Casualties of War: Hired Guns in American Schools
by Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M.
Casualties of War:
Hired Guns in American Schools
Over the last decade, there has been mounting concern for the safety of teachers and students in the American public school system. This is particularly true of urban high schools, where students must walk through a metal detector before entering the building. School violence has become epidemic, and educational researchers have looked long and hard for a solution to the problem.
School administrators and elected officials bear the responsibility of keeping students safe during school hours, and a number of districts have implemented violence prevention programs. School security has become a top priority, and while improved security measures may have contributed to a decline in school related deaths, it has not been without significant changes in the school environment.
The added security has effected the traditional school environment by disrupting the chain of command within public institutions. The presence of school security guards appears to have a negative impact on the overall school climate. The presence of security guards disrupts traditional roles within the schools, and teachers report feeling at odds with security personnel. Increased security tends to fragment the school environment, and teachers report feeling a false sense of security. The secured environment is an indication of how students are expected to behave.
Under these conditions, it is not surprising to learn that students also report pervasive feelings of fear and do not feel secure despite the added presence of security personnel on school grounds. For these students, school is a mere extension of the violent communities in which they live.
Studies consistently report lower academic achievement in these neighborhoods. Children growing up in urban neighborhoods have a much higher incidence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Most researchers believe this to be the direct result of living in stressed communities plagued with street crime and violence.
Despite the severe implications of this realization, there is virtually no research on how pervasive fear affects the academic performance of urban adolescents. Previous research has found that people who suffer from acute stress process information differently (Sapolsky, 1996; McNally, 1995; Metcalfe & Jacobs, 1996). Individuals who feel threatened by their environment are acutely aware of their surroundings and have a heightened sensitivity to visual cues. As a result, they tend to hyper-focus on potential sources of threat, and shift into a different cognitive gear.
Individuals under stress not only store information differently, but their ability to retrieve information is also largely dependent upon emotional states (Metcalfe & Jacobs, 1996; Sapolsky, 1996; Perry, et al, 1996). Interestingly enough, information learned in song, rhyme, or rap is more easily retrieved in a state of high arousal. If this is in fact true, then popular culture may affect adolescents considerably more than previously believed. In addition to helping us understand the cognitive framework of individuals under stress, this can help us to find alternatives teaching methods to help urban schoolchildren who have not responded to traditional teaching methods.
Research has found the school climate to be a critical factor in reduction of school violence (Walker, 1995; Sabo, 1993). Disruptions in the traditional organization structure places additional stress on the school climate. The effect of school violence on teacher relationships is not known. In response to the public outcry for action, school boards implemented violence prevention programs and zero tolerance policies long before there was a chance to evaluate the severity and prevalence of the problem. The literature tends to focus on classroom management and violence prevention programs (Ascher, 1994; Walker, 1995).
Literature on school violence tends to focus on statistics and incident reports that do not provide an adequate understanding of school related violence. The research on school violence fails to address the importance of the organizational culture and the various components that are critical to effective schools. It is not surprising that students are unable to learn in this environment.
Teachers have become fearful of their students, and students fear each other. The presence of school security will certainly affect the organizational balance of American public schools, and sensitizes all members of the school environment to the roles they are expected to play. Many teachers feel a social responsibility and commitment to their schools, and feel they have a direct impact on the livelihood of their student body.
Together, the urban public school and the community it serves are a constant reminder of the poor living conditions and social reality of urban America. Students understand what is expected of them, and teachers are sensitized to conduct which reinforces their experience. Since urban communities have many different sources of stress, it is important to examine how school policies contribute to the learning environment in public schools.
Elyssa D. Durant © 1996-2014