School-Based Violence: A Practical Approach to Social Problems

Carol R. Gregory, University of Delaware
Sally Bould, University of Delaware

When guns and shooting deaths entered the white suburban school system in the explosive violence of Littleton, interest in violence in the schools in the United States skyrocketed. With subsequent school violence and deaths in the schools caused by students, violence in all schools became a "social problem"-- a problem that was no longer limited to the inner city school. The emergence of a serious new social problem had the predictable media response: blame the family; blame the parents; blame the mother. This approach of "blaming the family" has obscured research approaches, which might examine specific variables, which could be critical in both understanding social problems among youth and in alleviating such problems. Another approach to the social problem of school violence has been broad general social theories such as the strain theory of negative peer relations put forth by Agnew (2000). In this case the approach to the social problems would be to fix the peer relationships. But defining situations and conditions of strain leading to school violence are often so broad as to be merged into the general stresses in the everyday life of youth. One temptation of typologies is, as in this case, to label everything as strain. This approach is similarly weak when it comes to developing theories of social problems, which can be effective in implementing prevention policies. The problem with vague, abstract notions of the broad social theories is that they leave little possibility of exacting the changes needed to reduce school-based violence. By implying that we should "fix the family" or create more positive peer relations, we set unrealistic and potentially politically explosive responses (e.g. require mothers to stay at home with their adolescents) to the problem or require improbable cultural transformation (e.g. change the nature of teen peer relations). In addition these theories can lead to the indiscriminate labeling of youth that are under strain, or are from female-headed families as youth prone to violence. A potential solution to is to look inside the environment of school and the variables that can help identify very specific school-based influences that can have more aptly identify potential victims and offenders and develop the appropriate interventions. The variable to be investigated in this paper is relocation and its relationship to thoughts of bringing a weapon to school. Relocation is noted in the literature as having an important impact on the school experience . Students who are new to a school district may experience many problems related to the loss of social capital, particular in terms of peers relationships (Furstenberg 2000). Since peers relationships seem to be a catalyst for school violence, and relocation has a major impact on peer relationships, relocation may be an important variable for understanding school violence. While schools can not control relocation in and out of the district, they can recognize that the new kid at school is facing particular challenges and create interventions to help them.

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Updated 05/20/2006