Try Peace to Stop Violence in Schools
The school shooting in Springfield, Oregon, on May 21 once again brought the issue of kids and violence to the forefront of the nation’s mind. It was a scene that over the past year has been played out in towns in Mississippi, Kentucky, Alaska, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, California and Tennessee. Since I started writing this editorial, another shooting has occurred in Virginia.
Each shooting was followed by a rush to place blame: guns, lack of responsible parenting, deficient school security measures, violent TV shows and video games, etc. Did all of those things play a role? Probably. Will taking any one of them away solve our problems? Probably not. They are all part of a much more complex picture.
A recent U.S. Department of Education study on violence and discipline problems in public schools found that, for every disciplinary action taken against a student involving a gun, 10 were taken against students possessing or using other weapons.
Surprisingly, a report on ABC News’s Web site cited statistics also showing violence decreasing in public schools.
In an interview with ABC News’s Good Morning America, Geoffrey Canada, president of the Rheedlan Center for Children and Families, offered this bit of advice: "We shouldn’t wait to have these kinds of incidents to really sit down and talk with our boys about the issues of violence and how you handle interpersonal disputes."
Following the Jonesboro, Arkansas, shooting, President Bill Clinton convened a panel of experts to seek ways to prevent further shootings. The panel, however, quickly realized that there are no shortcuts to solve the problem. There is no one, simple answer.
A Search for Solutions
The U.S. bishops made no statements in response to the recent school shootings, but their message against violence has been very clear. In their 1994 document, Confronting a Culture of Violence, the bishops addressed the growing culture of violence in our society, and presented a course of action to try to reverse the trend in our society: "Commitment and conversion can change us and together we can change our culture and communities. Person by person, family by family, neighborhood by neighborhood, we must take our communities back from the evil and fear that come with so much violence. We believe our faith in Jesus Christ gives us the values, vision and hope that can bring an important measure of peace to our hearts, our homes and our streets."
We have to study the connection between these tragedies and guns, TV violence, etc. But we also need to look further into what we can do to prevent another one of these incidents from happening. We can find the answers within ourselves and take the first steps toward a less violent society.
We must teach children—in our homes, schools, churches, wherever we can reach them—that there are other ways to deal with anger than through violence. For instance, 362 of Ohio’s 671 public and private school districts have some type of formal conflict-management program.
One of the Ohio schools, Whitaker Elementary, has set up the "playground peace table," where student peer teams mediate disputes and work to find peaceful solutions. Since the inception of the peace-table concept, teachers have reported fewer incidents of kids bringing disputes into the classroom.
These programs will not solve our problems overnight, but they are a start.
In concluding their document, the bishops made reference to the incident in Chicago a couple of years ago, when a five-year-old boy was dropped out a window by two other boys because he wouldn’t steal candy. The victim’s grandmother issued a challenge at the funeral that "somebody, somewhere, somehow, will do something about the conditions which are causing our children to kill each other." Four years later, following these school shootings, the same challenge applies. The question is, are we ready to be that somebody?
Teach and Model Peace
So how can we help? Look into what your community is doing to promote nonviolent resolutions to problems. And don’t just look in the schools. Many organizations and court systems are also utilizing these methods to resolve conflicts. Check to see if there are programs in place. If so, take part, either actively or simply by offering your support for such initiatives. If your community does not have programs of this type, look into starting them.
Most importantly, make peace and nonviolence a part of your own life. Actively work to promote peaceful means of conflict resolution. Teach it to your children, your friends, your family. It only takes one spark to light a flame. Parents do have an influence. A recent study showed that adolescents who felt "connected" to their parents and school were less likely to engage in certain behaviors, such as perpetration of violence or drug use.
This summer, the Catholic Communication Campaign (CCC) launched a campaign for reconciliation to combat the growing trend of violence. The campaign will incorporate national radio, TV and print media.
"This needs to begin in the home," says Patricia Ryan Garcia of the CCC. "The worst place for conflict is in the family because that is where peace must begin."
It’s up to each of us to create the spark in our own lives. When we look at the lives already lost in these shootings, we have to ask ourselves: What other choice do we have? —S.H.B.