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Raising 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 doesn’t 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 up.)

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 don’t address the fundamental problem. It merely suppresses the problem, and the problem will find another way or another time to show its face.

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 students.

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 master’s degree in Industrial Psychology/Ergonomics and has studied education for over 15 years.