We humans have always sought to increaseour personal energy in the only manner wehave known: by seeking to psychologically steal it from others—an unconscious competition that underlies all human conflict in the world. (James Redfield, 1993, The Celestine Prophecy, New York: Warner Books,65–66)
Some school critics and statisticians have observed that drug-dealing, vandalism, robbery, and murder have replaced gum-chewing, “talking out of turn,” tardiness, and rudeness as the most chronic problems afflicting today’s schools. If the intent of this observation is to shock and rattle the public’s sensibilities, it’s working. Of course, some of us may interpret such suggestions as merely dark, stoic, and cynical—“scare” tactics quite in keeping with the current national mood about many social issues these days.
Yet, as a profession (and a society) maybe a little shock treatment now and then is good for us, especially if we ourselves work in relatively “safe” schools and communities. Maybe it’s time to remind ourselves that one school’s problem can become every school’s problem if the profession at large is not watchful and careful. No school is immune to the potential of extreme violence, as many of us, without meaning to, have learned. If you’re a long-time, veteran English teacher, you may never have thought you’d see the day when an issue of English Journal would be devoted to school violence. The idea never occurred to me, either. But here we are, and here that issue is. And, what’s more, it’s high time. While none of us needs convincing that the violence problem is serious in a great many places, some of the statistics are sobering.
The National Education Association (March 1994)
reports that the number of children killed by firearms
between 1979 and 1991 equals the number of
Americans killed in the Vietnam War; every two hours,
a child dies from gunshots; guns kill more black males
between the ages of 10 and 24 than any other cause. A
1993 Harris survey (Youth Record, August 3), reveals
that 22% of students polled claimed they took weapons
to school in the previous school year (and how many
declined to admit it?); a Gallup poll conducted for Phi
Delta Kappan (Elam 1993, 137–152) showed the public
ranking drug abuse, discipline, and violence in the top
four of the ten most serious problems affecting schools.
And the depressing numbers drone on.
Yet, a MetLife teacher’s survey in 1993 shows that
77% of teachers and 50% of kids felt safe in and
around their own schools (9). And according to a New York
Times article (1994), although violent incidents in New
York City’s 1,100 public schools (K–12) rose 26% in
1993–94, no homicides occurred in them—the first year
since 1990. Still, in the same article, New York City
Schools’ Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines laments:
When I read the list of weapons we have
seized, I wonder if we shouldn’t start handing
out medals for...