Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mythic Violence in Urban High Schools

Everyone knows that urban high schools are violent places, right?  Well, it turns out, maybe not as much as we all think.

In "Perceptions of Violence:  The Views of Teachers Who Left Urban Schools," Deborah Smith and Brian Smith attempt to identify if there is a correlation between violence at urban high schools and teacher attrition rates.  The authors begin by noting, "‘rates of violent victimization and injury are substantially higher in large, inner city high schools’" (36), and, "[w]hile [school violence] is often normalized by administration and students, one study found that fifty-six percent of the teachers do nor [sic] feel safe in schools that are rated as providing a fair or poor education" (36).  In an attempt to substantiate this information, the authors interviewed twelve teachers who, at one point in their careers, taught in an urban school but had left that school within five years of beginning.

At first glance, the results of the overwhelming majority of the interviews seem to corroborate the standard notions regarding urban high schools and violence.  Nearly all of the teachers interviewed had a story about violence to relate, and "[t]his fact alone, that ten of the twelve respondents [sic] most prominent story about urban schools involved violence, points to the significance of the link between attrition and perceptions of violence" (38).  But, just because most of the teachers interviewed had a story about urban high school violence, it does not follow that most of the teachers interviewed had actually experienced violence in an urban high school:  "Many of the stories of violence that respondents recounted were indirect; they had been told of violent happenings by other teachers and students" (41).  This characteristic of the respondents' stories suggests a different picture about violence in urban education.  It does not, to be sure, indicate that violence in urban high schools does not exist, but it does call into question exactly how much violence--how many new acts of violence--actually occur during the course of a school year. Judging from the authors' results, it seems as though it is more fair to characterize urban schools as having a problem in perception of violence than in reality of violence.  That is, urban schools seem most damaged by the stigma of being violent places--a stigma that might be unavoidable when each new violent act becomes hyperbolized in light of its predecessors.

Work Cited:  Smith, D.L. and Smith, B.J. (2006).  Perceptions of violence:  The views of teachers who left urban schools.  High School Journal 89(3), 34-42.

1 comment:

N said...

This research is very interesting and necessary for better understanding the reality of an urban, inner city school. If a majority of teachers reported that they did not feel safe in the environment then this is a real climate of fear that exists among most of the faculty whether or not these particular teachers had ever directly experienced any acts of violence. The research indicates that most of the teachers did not directly experience violence, but it is not illogical for them to fear violent acts in school if they have happened before. Fortunately, they have not happened to these particular teachers, but that does not negate the danger that these acts could possibly pose to the teachers. If teachers admit that they do not feel safe then this is a real issue that needs to addressed if any effective teaching is to be achieved by these particular teachers. We cannot dismiss their fears as irrational. One does not have to experience being in a burning building to fear the possibility. Most people are not confronted with this fear on a regular basis, but perhaps these teachers are, making it a regular concern of theirs. Neither students not teachers can properly achieve their educational ends when in alarm mode.