Schools and Violence – A Sad Reflection on Society

I don’t want to write about it; I don’t want to think about it…yet the pictures haunt me. Every parent holds dear images of watching little ones skip off to school or dropping the inert lump, our adolescents, at the gym door before practice. We have state of the art learning centers, sports fields, theaters and play grounds and yet, it is no longer safe for children to walk to school in America. Why?

I come from a family of teachers-my grandparents were teachers, my dad taught high school, my mom taught kindergarten in Sterling, my baby sister 1st grade in a Minneapolis suburb, my middle sister teaches in Yorkville, one French sister-in-law 2nd grade in a village school at Honfleur, the other in middle school in Rouen France. My son is in teacher training working with at-risk kids in St. Paul after school program. Many of my former students have gone onto to teaching careers around the world. Our belief in education as a birthright is as natural as the right to breathe.

I teach at the world’s oldest and largest international school in Geneva where I work in a global

quiet walk to school

quiet walk to school

community representing 138 nationalities and 84 mother tongues. My century old school, tucked on a slope of open fields and vineyards, offers an exquisite view of Lake Geneva surrounded by the snow-peaked Alps. I teach in a classroom without walls. No fence surrounds the property, no security guards patrol the campus, and no backpacks are inspected at the door. Yet daily, students from all races and religious affiliations -Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Catholic, Mormon – sit down together to learn about one another’s beliefs and discuss ideas.

Everyday when I walk to school I gaze at the sun rising over the mountains with a prayer of gratitude on my lips that such a place still exists.

On Friday December 15, our last day of school before the break, we wore funny red, stocking caps, threw snowballs, sang together in an assembly. At lunch after the buses picked up the children, the teachers assembled in the cafeteria for our traditional holiday meal where I sat with my multicultural colleagues. When I came home and saw the news, I felt sick. And the more I learned about it, the worse I felt. Not even a week back after holidays, another boy opened fire for being bullied in Californian high school.

We are so quick to blame the others…the Arabs, the Africans, the immigrants, the Muslims, the Jews…but what happens when the evil comes from within our own? When a withdrawn, alienated, “mentally ill” Caucasian youth from a rich, peaceful neighborhood turns on his mother and community?

Perhaps I live in an unrealistic bubble; one difference. of course, is the affluence of my international community. Yet the young man who went berserk and gunned down children in Sandy Hook Elementary came from a wealthy area. He learned how to use weapons “safely.”

I work with bright, at times alienated youth; special kids who are sometimes fragile, bullied, teased and isolated because of their differences, falling under a plethora of labels- ADHD, dyslexic, Aspergers. I feel for these kids. At what point do societies’ victims snap and become the perpetrators?

Each time another school shooting occurs in America, France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, teachers worldwide are dumbfounded and left reeling from disbelief. From Honfleur to Rouen to Geneva to Chicago to Minneapolis to Sterling, we believe wholeheartedly in the freedom of education. Where are we going wrong?

While my American counterparts learn take-down techniques, drill for lock down and debate carrying guns for self-protection in the classroom, I wonder how long it will be before we will adopt the same policies? How can carrying a weapon in school for self-defense make anyone in society feel safer?

Enhanced by ZemantaAre teachers packing pistols for protection really the solution? What do you think?
Posted in education, family, inspiration, relationships, social view.


  1. I think that having teachers packing pistols means increasing the chances of accidents, increasing the chance that children will shoot each other, increasing the chance that a teacher will accidentally shoot a child. More guns are not the solution to gun problems.

    • Thanks, Carol…sometimes feel I have been out of the country too long to really understand what it is like for my fellow Americans, so I wanted feedback. I am not surprised that this another issue on which we agree…still can’t get my head around the fact that for so many the right to bear arms rates up there with the other civil rights.

  2. Hi Pat, I fully appreciate your feelings about the defence problems in schools…I am now 90 years of age and when I was in high school I would stay at my grandmothers when I had something to attend after school hours…. I would walk the more than a block in the light of street light to and from the activities never fearing that any harm would come to me… I now live alone on a farm … I keep my doors locked at all times … I have not been molested but I do not like the stories I hear about in Sterling….

    • Oh yes, Mary Helen, the joys of walking to school and hanging out after dark under the street light. You must be in amazing shape from all that walking in your youth to be able live independently, on a farm no less, in your 90s. Keep those doors locked, but that mind open…another thing I admire about you is your ability to stay connected to future generations through your use of internet.

  3. I appreciate your thoughts on this one, Pat. I almost went into education myself, but seeing how things have deteriorated, I’m glad I didn’t. No, arming teachers doesn’t sound like a viable solution. Nor does throwing more money at the problem. I think that, when we took God and morals out of the classroom, we opened ourselves a can of worms. I know it’s not popular to think that way, but I do. When I was in school, we didn’t have religion spooned down our throats, but it wasn’t taboo either. And it wasn’t unheard of for neighbors to watch out for us kids — and tell our parents when they saw us doing something improper or potentially dangerous. Now, sadly, too many people don’t know their neighbors and don’t want to get involved. Here’s hoping a school like yours can succeed and become a role model for others!

    • Yes Debbie, I know when I was growing up, the entire neighborhood was looking out for me. Hopefully the sense of community has remained intact in many places. Whatever happened the good old fashioned values we learned as children?

  4. Pat, I wholeheartedly agree with your points. It seems the more time that goes by, the more difficult it has been to grasp. There are so many facets to the problem that need to be addressed, I.e. access to violence via video games and mass media, the removal of God from schools, the issue of bullying, reasonable gun control via stricter background checks. No quick fix. I personally can not grasp the logic of allowing citizens to own assault weapons and ammunition. So yes to stricter gun control but I do not feel countering violence with potentially-violent solutions such as providing armed guards in schools is the answer. No way.

    • Kathy, you have raised so many good points and it is a loaded issue with people seeming to take such a strong stance for or against the issue. What I am wondering, as an educator, is what creates the best learning environment for the children?

  5. I do believe the problem is multi-faceted. I heard VP Biden saying that, not so many years ago, the data on how people died when killed in car crashes was protected information. It was illegal to let that data out. When enough lawmakers finally pushed thru laws to change that, it was learned that people were being impaled on steering columns, and changes were made. People were decapitated by a particular part, and it was redesigned. Seatbelts were required, as were airbags. This was fought every step of the way by auto makers.

    So, Biden says, one thing we might benefit from would be the release of data, currently protected by laws cooked up by the NRA, as to how people die when killed by guns. What kinds of guns? Who are the shooters? What is the data? And changes can then be made. Until then, we’re scratching our heads and saying, “Video violence? High-capacity magazines? God in/out of school (and should that include other gods?) Armed school guards? Mental health services increased on campus?” I like Biden’s question. What is the data?

    • Great point Lynne…this issue is loaded! I had no idea that the data about how people were killed in car crashes was once withheld to protect the automakers. Biden request seems valid. How can sound decisions be made if data is withheld to benefit the moneymakers. Then there is the whole question of how to interpret the data since the way statistics are presented makes such a difference. Why does it seem the bottom line is always about money?

  6. I’m really numb at this point at all of the violence taking place, in and out of schools. I don’t see this as one group or another group of a people problems. It’s all of America’s problem! You have NRA shouting out rights of people to carry guns when assault rifles end up being used to take children lives in majority of school deaths, then you have illegal guns making their way onto streets of Chicago and other cities to kill innocent men, women and children.

    It is a problem of epidemic and cultural proportions and action is needed to provoke sale of assault rifles…steeper gun control laws; increase age, advanced background checks, group affliations and so forth. Civil rights or no- murder is murder and there is no justification for taking innocent lives. Enough.

    • Amen Clara! Thanks for adding the viewpoint from the front lines. Enough is right. I know that I am privileged to work in a school without walls and live in a quiet neighborhood, but even in stereotypically peaceful Switzerland, violent crime is rising. The problem may be more prevalent in America, but it is also apart of urban life in Europe. The biggest difference here is that guns are not easily accessible. I am no politician, but to me this seems like a no brainer. Let’s hope legislation changes!

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