward violence:
Today, children are more isolated from their parents, extended family members and other adults than ever before. Divorce, abuse, poverty, drugs and other forces that interfere with healthy parenting disrupt many families. With isolation, separation and abuse comes a lack of socialization. What is perhaps most alarming is that violence is becoming so commonplace in many communities and schools that it is considered the norm rather than the exception (1995).
In short, violent schools are produced and reproduced in violent, alienated, estranged communities and homes.
Harriet Romo attributes a large portion of the problem of conflicts between racial and ethnic groups in schools to some persistent problems that we still must address. These include:
- The ways that members of certain racial or ethnic groups are included or excluded within US society and schools.
- The formal ways (e.g., ability grouping, tracking, honors versus regular classes, remedial and vocational classes) and informal ways (e.g., self-separation and segregation, selecting and “claiming” school territory) that students are resegregated in schools and classrooms.
- The ways racial and ethnic group identity are used to include and exclude people from groups and to make some feel inferior or superior based upon the status assigned to the inclusion or exclusion.
- The persistent matters of prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination that continue to surface around race, color, ethnicity and economic status as well as gender (1997).
The IDRA Desegregation Assistance Center – South Central Collaborative for Equity (DAC–SCCE) is funded by the US Department of Education to provide services to schools in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. As in other regions, numerous racial incidents and outbreaks have occurred. We have surveyed teachers and students about their perceptions of race relations, interaction and conflict in their schools. They told us that much of the problem is the result of people having negative attitudes and prejudices against each other, people not being able to trust each other across racial and ethnic lines, people only wanting to help their “own kind” and showing favoritism, and those in charge only giving lip service to fair and equitable treatment, respect and acceptance.
These respondents are recognizing a lack of good faith among people across racial and ethnic lines that translates into negative treatment and interaction. Even more disturbing is the general perception, in these instances, that those in control are so disingenuous toward those who are not in control that people must do whatever is necessary to protect themselves, their friends, their turf and their possessions from those “controlling others.” We have found this to be true whether those in control are “majority” or “minority.”
The DAC–SCCE has been working to create safe and drug-free schools for almost nine years. The comprehensive regional assistance centers authorized by the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994 and the desegregation assistance centers have worked together to assist districts to create safe and drug-free schools since 1995.
There are three sets of issues that must be addressed to create safe schools. One set of issues relates to violence in general. Another set involves violence that is motivated by race and ethnicity. Finally, there is a set of issues where violence is motivated by gender. Because of some unique concerns that arise in this last area, it will be addressed in an upcoming article in the IDRA Newsletter, while the first two issues are addressed here.
Suggestions for Violence Prevention
Regarding violence prevention in general, Johnson and Johnson suggest that schools do the following.
- Admit that conflicts are out of control.
- Implement a conflict resolution program.
- Implement a violence prevention program that has a variety of components:
- Eliminate weapons brought to schools, through random searches if necessary.
- Have a predetermined way to address violent behavior when it occurs.
- Train faculty, staff and students to recognize and intervene in violent situations.
- Target individuals who commit violent acts and use available resources to modify their behavior.
- Teach students to recognize and change beliefs that result in violence and to manage anger.
- Employ the help of others from the community to speak to students to encourage them to abstain from violence.
- Create district-level and campus-level task forces on violence to develop a system for identifying the causes of violence.
- Adopt a threat-management policy to ensure that students will receive protection if they believe they are in danger.
- Provide counselor-led debriefing and support sessions for students traumatized by violent incidents.
- Initiate a weapons and violence hotline to report weapons and violence that occurs on school grounds or at school-related activities.
- Become a “conflict positive” organization by enhancing the quality of teaching, learning and school life, and by organizing students and teachers into teams that work in cooperative learning groups and collegial teaching groups. Implement prevention programs focused on negotiation, peer mediation, arbitration and conflict resolution (1995).
The comprehensive regional assistance centers, such as the STAR Center*, can assist school districts by providing technical assistance to address these general issues of conflict. The desegregation assistance centers can assist school districts in addressing violence motivated by race and ethnicity.
Addressing Racial Hostility
In addition to the concerns noted above regarding violence in general, there are some issues that must be addressed when dealing with violence that is motivated by race and ethnicity.
President Clinton noted on June 14, 1997, as he spoke about his initiative on race, “Building one America is our most important mission…money cannot buy it. Power cannot compel it. Technology cannot create it. It can only come from the human spirit.” His advisory board on race explained:
The initiative is an effort to move the country closer to a stronger, more just and unified America, one that offers opportunity and fairness for all Americans. It is a chance for every citizen in our country to be a part of a great national conversation about America’s racial diversity and about the strength it brings our nation (1998).
The President has called on the nation to engage in dialogues on race. Patrisia Gonzalez and Roberto Rodriguez remind us that, today, these dialogues cannot and should not be just about African American and White relations. They must “speak to America’s reality, particularly its cities where the dynamic is not between African Americans and Whites, but rather among Blacks, Latinos, Asians, American Indians, Arab Americans and Whites, who increasingly find themselves in the minority” (1997).
More than dialogues alone, however, let me suggest a 15-point program for schools and communities that are addressing racial hostility and violence.
- Create a clear and specific policy addressing a prohibition against violence of all kinds that will not be tolerated on school campuses or at school-related activities.
- Create and implement a specific policy on violence predicated upon race and ethnicity. Ensure that this policy is aligned with the Office for Civil Rights guidelines on racial harassment and hostility in schools. Provide training on racial hostility and harassment to staff, students and parents.
- Establish campus-level action plans for addressing intergroup and race relations. Include a component that addresses the proper procedures for handling racial outbreaks (should they occur) so that they will not escalate.
- Establish and consistently implement disciplinary procedures for handling staff, students or any agent of the school who act in a racially hostile or violent manner.
- Ensure that administrators and staff continually publicly communicate that racial hostility and violence will not be tolerated on the campus, at any school functions or related activities.
- Implement training and development for staff, students and parents on mediation skills, conflict resolution and hostility intervention where the impact of race and ethnic prejudice, attitudes and perceptions are the focus of discussion.
- Implement training for staff, students and parents on prejudice reduction, discrimination and race hate crimes.
- Structure discussions and activities into appropriate areas of the curriculum such as social studies, literature and government courses. These topics should include discussions on race, race relations, prejudice, discrimination, responsible citizenship and social justice.
- Structure culturally relevant classroom learning activities so that interracial teams of students interact to reach common instructional and social goals, and expand their knowledge and acquaintance of each other.
- Establish local dialogues on race and ethnic relations and facilitate these sessions with skilled, trained group leaders that possess group dynamic and group processing skills.
- Ensure that there is a procedure for dealing with outside agitators that attempt to peddle race hate on the campus or at school-related functions.
- Ensure that there is a procedure for informing and including the police (when and if the need should arise) to resolve conflicts and violence.
- Establish active, visible, legitimate opportunities for parents to be involved in and responsible for addressing, monitoring and helping to resolve racial conflicts, hostility and violence.
- Examine and re-organize classroom and school structures and other operations that separate and segregate students along racial lines, and in those instances where racially identifiable separations exist that are legitimately unavoidable, ensure that such separations are kept to a minimum in time and purpose.
- Regularly conduct environmental scanning to determine the quality of race relations by surveying students, staff, parents and others as necessary to stay on top of intergroup relations and any potential problems that might lead to outbreaks of racial violence.
This 15-point program requires parental and community support, resources and commitment. Educators can conduct some of the activities on their own, but the impact will not be as effective as with the active participation of parents and other community members.
The violence in our schools is everybody’s business. We cannot afford to allow it – however it is precipitated and motivated – to interfere with the goals that we have established for academic achievement and excellence. Our students deserve more than violent lives and violent schools. For that matter, our nation deserves more.
Donnerstein, E., R. Slaby and L. Eron. The Mass Media and Youth Aggression (American Psychological Association, 1993).
Gonzalez, P., and R. Rodriguez. “Black/White: Not the Whole Story,” Race File (Oakland, California: Applied Research Center, July-August 1997).
Intelligence Project. 474 Hate Groups Blanket America (Montgomery, Alabama: Southern Poverty Law Center, Winter 1997) Vol. 89, pp. 6-11, 35-57.
Johnson, D.W., and R.T. Johnson. Reducing School Violence Through Conflict Resolution (Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1995) pp. 1-24.
Levin, D.E. Remote Control Childhood? Combating the Hazards of Media Culture (Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1998) pp. 1-33.
Martinez, S. (Ed.). The State of America’s Children – Yearbook 1998 (Washington, DC: Children’s Defense Fund, 1998).
Romo, H. “Improving Ethnic and Racial Relations in The Schools,” ERIC Digest (Charleston, West Virginia: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, the Appalachia Educational Laboratory, Inc., October 1997).
Scott, B. (1995, January). “The Fourth Generation of Desegregation and Civil Rights,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 1995).
The President’s Initiative on Race. One America in the 21st Century: The President’s Initiative on Race, pamphlet (Washington, DC: New Executive Office Building, no date).
* The STAR Center is the comprehensive regional assistance center funded by the US Department of Education to serve Texas. It is a collaboration of the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and RMC Research Corporation. For information about STAR Center services call 1-888-FYI-STAR.
Bradley Scott, MA, is a senior education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be sent to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©1998, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 1998 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]