Friday, March 17, 2006

Middle school violence

I suppose most people in Charlottesville read the front page Daily Progress article this week about violence at Buford Middle School. I don't subscribe to the Daily Progress, but my son brought the paper home from school with him with him. At first I skimmed the article because it seemed to be mostly ineffectual hand-wringing, but later that night, my son, who's in 8th grade at Buford, told me that he'd witnessed an attack on one of his teachers. According to my son, there was some sort of altercation between a student and the teacher, and the student slammed a door on the teacher's hand, hard enough to shatter her wedding ring. This is horrifying. Do you know how much it hurts to have your hand slammed in a door? Can you imagine how frightening it was for the other students in the class to witness this?
So I went back and read the article more carefully—it was still ineffectual hand-wringing, the point being that you can't really toss twelve and thirteen year old kids out of school when there is no alternative for them, but neither can you allow these children to terrorize students and teachers, so what do you do? The elementary schools have lifeskills programs in place to help children deal with anger and to behave appropriately when faced with conflict. In my opinion, such programs are of little use. Children, from their infancies, need consistent respectful, non-violent behavior modeled by their parents or guardians. If they don't get this, then lifeskills or other guidance programs are too little, too late. On the other hand, it's not right to say it's too late to help a violent child. I do think that a large, centralized middle school is a terrible environment for any child, particularly a troubled one. Two of my children go to Buford and both of them hate it there. My daughter told me, “I'm worried that I'll say the wrong thing to somebody and get beaten up.”
Maybe if children were taught in smaller groups, in a more nurturing environment, some violence might be avoided? Or do we need early intervention with new parents—the teaching of gentle discipline, tactics for dealing with the stress of having a baby, better options for victims of domestic violence? I don't have any answers, I'm just pissed off that two of my kids live with the threat of violence every school day.


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