October 12, 2007

Despite shootings, schools among safest places for children

Shooting rampages - statistically rare events

This week's school shooting in Cleveland, Ohio may stir up the idea that schools are dangerous places. Especially since the 14-year-old boy, Asa Coon, favored the "goth" look of the Columbine shooters, wearing a long trench coat and black-painted fingernails. Reportedly upset over a recent suspension for fighting, Coon injured four people before killing himself.

Ironically, the very day before this shooting, a sociologist had heralded schools as "among the safest places for young people to be."

Karen Sternheimer, an author and sociology professor at the University of Southern California, explained in her blog article why this is true, despite highly publicized rampages at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and – now – the school in Cleveland.

"Crime in America's schools is on the decline," Sternheimer writes at the Everyday Sociology blog. "Children are much more likely to be victimized by adults than by each other. Statistically, kids are actually safer in the company of other students than they are with their parents."

In critiquing knee-jerk Zero Tolerance responses to the perceived problem of school violence, Sternheimer concludes:

"There is a danger in focusing so much on unlikely events that we ignore many of the complex issues plaguing so many schools: overcrowding, outdated materials, decaying facilities and overwhelmed teachers, not to mention alienating students with rigid one-size-fits-all policies. This, coupled with skyrocketing tuition at colleges and universities means that many are being shut out of higher education entirely, giving them less reason to commit themselves to education. Perhaps the biggest danger facing our nation's schools is using our scarce resources to massage our fears rather than to educate a generation."
The article is available at the Everyday Sociology blog. Sternheimer is the author of two acclaimed books about youth culture: Kids These Days: Facts and Fictions About Today's Youth and It's Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture’s Influence on Children.

See also my post on Virginia Tech and my Amazon review of
Rampage: The Social Roots Of School Shootings.