Several areas, if poorly designed, can lead to violent and criminal behavior, including parking lots, isolated spots on campus, locker rooms, and corridors. Often, violent behavior occurs in these areas when adults are not present (Astor, Meyer, and Behre, 1999, p. 3). Designing schools with more open areas, more planned classrooms, and a more defined perimeter can create a safer, less violent campus by creating a more functional and enjoyable educational experience. Thus, older, poorly designed schools often attract more violent behavior.
Location can also be a risk factor in certain schools, although that is not always the case. Another researcher notes, “Some urban schools are located […] in slum neighborhoods where drug sellers routinely kill one another, as well as innocent bystanders, on the streets surrounding the school” (Toby, 1994, p.169). Children growing up in violence prone neighborhoods such as these may simply accept violence as a way of life, both in and out of school, and use violence to be accepted by their peers, especially in communities where gang activity is present.
As noted, the environment of the school can also be a major factor in violent behavior at the school. The design may be antiquated, and the school may be located in a poor, violent community, and yet the school does not experience as much violence and crime as other schools. Author Welsh has a theory that the schools who are successful in controlling their violence are schools that manage discipline fairly and evenly, are clear about rules and consequences, use reward systems to motivate the students, and reduce frustration in students (Welsh, 2001, p. 920). This means that schools can master their violence problems by rethinking their management and discipline techniques, and working with the students more effectively. Thus, even schools in notoriously “bad” neighborhoods do have to follow the community lead and become havens for violence and crime. Instead, they can stand out as models of student behavior and discipline, and become elevating and motivational to the students, instead of frustrating them, causing fear and a sense of hopelessness, and becoming magnets for violence and crime.
Studies indicate that big-city and inner city schools are the most common sites of school violence and crime, and this occurs for several reasons. First, many of these schools are located in areas where crime is already established and out of control, and this process spills into the schools, as well. Another author notes, “Schools in urban, poor, and disorganized communities experience more violence and school problems than do schools in rural or suburban, affluent, and organized communities” (Stewart, 2003, p. 582). Next, these communities tend to be very transient, as well, leading to children moving from school to school, and not developing community or educational ties to their school or their community (Toby, 1994, p.
173). Finally, private schools experience less violence than public schools, partly because they include a smaller student body that is typically more interested in receiving a high-quality education, and because they are often located in “affluent organized communities” that do not experience as much violence and crime.
Of course, violent crime can occur in any school at any time, as some of the more violent school shootings have indicated. Even a rural Amish school in Pennsylvania was not safe from outside intrusion and murder of innocent students and teachers. However, statistics continually show that schools located in big cities and the inner city are the most prone to violent crime, and so, these schools must work even harder at creating community involvement, developing social codes that work for students, and making their schools safer for both students and faculty.
In conclusion, school violence is a troubling aspect of the educational system in this country today. For the educational system to truly serve its students, no matter where they live, schools need to become safer, students need to know the value of their schools, and faculty needs to appreciate the different factors that can lead to school violence, both inside the school and out. The only way America can protect schoolchildren, no matter what their age, is to help schools become relevant to every student, no matter who they are and where they live.
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