Violence in American Schools

Pre-University Paper, 2001

24 Pages, Grade: 14 P.

Free online reading

List of contents


2. Violence in general
2.1. Definition.
2.1.1. Definition of “violence”
2.1.2. Characterization of “violence”
2.2. Violence in the US
2.3. Result

3. Violence in American Schools
3.1. Reasons and prerequisites for violence in school
3.2. Facts
3.2.1. Statistics
3.2.2. Forms of violence
3.2.3. Functions of violence in school
3.2.4. Effects of violence in school
3.3. Examples
3.3.1. Santee
3.3.2. Littleton
3.3.3. Interviews
3.4. What to do against violence in school?

4. Result

5. Titles of sources

6. Appendix

1. Introduction

“Violence in American Schools” appears to be a current issue. Almost every month a terrible incident happens in a US school. Some examples are Littleton where 14 people were killed and 23 people were injured or recently Santee, California where 2 people were killed. Maybe these extreme incidents of violence are only the tip of the iceberg. I am going to examine what violence exactly means, where it comes from and how it develops. Another question I am going to answer is: Is there really a higher level of violence in the USA? If yes what are the reasons? Which reasons and prerequisites create violence in school? What types of violence are the most common ones? What can be done against it?

2. Violence in general

2.1. Definition

2.1.1. Definition of violence

German is a more general language than English is. That means it does not differentiate word meanings as much as English does. A good example for that is the German word “Gewalt”. Basically it means that someone, a group or an institution has power over another one and uses it to his own advantage and/or to hurt the other whereas English uses at least two words for “Gewalt”: “Power” and “violence”.

- Power = “[…] If someone has power he has a lot of control over people and activities. […] If you have the ability or opportunity to do something you can refer this as a power. […] If it is in or within your power to do something, you are able to do it. […]”[PONS Cobuild English Learner’s Dictionary. Stuttgart, London, Glasgow 1989, page 756]
- Violence = “Violence is behaviour which is intended to hurt or kill people, for example hitting or kicking or using of guns or bombs. […]”[cf. annotation 1, page 1097]

In consequence violence is only one expression of power. Behaving violently is a physical application of the mentioned power or control one has over another person.

2.1.2. Characterization of violence

Although there are several explanations and development schemes of violence (cf. next page) it is hard to give explicit reasons for violence because of the topic’s complexity. Despite that fact the reasons can be divided into four main parts:

- personal background (e.g. family, friends, etc.)
- prerequisites at work (such as frustration, etc.)
- deficits in one’s personal character
- society’s circumstances and prerequisites (e.g. social environment, media)

A possible development and explanation scheme of violence (Another one could be found in “Maßnahmen gegen Gewalt bei Kindern und Jugendlichen” [JAEGER, Thomas: Maßnahmen gegen Gewalt bei Kindern und Jugendlichen - Eine Linksammlung. page 7f. cf.]):

There is a tension (provoked by circumstances [such as a conflict] or other people). It is intensifying.

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This tension makes people feel aggressive.

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There are two different ways to deal with the aggression.

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Furthermore violence parts the involved persons or groups into two parts:

- the perpetrator/active/acting person or group and
- the victim/passive/reacting person or group.

Everyone/every group involved in violence has the tendency to present himself/itself as being the victim. [BAURIEDLE, Thea: Wege aus der Gewalt - Analyse von Beziehungen. Freiburg i. Breisgau 1992, page 115 ff.]

The victim is considered to have a better position from the moral point of view which “justifies” the use violence for reasons of self-defence. If he makes use of his “right” this increases the violence and its intensity in form of revenge-violence. Mostly it is the starting point of a violence chain reaction. That is mainly pushed by one of the strongest human feelings: Revenge.

2.2. Violence in the United States

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There is a high violence level in the US.“ This is a common and often mentioned prejudice, which is not only a prejudice but actually reality at least in comparison to Western countries and Japan. In 1990 there were 9.4 murders per 100,000 citizens each year in the US.5 [

Afterwards, the rate levelled off to eight murders per 100,000 citizens each year, which is also the current level. That in fact is five to ten times higher than in Europe or Japan. [c.f ]

To explain this high rate and to prove the thesis from the beginning of chapter 2.2. here are four arguments.

1. First there is the easy access to firearms.[For more information concerning gun laws in the US cf. /gun.control/map.txt] In the USA half of the households possess a firearm (compare: In the Netherlands only two per cent and in France six per cent of the households possess a firearm). A particular explanation for such a high amount can be found in the United States’ Constitution. The Second Amendment (Bill of Rights, 1791) says: ”A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” [US Gov Info/Resources: Gun Control Timeline .htm]

Which influence does the easy availability of firearms have on the rate of murder and manslaughter? If the access to firearms was restricted more strongly would that reduce the murder rate and violence in general?

On the one hand the use and availability of firearms increases the risk of conflicts ending lethally. In 1992 two thirds of all murdered people were killed by firearms. On the other hand there is a reason to believe that a restriction might not diminish violence and murder: If someone really wants to kill somebody he can do so without any firearm, too. It is not the bullet that kills but the finger at the trigger.

2. A second common argument to back up the main thesis from chapter 2.2. is called: The high level of urbanity results in a high level of violence and crime. In 1998 77 per cent of the US population lived in urban regions.[Der Fischer Weltalmanach 2001. page 841.] Here are some data supporting this statement:

- In the middle 70s 15% of the US population lived in big cities [The difference between “urban region” and “big city” is “urban region” includes big cities, towns and the suburbs around them.] where concurrently 38 per cent of murders, 56 per cent of robberies and 33 per cent of rapes took place.
- Washington D.C. is not only the country’s capital but also that of violence. A similar case is found in other cities such as Detroit and New Orleans. [Data cf. appendix, material 1] They all have a very high level of murders and manslaughters. The city centres are especially affected.

3. In the city centres there is a high level of poverty resulting in a high level of violence and crime. The worse educated ethnic minorities (African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics [ Cf.]) live in these city centres and do not get high-qualified jobs. Therefore it is easy to understand that they form the “working-poor” or “underclass” [ .html]. Poor people have a tendency to behave violently as they live in more insecure circumstances than wealthier ones do. They some times even have to fight to live (for instance they have to work hard for minimum wages). Furthermore people living in city centres - especially adolescents - are often bored. So they look for something to do. One possible activity is to loiter with gangs and cliques where violence and crime is quite normal.

4. The current decline of city centres is accompanied with the decline of social structures within the ethnic communities. Mainly the “African American community” is affected by that phenomenon. While in the 40s and 50s there was a leading culture [This leading culture consisted of merchants, workmen and doctors.] in this community influencing especially the youth this influence has gone now. The children and adolescents grow up within their peer groups, cliques and gangs. The habit of loitering and not seeing any perspective creates a climate where violence and crime become the usual way to solve problems.

2.3. Result

Violence is an expression of power one has over another person. The four main prerequisites for violence are negative personal background, negative conditions at work, shortcomings in one’s personal character and negative social conditions and circumstances.

In spite of these prerequisites the involved persons/groups do not necessarily have to behave violently. In the USA there is a high level of violence. This can be concluded from the following aspects:

- the easy access to firearms
- a high level of urbanity
- a high level of poverty in city centres
- and the decline of social structures.

3. Violence in American schools

3.1. Reasons for violence in school

[ JAEGER, Thomas: Ma ßnahmen gegen Gewalt bei Kindern und Jugendlichen page 6f. ]

“Violent behaviour is the product of the interaction between individual development and social contexts […].” [ page 1] The prevailing reasons and prerequisites for violence can be divided into four main parts:

- Prerequisites in family supporting violent behaviour:

There are conflicts in families such as parents’ misuse of power and control over their children or economical problems of the family (caused by unemployment, etc.). This insecure climate leads children to feel hopeless about the future and increases their potential to behave violently.

- These characteristics are often examined at the behaviour of violent children and adolescents. They can stimulate those young people to behave violently:

They are not able to control their own behaviour and show a high level of activity or to put it in another way they behave restles. Moreover they can hardly be motivated to do things they do not want to do. They only have little self-confidence. Violent children and adolescents show a shortage of social abilities (e.g. the ability to deal with conflicts without using violence, the ability of changing their personal point of view in order to understand other people). Furthermore they think that a negative intention is in everything other people do and in the same way they react highly sensitivly to negative reactions.

- Society ’ s circumstances that support violent behaviour:

Violent young people from “economical marginal” [] places feel as if they have only little or no perspectives (concerning jobs, dreams of one’s life, etc.). In addition social differences are growing. On the one hand there is poverty (often in city centres [Cf. chapter 2.2.]) on the other hand there is prosperity. Both the feelings to have minor perspectives and the social differences cause insecure feelings which easily create aggression and violence.

The media are considered to have a very bad influence on adolescents’ values and behaviour but according to a study in Stuttgart (1999) this influence is overestimated. In this study they show only little connection between consuming mass media with violence and violent behaviour.[DOEBLER, Thomas; STARK, Birgit; SCHENK, Michael: Mediale und reale Gewalt, München 1999. pages 139ff. It is has to be considered carefully because there were only 230 adolescents asked about their media consume and their behaviour.] Above all the shortage of social structures is the most important point. If there was a higher amount of “informal social control” [](e.g. neighbourhood watch, bond of neighbours and families) there would be more safety. [Cf. chapter 2.2.] According to the CSPV [Center of the Study and Prevention of Violence] “a community’s ability to use informal social controls appears to be the key to understanding local levels of violence and disorder.”[C.f. www.colorado.edu7cspv/factsheets/factsheet6.html]

- Reasons and prerequisites supporting a violent behaviour in school:

First of all the size of school is an important aspect. The bigger schools are more likely to experience violence and crime especially serious violence and crime.[Cf. chapter 3.2.2.] Another point is: Pupils feel a high pressure upon them not to fail at school. Or they are bored and look for something to do. One possible action could be violence. Apart from that a generally bad climate in school increases the potential of violence. Equally a high number of cliques and gangs within school can influence adolescents to behave violently. If they are not a member of a sport’s team or a clique they are likely to become a victim of violence or crime. Reasons for extreme violence (as it happened in Littleton) in school are being an outsider or being victimized by other pupils. This can go on for a certain time (in which aggression is built up). But if it reaches its climax violence breaks out in a terrible way: A bloodbath (in school, at home, etc.). Often the perpetrators announce their deeds beforehand but seldom people believe them.

The next reason is school bussing. Originally it was introduced to mix up pupils living in different ethnic and different social groups in schools. Every morning buses drive through different districts and areas, pick up the pupils and take them to school. Naturally that leads to conflicts on their way to school and afterwards in school.

3.2. Facts

3.2.1. Statistics

I took the following data from a NCES [National Center for Education Statistics] research: “Violence and Discipline Problems in US Public Schools 1996 - 1997”.[ ]

- A surprisingly big number (two in five) of US public schools reported no crime [No crime means the school did not contact the police/other law enforcement. Nevertheless there could have been violence or crime in this school. So the data has to be considered carefully. Cf.]; nearly half the schools indicated at least one [less] serious crime[Less serious crime means physical attack or fight without a weapon, theft/larceny and vandalism. Cf. http://nces.ed.govpubs98/violence/9803004.html] and one in ten schools reported to have had at least one serious violent crime (= Serious violent crime means murder, sexual battery (including rape), suicide, physical attack or fight with a weapon and robbery.) in the school year 1996-1997. [c.f. appendix figure 2]

- In the school year 1996-1997 there were
- 190,000 incidents of physical attacks/fights without a weapon
- 116,000 incidents of theft/larceny
- 98,000 incidents of vandalism
- 7,000 incidents of robbery
- and 4,000 incidents of rape. [Cf. Appendix, figure 1 ]

To be able to judge these data here are some more data: In 1996 there were roughly 60,000 elementary, 21,000 secondary and 5,000 other schools.[Spiegel Almanach Weltjahrbuch 2000. Hamburg 1999, page 533] That means there were approximately five incidents of violence and crime in average 1996/1997 at each school.

- The most common reported incidents were:
- 38 per cent of vandalism
- 31 per cent of theft/larceny
- 28 per cent of physical attacks/fighting without a weapon

All in all these are “less” serious violent crimes.

- A smaller fraction of the schools inquired reported to have had the following incidents:
- 3 per cent of sexual battery (including rape)
- 3 per cent of robbery
- and 6 per cent of physical attack/fighting with a weapon.

These are serious violent crimes.

- The type of school is a deciding factor to the amount of violence and crime. In other words: It depends on the kind of school if there is a high level of violence:
- 45 per cent of elementary schools
- 74 per cent of middle schools
- and 77 per cent of high schools reported any violence and/or crime.

- Just as the level of violence and crime depends on the type of school it also depends on the size of school [There are more than 1,000 pupils in called a large school, 300 - 999 pupils in a medium -sized school and less than 300 in a small school.]:
- 38 per cent of small schools
- 60 per cent of medium-sized schools
- and 89 per cent of large schools reported any violence and/or crime.

- The level of urbanity and the population’s density influences the frequency of crime and violence:
- 17 per cent of city schools had at least one serious violent crime
- 8 per cent of rural schools
- and 5 per cent of town schools reported at least one serious violent crime in the school year 1996/97.

- If a school has a high number of minority pupils it is more likely to experience violence and crime:
- 68 per cent of schools with a high rate of minority pupils (more than 50 per cent) reported some violence and/or crime and 15 per cent serious violence crime.
- On the other hand 47 per cent of schools with a little rate of minority pupils (5 per cent or less) indicated some violence and/or crime and only six per cent of these schools indicated serious violent crime.

- There is a narrow connection between discipline problems at a school and its incidence of violence and crime:
- Only 40 per cent of schools with no or only insignificant discipline problems reported any violence and/or crime in 1996/97.

On the whole big high schools in cities with a large amount of minority pupils and medium or big discipline problems had a high incidence of violence in comparison to small elementary schools in towns with little or no discipline problems. A surprising fact is the little amount of serious violence if one considers the recent lethal attacks in schools with a weapon.[Cf. chapter 3.3.]

3.2.2. Forms of violence in school

According to the NCES research there are several forms of violence in school: Murder and manslaughter, sexual battery (including rape), suicide, physical assaults with or without a weapon and fights with or without a weapon.

3.2.3. Functions of violence in school

Violence is used to perform several functions. First of all adolescents use it to reduce their aggressions [Cf. chapter 2.1.2.].

Maybe pupils are jealous for other pupil’s clothes, intelligence, boyfriend/ girlfriend, etc. As soon as one is jealous he is frustrated. Frustration can change into aggression, which is actually the early form of violence, and there we are.[Other reasons for aggression can be found in chapter 3.1.] Another function of violence is mostly used by boys. They want to impress the opposite sex - they need to prove their “manhood” and they do it by violence.[Boys in fact use violence earlier in conflicts than girls do. Boys committed more than 90 per cent of homicides. Cf.] Besides violence is used to boost little self-confidence. If one has only little self-confidence an opportunity to boost it is degrading other people (for instance violently). Not only the perpetrator degrades the victim but he often chooses a weaker person which is even worse. He would not be capable to fight a person situated more at his level. Minority members, shy pupils and outsiders appear to be “easy victims”. Often they are not a sports team’s or gang’s member. If they were they would be protected largely from being perpetrated.

3.2.4. Effects of violence in school []

There are different possible kinds of consequences: For one thing the victim ’ s reactions to violence and for another the effect(s) on the perpetrator.

First the victim has two opportunities to react: Either he or she reacts “passively” or “actively”. Passive reactions means the vidtim withdraws from its social environment, for instance from family, friends etc.

If the violence has been taking place only for a short period of time there are less serious effects on the victim. Then the victim’s direct reactions to violence are like that: The victim’s ability to concentrate on his/her tasks diminishes, he/she tries to avoid school and everything connected with school as far as possible. Other direct reactions may be nightmares and eating disorders. If the victim is treated violently for a longer period of time the above-mentioned effects intensify and perhaps he/she would try to commit suicide or at least think of it.

Medium-term and long-term consequences of violence to the victim are: Less self-confidence, a higher level of isolation and a higher potential of becoming depressed as well as he/she is thinking of or committing suicide.

Only a little number of children reacts actively to violence, which means the victim tells other people about having been victimized.

When the perpetrator realizes that violent behaviour is more effective than the non-violent actions he will use more and more violence to reach his aims. That means it is very important to stop violence as early as possible.

3.3. Examples of violence in school

3.3.1. Santana High School - Santee (suburb of San Diego)

On Monday, March 5th, 2001 Charles Andrew Williams killed two classmates and injured 13 others. He used a 22-calibre gun, he brought to school in his rucksack that morning, to attack his classmates and the school staff. Everyone around and the whole town with 58,000 inhabitants was shocked by this event. Witnesses having seen the massacre tell Charles was smiling in a cool way and he shot everyone he saw without aiming. The year before he had moved to Santee with his father. His parents are divorced.

Charles is small and of slight frame. In spite of being often teased he never complained. But inside him there must have been a more and more increasing amount of aggression. On March, 5th he gave vent to this aggression and the feeling of revenge by attacking his environment. Beforehand he had told at least 12 persons he is going to kill - no one believed him.

3.3.2. Littleton

On April, 20th, 1999 in Littleton, Colorado “14 students including the killers and one teacher [were] killed. 23 others [were] wounded in the nation’s deadliest school shooting. Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, had plotted for a year to kill at least 500 and [to] blow up their school. At the end of their rampage, they turned their guns on themselves.”[C.f.]

3.3.3. Interviews

The following facts are taken from interviews I had with six pupils from the Albert -Schweitzer-Gymnasium, Wolfsburg. They all lived for a certain time in the USA (at least one school year) or are Americans.[Interviews cf. appendix, material 4] And they all felt save in school. Only three reported to have been involved in violence themselves. But that the violence they experienced was not the extreme one, which recently happened in Santee, California.[Cf. chapter 3.3.1.] That is: “Their” experienced violence was “less serious”.

3.4. What can be done against violence?

“The most effective school responses to violence are those that develop the social resources of their students.”[C.f.] Obviously that is easier in smaller schools. So a first measure against violence would be reducing the size of schools. In fact that would create a more personal and warm atmosphere where violence occurs more seldom than in bigger schools with a cooler atmosphere. there would not only be less anonymity but there would be a smaller need of safety measures. Safety measures often used in US schools are: “Visitors are required to sign in, access to school grounds/school buildings [is] controlled, students [have] to pass through metal detectors daily, school campuses [are] closed for most students during lunch, random metal detector checks [are] performed and schools conduct[…] drug sweeps[…].”[ , data cf. appendix (figure 10)] Last but not least schools have police officers are on schools’ campuses.

As discipline problems often lead to violence schools punish these “discipline issues” [C.f. 98030008.html] strictly.[Cf. appendix, figure 7]

4. Result

Violence is the expression of power one has over another person. In the USA there is a high level of violence and crime compared to Western countries.

Violence in schools is not only a school’s problem. Instead it affects the whole society. Reasons for violence in schools are: Reasons and prerequisites in school, family and within the social environment. So solutions to this problem have to involve the whole society, too. All in all these are external factors creating violence. Often these factors are used to belittle the perpetrator’s responsibility. But even if there are difficult circumstances (e.g. living in a ghetto) the perpetrator does not necessarily have to behave violently. So he is responsible for the violence he does, too. Furthermore adolescents behaving violently often show shortages in their characters. Solutions for these kinds of problems are: supporting the social skills and “informal social control”[] among pupils and in the society in general.

5. List of sources

BAURIEDLE, Thea: Wege aus der Gewalt - Analyse von Beziehungen. Freiburg i. Breisgau 1992,

Der Fischer Weltalmanach 2001. Frankfurt a. Main 2000.

DOEBLER, Thomas; STARK, Birgit; SCHENK, Michael: Mediale und reale Gewalt, München 1999.

PONS Cobuild English Learner’s Dictionary. Stuttgart, London, Glasgow 1989.

Spiegel Almanach Weltjahrbuch 2000. Hamburg 1999. /gun.control/map.txt

6. Appendix

- Material 1:

In 1998 in Washington D.C. had a murder rate of 59.5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants each year (in 1992 it had a murders and manslaughters rate 75.2/100,000 each year).

The other cities such as Detroit or New Orleans have murder and manslaughter rate between 40 and 50 murders/per 100,000 inhabitants each year.

- Material 2:

In 1991 43.3 per cent of the people accused because of murder were African Americans. [Commentary: It is possible such a high number of African Americans is arrested and convicted because of racism. Therefore this rate has to be considered carefully.]

- Material 3:

The following data is taken from the NCES study: “Violence and Discipline Problems in American Schools in the School Year 1996- 1997.”

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- Material 4: Interviews with pupils who “experienced” US schools

Person 1:

- “Was there any violence against you or your friends in your environment?

Yes, once. We had a soccer game and our opponents started a fight.

- Please describe the violence exactly.

One of their white players called us “Niggers” because we were mostly black. We told him to shut up but he wouldn’t. Then they started to beat up our goalkeeper, so we started to fight back.

Person 2:

- Was there any violence against you or your friends or in you environment?

No, not seriously, the only time I can remember we were only playing around. Some people would wrestle but not hurt somebody.

- Please describe it exactly.

One time during 2nd semester after C lunch two black girls started fighting over some guy. Right after they started fighting some people gathered up around them [?] yelling. And the next second Mr Emerson [the head of security] and Mr Carter (one of the cops) ran up to them and the mob desdued. All that happened so fast that I didn’t actually understand what had happened after some people told me later!

Person 3:

- Was there any violence against you or your friends or in your environment?

[He felt safe in school] in general. Nevertheless, there were some incidents where I was violently opposed because of my nationality. Ion addition to that, I felt a little insecure because every little child can walk into a grocery store and buy a shotgun. In general, Americans tend to have a violent attitude.

- Please describe the violence exactly.

There was one guy who used to greet me with the Nazi salute trying to arouse me. I tried to convince him that Germany is not the Nazi State anymore it had been in history. But he would not me. After half a year of harassment and little pushes he finally settled down. Since I was a member of the school’s football and wrestling team I had been rather secure due to the fact that somebody wouldn’t want to mess with those groups who stick together and protect each other.

Person 4:

- Was there any violence against you or your friends or in your environment?

No, but some of my friends had a couple of fights in school. Well, and after all this “fun” (how they used to call it) they got a three-day-suspension.

- Please describe the violence exactly.

It’s like Germany. Somebody says something stupid and the other one gets really angry. When they see each other they start screaming and fighting (and calling names).

Person 5:

- Was there any violence against you or your friends or in your environment?

I didn’t really experience any violence in school or in the town.

- Please describe the violence exactly.


Person 6:

- Was there any violence against you or your friends or in your environment?

Not very often, usually if a situation did occur it maws when we went to other schools. (For example: Sporting events or dances)

- Please describe the violence exactly.

Just little stuff: One time during an indoor soccer game a player from another school got into an argument with someone from our school, and they got into a fist fight.

24 of 24 pages


Violence in American Schools
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Ich hab mir ur-viel Arbeit damit gamcht, also lest es gefälligst gründlich ,-)
Violence, American, Schools, Englisch
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Jana Kaufmann (Author), 2001, Violence in American Schools, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • guest on 11/26/2001

    violence in american schools.

    respekt!ich mußte letztes jahr auch eine facharbeit schreiben und weiß wieviel arbeit das ist.die note hast du dir echt verdient.

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