Literacy Part 10:
School Violence--School Safety
by Bill Lauritzen
Anthropologists say that some
violence may be built into our genetic structure. If so, then
perhaps sports serves a purpose in channeling this aggression
in a socially acceptable way. What else can be done?
We can train teachers and students to recognize when a students
looks like he or she needs help. But what about trying to change
the fundamental nature of school itself?
The memorization required to pass most school subjects these
days treats the student as if he or she were a recording device
of some kind rather than Homo sapiens. What is the date of the
battle of Gettysburg? A question like this could be just as easily
answered by a machine. What is 23 times 456? This could be answered
by a calculator.
Homo sapiens is not a machine. When you treat him or her like
one you will get back a host of bad emotions such as boredom,
hostility, anger, rage, frustration, fear, grief, and apathy.
If students are not allowed to express these feelings they will
lie beneath the surface, but they will come out in other ways
such as juvenile delinquency, including tagging or various other
forms of rebellion against the powers that dehumanize.
It is no wonder that some students feel alienated. Homo sapiens
is not particularly adept at sitting for hours on end staring
at relatively tiny markings on paper, that are less than one
thousandth as tall and one millionth as thick as they are. They
are not even particularly adept at sitting in a chair. The environment
that humans have lived in for the past several million years
included no chairs, no textbooks, no writing, and perhaps for
much of the time, no language.
Homo sapiens was chosen by the environment for its abilities
in reproducing, thinking, walking, running, jumping, looking,
kneeling, touching, manipulating, grasping, throwing, and gathering.
However, we have lost our connection to our original environment,
where we gathered nuts and roots and apples and seeds, and scanned
the horizon for predators and prey, and have been thrust, in
the last 10,000 years only, a mere blink of the evolutionary
eye, into a new world, completely alien to our genetic blueprint,
brought on by the rise of food production and its resulting technology.
We were sculpted in a world of trees, grasses, stars, plains,
animals, mountains, rivers, lakes and oceans, and we have been
moved rather abruptly to a world of TVs, computers, cement, office
buildings, apartments, parking structures, freeways, and electricity.
It is no wonder that we sometimes have mail bombers ranting against
modern technology or school kids wanting revenge. This doesnt
justify their actions, but it can help us to understand their
actions and thus possibly to prevent them in the future.
The answer is not to give up on technology, the answer is to
make that technology as fitting to a human being as is feasibly
possible. Yes, it costs more to design something well, so that
humans can use it with ease and even joy. But the social costs
of poor design are also great. (For example, one unreadable or
poorly placed traffic sign, and the death toll starts to mount
The answer is not to make our schools even more jail-like. More
metal detectors, more policemen, more fences, more locked gates,
and more video cameras are all measures that dont address
the fundamental problem. It merely suppresses the problem, and
the problem will find another way or another time to show its
At least some of this money should be spent on teacher training.
Teachers who train students so that they feel they will have
a useful place in society, probably will not have violent students.
Teachers who address a student as if they were a human being
rather than a recording machine, probably will not have violent
Schools, classes, teachers, and textbooks that allow for human
touch, movement, and space, as our genetic structure demands,
probably will not have frustrated, suicidal, or violent students.
We can diminish school violence and increase school safety by
making our schools less prison-like and more sensitive to the
evolutionary needs of our children.
Part 10 of a series
on raising literacy. The author holds a masters
degree in Industrial Psychology/Ergonomics and has studied education
for over 15 years.