School violence remains a serious American problem, especially in America’s inner-cities. Mainstream strategies to reduce school violence have focused on combinations of upgrading school security postures (more guards, metal detectors, etc. ) and in improving student intervention programs (peer counseling, conflict resolution, etc. ). This paper investigates another aspect of school violenceschool cultures of violencethat few schools recognize as a serious problem and that mainstream strategies fail to address.
School cultures of violence entail school administrators, teachers, and students becoming socialized into an environment where school violence as a method of student interpersonal relations is tolerated or perhaps considered inevitable. This paper develops, through an ethnographic and survey study of four Miami-Dade public high schools, how school cultures of violence are allowed to exist through a combination of factors that include: (1) school staff discourses of denial that school violence problems exist, (2) non-caring school atmospheres, and (3) remiss school security forces.
In those schools with cultures of violence, it is shown how high neighborhood crime rates are allowed to invade the schools, resulting in higher levels of school crime and increased student fear of being victimized in school. Introduction I fear going to school one day and a Haitian might don’t like me and say “Look at that American, I don’t like that American”. and they might come over therethey’d be 50 of them jumping [me].
I feel like I might] just walk in and just say the wrong thing and get whooped, get beat down. They [are] so crazy, they bring weapons to school, I mean guns, knives, everything, everybody. Male African-American Tenth-grader I found this Miami-Dade County, Florida, teenager’s response upsetting. Guns and knives in school? Afraid of getting “whooped” and “beat down? ” This teen was not talking about life on a crime-ridden city street or in some local jail.
He was talking about walking down the halls of his urban public high school! This teen’s experiences were obviously a long way from the school memories of my own small town Mid-Western upbringing. In researching school violence and student fear, I quickly discovered that many of America’s senior high schools, once seen as the bastions of community scholarship, have transformed from centers of learning to centers of violence.
Today, especially in America’s inner-cities, many school grounds project images of impenetrable “school fortresses” sporting 15-foot high barbed wire-topped security fences and iron bar-covered windows and doors. The news media and Hollywood, as seen in Michelle Pfeiffer’s 1995 movie Dangerous Minds and Tom Berenger’s 1996 movie The Substitute, often characterize inner-city schools as chaotic battlefields where armed police and security patrols are locked in mortal combat against drugs, gangs, and violence.
In a 1994 survey of America’s school boards, 91. 5 percent of respondents in school districts with more than 25,000 students reported school violence as a problem (Weisenburger, et al. 1995: 34). In response to growing school crime and violence problems, the President and the nation’s 50 governors adopted National Education Goal Six (Goal 6) that prescribes “By the year 2000, every school in America will be free of drugs and violence and will offer a disciplined conducive environment for learning” (OERI 1993: iii).
However, even with Goal 6’s focus on school drug and violence issues, nationwide between 1991 and 1994: student drug use increased (24% to 33%), students offered drugs at school increased (18% to 24%), students threatened or injured in an attack at school only slightly decreased (40% to 36%), and teachers threatened or injured in an attack at school increased (10% to 15%) (NEGP 1995: 50-52). None of these indicators predict even partial accomplishment of Goal 6 by the year 2000. After pouring hundreds of millions of tax dollars into school security programs, why do many of America’s schools remain infested with violence?
Two mainstream views on how to solve school violence problems have emerged. One view offers that the causes of school violence are ineffective control of students and school grounds. Advocates of this view normally offer that, even though millions of dollars are spent on security programs, the resources are still not sufficient to control the spread of school violence. They contend that schools require even more armed on-site police, more roving security guards, more metal detectors, and more electronic surveillance equipment.
Another view downplays such “school fortress” security measures and argues that the causes of school violence are within the students themselves. They submit that school violence problems are solvable through the expansion of proven intervention programs, most notably for student mentoring, conflict mediation, anger resolution, and peer counseling. My look inside four Miami-Dade senior high schools reveals another explanation for the causes of continuing school violenceone completely different from either of the mainstream views.
I discovered that a “culture of violence” exists in some Miami-Dade public schools, a culture where interpersonal violence becomes a normal way of life for many students. I found three key factors that contribute to these school cultures of violence: school officials denying they have a violence problem, uncooperative and non-caring school atmospheres, and misconduct by the very security forces intended to control the violence. This paper develops how combinations of these three factors perpetuate high levels of school violence and contribute to increasing student fears of being victimized in their own schools.