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On January 18, 1993, Scott Pennington, a seventeen year-old student from Kentucky, shot and killed his East Carter High School teacher Deanna McDavid and janitor Marvin Hicks, and then held his twenty-two classmates at gunpoint for about fifteen minutes. On September 15, 1995, Daniel Watson, eighteen, was charged with one count of kidnapping, two counts of unlawful possession of a weapon on school property, and fifteen counts of first degree endangerment after holding a fellow student at gunpoint at his high school. Watson had been in a fight before school, and then went home and returned with two handguns. In November of 1996, Drew Golden, 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13, opened fire on their fellow students and teachers in Jonesboro, Arkansas, killing four students and an English teacher. Is this what should be happening in America’s schools? Should students have to be more concerned with their safety, rather than obtaining a good education? Incidences similar to the ones just described occur every year in school systems across the country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, fifty-seven percent of public elementary and secondary school principals reported that one or more incidents of crime/violence occurred in their schools during the 1996-1997 school year. The center also reported that ten percent of all public schools experienced one or more serious violent crimes (defined as murder, rape, or other type of sexual battery, suicide, physical attack or fight with a weapon, or robbery) during the 1996-1997 school year. Physical attacks or fights led the list of reported crimes in public schools, with about 190,000 reported incidences in 1996-1997.
Schools should be places where the objective is to give students the skills and knowledge to help them with their future; they should not be havens for violent acts. Something obviously needs to be done to decrease and hopefully one day eliminate violence in America’s school systems. There have been numerous proposals made to help the problem, but there still has not been a significant improvement in the problem nationwide. Several recent reports-one by the American Psychological Association and another by the National Education Association-show a dramatic increase in the incidence of school violence. It is going to take a team effort by the government, communities and the schools to help reduce violence in America’s school systems. The government has attempted to address the issue of school violence. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Gun-Free School Act, mandating a one-year expulsion for students who bring weapons to school. The Act also promoted the “zero tolerance” for weapons policies of some states and school districts. Currently, the federal government and most states also make funds available for prevention activities through anti-crime and education legislation. This year, money was allotted in the federal budget for the hiring of more teachers in the schools. Although the government has put some effort into helping the schools, is it enough? The problem of violence of schools is often overlooked by the government and instead more emphasis is put on political scandals, foreign policy, and welfare. It seems unfair for the students who fear going to school each day that the government concentrates more on the private relations of the president and the status of people from other countries, than on the future of its own citizens. The government needs to grant more money for the improvement of schools, both externally and internally. This money needs to be put toward the hiring of more teachers, violence prevention programs in the schools, and improvements on the school buildings. The government also should be monitoring the schools’ use of the “zero tolerance” policies, making sure that they are strictly enforced in every school across the country. The second ingredient to solving the problem of violence in schools is community initiatives. An important one is providing an assortment of out-of-school programs to students. It is important that these programs keep youth constructively engaged when their families are unavailable, and provide them with attention from caring adults and good role models. They also need to encourage teamwork, respect, and positive personal relationships. These programs keep kids away from negative influences on the street and in the media. Helping youth find employment in the community is another important way for communities to help build the self-esteem and sense of responsibility among adolescents. Having a job also helps youth appreciate how important staying in school is to their future career plans. The most important element to the solution of violence in schools is the improvement surrounding the actual schools.