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4.0 out of 5 stars Debunking the myth- the ugly and the very ugly about school, July 30, 2001
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This review is from: Contemporary Issues Companion - School Violence (Hardcover Edition) (Hardcover)
"School Violence" turned out to be a pleasant surprise in that it avoids the usual "quick-fix" proposition: waging total war on commercial entertainment. Instead it takes a more personal and immediate approach, focussing on the actual conditions at the schools, interviewing the survivors, examining the shooters as individuals, and proposing direct measures to curb the violent behaviors. In doing so, the articles also paint an amazingly dark picture of the American schools: violent, rotten places where the kids are poorly supervised, where the teachers are indolent and vengeful, and where no one does anything to stop even the mot injurious forms of bullying. Some of thes first-hand accounts are so grim as to be unbelievable (Dixon, "Six Years of Horror"). On the other hand, the book sometimes edges into saccharine melodrama familiar from syndicated TV hungry for happy endings: "We are Columbine" - "We will always be Columbine!" - "Columbine forever."
The organization is strong and intuitive. The book is subdivided into four sections: trends and tendencies, causes, first-hand accounts, and possible solutions. The first section isn't particularly informative, failing to draw any but the vaguest of answers, failing to portray the scope of the problem in any meaningful way, or just tossing around some tired accusations (the ubiqitous Mr. Males sneaked into this volume as well, and his arguments are particularly caustic). "Causes", the second section, is where I expected the book to fall on its face. Fortunately, "School Violence" unites all sermons on the evils of pop culture into a single unconvincing harangue ("For most kids, however, the popular culture is acting as a coarsener, a desensitizer, and a dehumanizer... (60)"). The remainder of the arguments include some that are not often heard, such as the possible link between psychiatric drugs and school violence and the loopholes in the individuals-with-disabilities laws. Best of all, the book does not treat the perpetrator of violent acts as degranged monsters - fittingly, "School Violence" addresses all forms of school violence, treating them as the culmination of the abusive social climate at schools.
The third section came as a surprise: these first-hand accounts are hard to find. The ones in this book are particularly revealing, debunking the majority of media myths about Harris and Klebold (the Columbine shooters).
However, the measures proposed in the fourth section seem drastic and counterproductive in comparison to the ealier arguments: increased penalties and involving the criminal justice system at schools (to get troubled students out of the system ASAP), increased monitoring, screening, and pat-searching, even arming the teachers(!?). There are a few "nice" articles, but they get lost.
Of course, the book isn't without flaws. I suspect it of playing on my interests and preconceptions more than once. Frequently I cringed at toxic logic along the lines of "there are so few boundaries for kids these days, with the drug use and violence, so if we give them some limits, that's good (126)". To quote another rotten apple: "We thought about letting our child make this decision, but decided it was unfair to turn the problem over to him (108)." Here's particular passage the made my blood rush to my face:
"If it's the assassination of a president, the bombing of a federal building, or the mass murder of high-school students by wigged-out teenagers full of pubescent resentment, plugged-up hormones, and the mental and moral garbage regularly served them by their schools, their televisions, their movies, their music, their books, their government and their newspapers, then it has to be because "the right" is on the move... these young men [Harris and Klebold] grew up in the make-believe world concocted by liberalism, a fantastic place where race and sex mean nothing; where violence and crime don't exist and guns have no function and no meaning, even as toys;... where people who adhere to "RACISM!" deserve to have their arms torn off and be burned, and... healthy young men whose genes and glands and brains drive them to aggression, are simply blank slated to be shaped, twisted, and scribbled over by "anger management" programs...(82-84)"
I'm still at a loss to deduce what that contributor's agrument actually is. Fortunately, the useful portions far outnumber such garbage.
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