The most recent acts of violence by children have prompted us as a nation to look at the causes and possible solutions to this crisis in our schools. In fact, according to Public Agenda, a national organization that conducts public opinion research on educational issues, school safety was identified as the most important issue affecting schools by those surveyed (Johnson & Immerwahr, 1994/1995).
Yet school violence does not exist in a vacuum. It is directly related to the violence in our society. And for many children, particularly those who experience family violence early in their lives, school can often be their only safe haven. In 1992, over three million youngsters were reported to child protection advocates as possible abuse victims (U.S. Department of Justice, 1992). Thus, for many children in our society, schools are often safer than the environment where they live.
Aggression and violence are the direct result of learned behavior. Our society is full of examples of violence and aggression that unfortunately have become a part of our daily lives regardless of where we live, work, or play.
Our children are both the victims and, as seen from last year's headlines, the perpetrators of violent crimes. Although there is a sharp increase in violence among girls and women, females continue to be more often victims than perpetrators of crime in our society. In a Harvard University Violence Against Women class presentation, Nancy Issac and Deborah Prothrow-Stith reported that four million women in the U.S. are severely abused every year by their spouse or partner. And 26 percent of all females who were victims of murder were slain by husbands or boyfriends, while three percent of male victims were killed by wives or girlfriends.
The early messages that parents send to children are extremely powerful. We expect girls to be passive and nurturing and boys to be aggressive and competitive. Since the beginning of their lives, children in our society learn to behave in ways that meet their parents' expectations in order to gain their approval. As parents, we buy radically different toys for girls than for boys. Female children learn to be moms, housekeepers, and makeup artists. Males, on the other hand, are expected to fantasize being "GI Joes," play with guns, and combat fear.
The media also help shape the minds of our children and set society's expectations of them. Cartoons, video games, and movies are full of examples of strong, brave, aggressive and often violent male characters. Female characters, with few exceptions, continue to be passive and fit the ideal of "beauty" in our society, i.e., blond, thin, and fragile-looking. Advertisers also help reinforce these images of girls and boys in our society through the printed media targeted to them as consumers.
In schools, boys and girls begin to practice in larger social settings what they have learned in their home environments. Bullying is...