A Call for Comments: What Causes Violence at Schools?


There are very few more tragic events for me than hearing about the death of children.

As a teacher, I have devoted my life to helping students prepare for theirs. When a young life is cut short by accident or suicide, I am always deeply upset. When they are murdered, I am thrown into a state of utter despair. These young lives have been ended before they have properly begun. And it doesn’t matter if this happens in China, Norway, the USA or right down the road from where I live. Any time a child is killed, I mourn. I think most of us do.

But I am also confused and angry – mostly because I cannot understand why such senseless and appalling things happen. And any time someone tries to explain, I am left with a feeling that they are missing something. It is not just guns. It is not just mental health. And it certainly isn’t ‘pure evil’.

Evil is not something meta-physical or religious. It is a very ordinary thing indeed. Evil is the lack of conscience. It is an act or a thought which lashes out against humanity. It is cruel and barbaric – most often expressed in acts of destruction and violence. It is not something supernatural – rather, it is something caused and perpetuated by human beings. Killing school children is evil. And I want to know what makes this evil happen. If for no other reason than I might be able to do my bit in stopping it.

I am calling on my learning network to tell me what they think and to share their knowledge with me. I have prepared a few discussion questions below to guide you. Please post your messages to my Twitter handle (@SeanHamptonCole or add a comment at the end of this post. I would be most grateful for your ideas. (If you like, you can preface what you have to say with the Discussion Question number.)

DISCUSSION QUESTION 1: Is it fair to group student-on-student fighting and killing with mass killings and suicides at schools? Could they all have similar causes?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 2: To what extent does bullying / abuse (by peers and by adults) play a part in school violence? Are subtler forms of abuse as bad as overt ones?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 3: Are classrooms overcrowded with students more fertile breeding grounds for feelings of discontent, lack of self-esteem and alienation? Do these feelings play a part in violent outbreaks?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 4: Does the ‘gangsta’ / ‘hardcore’ lifestyle modelled by many musicians and celebrities play a role in violence at schools?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 5: Michael Moore blamed the news media for instilling a sense of fear in the American public in his outstanding documentary, ‘Bowling for Columbine’. This, he argued, leads to increased gun ownership and the increase of indiscriminate shooting. Does this idea hold water?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 6: Is there any connection between a country’s economic prospects and violence at schools?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 7: If a country is waging a war – particularly a protracted one – does this make violence at schools more likely?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 8: Almost all acts of schools violence are instigated and / or carried out by young men. Is there a connection between the fact that boys are not being taught effectively at schools and school violence?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 9: Is there a correlation between violent video games / television shows / movies and school violence? If so, what is the connection?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 10: There is often a disconnect between what one’s life and prospects actually are, and the ‘you can be anything you want to be’ message propounded by popular culture and bad psychology. Is this true? If so, can it play a role in violence at schools?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 11: Is there a relationship between a school’s distance from nature, and the tendency for violent outbreaks to occur there? (i.e.: Is there more violence in inner city schools, simply because they are so far removed from nature?)

DISCUSSION QUESTION 12: How much of a role does socio-economics play in school violence? If this is a causal factor, then why is it?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 13: To what extent does access to weapons (particularly firearms) affect the percentage of school violence?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 14: Is there are relationship between the dominant religion / world view / political views of a community and acts of violence at schools?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 15: What role does an attacker’s mental health play in their decision to commit acts of harm against school children?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 16: Do sociopathic business practices practiced by ruthless businessmen and successful multinational companies provide a blue-print for impressionable young people?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 17: Do young adult’s perceptions of the state of the world (climate change, inequality, etc.) lead in any way to feeling of hopelessness and thus to the loss of conscience?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 18: Is there any way that having more than one troubled young person involved can make it escalate worse than it would have if only one person felt this way? Does social media play a role in this?

DISCUSSION QUESTION 19: Are outmoded education systems in any way to blame for causing the feelings of aggression, worthlessness and alienation so often associated with violence at schools.

DISCUSSION QUESTION 20: What other factors might play a role in school violence?

I thank you for your input.

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4 Responses to A Call for Comments: What Causes Violence at Schools?

  1. Peter L. Griffiths says:

    Violence in schools arises from absence of rules and lack of discipline. It can be cured by better supervision. If there are not enough teachers then security staff should be employed. This problem is not helped by concealing the gender of the persons concerned.

  2. Since last Friday when the tragedy happened in Connecticut, I have watched the media, listened to talk radio and had several conversations with teachers, principals, followers on Twitter, and my family members. The problem cannot be blamed on any one thing, but a combination of things that I think have contributed to events like the one that occurred last Friday.

    First, let me say, what happened was absolutely horrifying. Our emotions are at peak levels because young innocent children were involved. As a father of two daughters, one still in elementary school, my emotions are soaring as well. We all want this senseless killing stopped and want an instant fix. Right now gun control is an easy target. A gun happens to be the device that this 20 year old boy chose to take 26 lives and his own. It could have easily been a homemade pipe bomb, like the boys at Columbine used. On 9/11 airplanes were used to kill many innocent people. In Oklahoma City, explosives were used. Charles Manson and his crew used knives. Drunk drivers kill people with cars every day and I do not see any one out there that wants to put a ban on alcoholic drinks or cars.

    What we need to look at is today’s culture. Why are these acts of violence and the killing of innocent people happening more today than they ever have? I say it is a combination of factors. Lets start with what we are watching on television. When I was growing up, prime time shows were Little House on the Prairie, Happy Days, Different Strokes, and MASH just to name a few. When we watched these shows, my parents didn’t have the worries that I have with my children today. Most of those shows taught me good life lessons like how to get along with people, how to laugh, solve a problem, and get through a difficult time. There was usually a good moral lesson that that was the theme of the show. Now I am almost embarrassed to watch any of the prime time shows with my children present. They are consistently themed around sex, violence, and content that would have been in a rated R movie when I was a kid. We tend to turn to the cooking channel and even then words are bleeped out. Doesn’t anyone have any class anymore? Do we not know how to talk without throwing a four-letter word in our sentences?

    I taught a group of 4th graders a few years ago and a question I asked them one day was about their favorite TV show. I was shocked at the answers I got. They told me they watched things like Jersey Shore, Bad Girls Club, and The Real Housewives. 4th grade, really? These shows are not fit for adults to watch. No one on those shows can solve a problem without getting into a cursing fight, which usually ends in a fistfight. That is what the youth of America is watching and thinks that is reality and how problems are solved. Well we are a far cry from Laura Engels, Fonzie and Ritchie Cunningham.

    We cannot ignore the violent video games that are out there these days. I like them too, but I don’t want my 5th grade daughter playing Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. These are games that I have heard many 6th grade students and younger talk about playing. When I was there age we played board games like Sorry, Life, Monopoly, Risk, and Payday. We had an Atari that had Asteroids, Pac-man, Pong, and Pitfall. These were fun games that did not put you in the middle of a war zone or have you carjack an innocent person. I hate to admit it, because I like a good shootem’ up game now and then, but if a person sat and spent hours playing these games it could begin to cloud your mind.

    In the last 20 years that I have been in education, I have seen a decline in social skills in my students. I am a huge advocate for technology, but I believe it is a big factor in my students’ lack of social skills. The young people today communicate by texting, emailing, and chatting online. They may even video chat on occasion. All of these things are great, but it takes the human characteristic out of the equation. Instead of heading out after school for a neighborhood baseball or basketball game where I interacted with real people, they now go home and connect online to play Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, chat on Facebook, or text on their cell phone. They don’t have that face-to-face interaction with a human. They are looking at a screen. They say things in chat rooms, wall posts, and emails that would never be said face to face. They don’t know how to talk through problems with each other without wanting to fight or shout four letter words. The only kids that did that when I was growing up were few and far between. Again, this kind of goes back to what they are seeing and hearing in our so-called reality shows.

    Lastly, we cannot ignore about how much lack of religion we have as a country. No one wants to talk about it because we might offend someone. We say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. We need to take down the 10 commandments from our public buildings. There has been controversy over “One Nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. We have even have had talks of removing “In God We Trust” from our currency. Even if a person does not have any religion, the 10 commandments are pretty good standards to live by. Have you read them? Thou shalt not kill. Wow, what a concept! Why would anyone want that taken down? It sounds pretty good to me. Isn’t senseless killing what we want stopped anyway? Sounds like we have a lot more to change in our culture than just gun control don’t we?

  3. Solutions?

    Schools have to change. The world they served disappeared in the 1960s.

    Capitalism has to end. It’s a multi-level-marketing scam premised on ‘exploitation as a means of yielding value’.

    Teachers have to change. The gifted ones who care need to become the dominant ones. The bullies have to leave.

    Classrooms have to change. Where are the standing desks? Where are the informal zones? Where are the water coolers?

    Testing has to change. Regurgitating facts was bogus when I was a child. It’s bogus now too.

    Until capitalism falls, teachers must be paid better. Three times better. How can you attract the best and the brightest if they can’t afford to teach because the salaries are so low?

  4. I sense that topics 19 and 10 are getting close to the meat of the problem.

    My reading is that schools are Dickensian structures, aimed at creating production line drones. Independent thinking is mostly abhorred by a numerically dominant culture of teachers who want kids to toe the line. (I say ‘numerically dominant’ because the exceptions — gifted teachers who both care AND act to change the dominant paradigm — are rare, and largely silenced.)

    Kids in such Dickensian systems are left bored and untouched by any sort of passion-for-learning. Those of us who love to learn are mystified by those who lack this love. But imagine being a kid SENTENCED to what must seem like jail for the duration of their school lives. They see babbling teachers talking crap. Listless fellow ‘learners’ yearning perpetually for the end of their school lives.

    And I think they’re left terrified and numb at the prospects that lie outside of this system. If it’s as bad on the outside as it is on the inside, what the hell point is there to actually go out into the world to be ‘productive’?

    The Dickensian INSIDE systemically creates a mirror image of a Dickensian OUTSIDE. In other words, to a kid who finds school irrelevant, boring, numbing, and who has parents and role models who live irrelevant, boring, numb lives, it must seem pretty obvious that life on the outside of the school system is pretty bad.

    And indeed, when they get ‘out’ of school, they find that it IS bad out there. Life IS some sort of rat’s treadmill.

    It is very very rare to find a job one loves. To live a fulfilled life. The vast majority of lives being lived are hollow and meaningless, filled only with sport, entertainment, road rage, the paying of bills, the trudge to work, the prospect of something exciting on the weekend, humdrum sex, politics.

    Most people make the most of this. But some are unstable to start with. Of those who were already unstable, there are those who spend their school lives becoming more and more unstable. In a system of systematic and rejected bullying, the unstable can only become more unstable. (I see school as a systemic bullying machine. Given that most teachers are not gifted wonder-humans, they are at best functionaries of a screwed paradigm, at worst actual sadistic bullies torturing children.) Of those that get unhinged, there are a select few who will have the tendency to one day pick up an available gun and emulate their favorite first-person-shooter game, and go and blast away at whatever their subconscious tells them must be blasted.

    So, the unhinged leaves school. And enters a world of despair and impossible numbness. They turn twenty. And life looks like infinite pain. I reckon it’s a pretty easy shift to picking up that gun.

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