Can We Prevent School Violence?

As we struggle to understand the Santana and Columbine school shootings, and other acts of school violence, we can see that their tragic outcomes all have one important thing in common: that we are horrified. This is a good thing, ultimately, because it means we actually care and therefore feel the need to remedy the problem. Unfortunately, the mechanisms that led to this mess were borne of our hubris, selfishness, insensitivity and seeming lack of caring, our refusal to evolve in a humanitarian and timely way. We still have powerful vestiges of neanderthal thought (namely 'survival of the fittest'), values that reward aggression rather than cooperation. We have to grant one another amnesty from our denial, neglect and ignorance in our attempts to educate children, and to begin changing our core cultural values and punitive measures in general, not just in schools. We in our global totality need to view the solution to violence, whether in schools, in the home, or anywhere else, in terms of prevention, rather than remediation or punishment. We need to come to understand not how to recognize potentially dangerous kids, or members of society in general, but rather we need to eradicate the need for our fear that such people might actually have a reason to exist. That fear is borne of our collective agreement to reserve the right to fight, to cheat, to abuse, to steal, to take anything that belongs to the group and to take it solely for the self, even if that thing is merely the power of making a decision for anyone. If there is no longer a need to promote anarchy, because everyone in the world decided that it is better to work together rather than against each other, then we will no longer have a need for punishment or ways to feed the problems of violence and crime in general.

When our heroes are warriors and promoters of violence or discord or pain or grief, then what message are we sending to our society? When it is cooler to be a criminal than a humanitarian, because it seems to sell more newspapers or advertising during television programs, then it means that someone is being opportunistic and irresponsible. That someone is whoever profits from the violence that he is promoting. If we were to give notoriety and fame not to gangsters and unscrupulous business tycoons, and accolades and awards not to the fastest, the most, the least, or anything else that appears in the pages of Guinness, but rather awards to the most cooperative, the most caring, the most understanding and patient, the most committed and devoted, the most willing to work for the group, then I think we would begin to see a much happier world.

We will no doubt be hearing in the next few weeks no shortage of solutions, mostly punitive ones, aimed at the students rather than the people who are actually in control and ultimately responsible for these violent outbreaks. No matter who may have done a lesser job of parenting or of teaching or of mentoring, one thing is certain: there is now a greater desire among all people than ever before to ensure that school violence and global discord and strife in general are eradicated. The best way to do this is to encourage the positive behavior, attitudes and values that contribute to the well-being of the group. If someone who is not in a traditional position of power or control, such as a student, or a lowly employee, observes a wrong, hypocrisy or erroneous message, is it a bad thing that he speak up? Fortunately, few would argue that blowing people up is the right solution. However, these students no doubt had a reason to be upset. Can we learn what these students had to say? If the students were genuinely not well mentally, then did we fail to recognize their dysfunction? Or, more likely, were they more sane than we would like to believe, and so pressured from school authorities, parents, and bigger and meaner kids into an acquiescence that they know is wrong that all their other possibilities were exhausted for stopping what they perceived as a real problem?

There seem to be several factors contributing to the intense frustrations of these kids. Ideas demonstrating freedom, the stuff these kids learn in school about the founding of our country, for example, contrast enormously with the authoritarian nature of school. School is not voluntary. This is justified in our culture because school is also necessary. Necessary and mandatory are not the same thing. Action is borne of necessity. Resistance is borne of coercion. There has to be a way to meet the needs of the individual students and the needs of society as a whole. Children are offended by censorship. Why? Because we teach them the virtues of a free press and freedom of speech. These are not issues that concern only adults. Children today possess all of the benefits of the learning of those who precede them, and inherit all the baggage of the unresolved issues that came before them. This is not new. It is a testament to how rapidly and radically our earth is changing that younger kids are increasingly concerned with larger issues. Children are not immune to media. We urge them to seek it - it's part of their curriculum, as it should be. Therefore, children are going to see hypocrisy and violence every day. Should they be blocked from it? No - the hypocrisy and violence shouldn't have been there in the first place, and this is what they need to learn. Should they accept human tragedy at face value without developing a keen and critically informed understanding of what it is that they are seeing? Absolutely not. We have a responsibility to engage our children's minds, not to close them.

In short, we need to stop celebrating and rewarding aggression, and to begin to nurture and reward all efforts, made by anyone, to embetter all people in our world through peaceful, gentle and loving means. We need to celebrate the mild and good-intentioned, the helpers, the listeners. These people need to garner awards until all human beings realize that the reward is in the work itself. So often those who have been drawn to this kind of work have done so precisely for this reason, because fixing the problem was itself the reward. This is why we had a Mother Theresa, and also why she did not win many awards. She didn't care about winning awards. It was important for society, however, to see her win the Nobel Peace Prize because that sent an extremely powerful message: that we recognize and reward those whose efforts improve the lives of others without ruining the lives or well-being of anyone else. The paradigm of competition is over, it is no longer needed. We have outgrown it as humans. Darwin's theories do explain how mankind may have evolved genetically; they do not excuse us from preying, inhumane behavior. The paradigm of cooperation is upon us.

~by Todd Merrell

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