Students enjoy more physical safety inside the doors of their schools than they do elsewhere (Devoe et al., 2002; National Center for Educational Statistics, NCES, 1998; Myths, undated). Students may well be up to ten times safer in school than anywhere else in our otherwise violent society (Goldstein & Conoley, 1997). After roughly two decades of steady increase, violent crime among youth dropped during the 1990s (Myths, undated; NCES, 1998). This reduction in youth violence occurred both inside of and outside of school. Despite these data and years of progress in violence prevention, schools are not as safe as practitioners would like them to be (Braaten, 2004).
Around three million crimes are committed within the walls of schools on average; this represents about 16,000 per school day or one every three seconds (Stephens, 1997, p. 74). The following factors cited by Stephens are risk factors, both at the individual and institutional level, for the occurrence of school violence (pp. 75-78):
- Dropping out, literally and symbolically. Students experiencing difficulty conforming to the social and behavioral demands of institutions are at much greater risk for committing violent acts such as bullying and fights (Patterson, DeBaryshe, & Ramsey, 1989).
- Discipline problems, bullying and harassment. Levels of mild violence and bullying probably predict the overall level of risk for more serious violence in a school. Certainly this issue has come to the fore recently with the Secret Service report suggesting that many targeted school shootings can be traced to bullying (Vossekuil, Reddy, Fein, Borum, & Modzeleski, 2000).
- Drug and alcohol abuse. A clear association between substance abuse and violence has been noted. More recently, it has been observed that students who pick on their peers are more likely than other students to abuse mind-altering chemicals, including alcohol. Bullying was found to be a primary predictor of substance abuse (Simanton, Burthwick, & Hoover, 2000).
- Gang membership. The violence of "within-gang" rituals and the aggression perpetrated by gang members on others add to the potential risk within the walls of schools.
- The ready availability of weapons. Easy access to weapons in American society all too often escalates simple fights and minor disputes into bloody ordeals attended by increased potential for serious injury and death.
It is our contention that to address school violence, future teachers must first understand milder forms of aggression—forms that are too often perceived by some educators as falling within the normal range of child behavior (Pervin & Turner, 1994). Recently, investigators have undertaken many studies of bullying and teasing. These are addressed below.
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