Giving Teens a Voice

The Birmingham News

Think tank involves students in study of school violence

By Viccii Howell
News Staff Writer
The Birmingham News,
December 2, 1998

Parents and school officials wanting to know the best way to reduce school violence might want the advice of the people directly involved: their children and students.

That's the approach a group of adults took this year in an electronic brainstorming session with 16 students from Jefferson County International Baccalaureate School, Shades Valley High School, and Hueytown High School.

"When you talk about school violence, everybody's talking to school officials, law enforcement and psychologists about how to prevent school violence.  Nobody is asking the kids who live with this on a day-to-day basis, " said Rod Peeks, a parent who worked with the teenagers.

Peeks said some of the students' responses about what causes school violence included one most adults don't think about:  lack of respect from teachers.

Students in the think tank remarked that teachers make fun of students as much as other students do, and give preferential treatment based on looks, intelligence and athleticism.  Students don't confide in school counselors because doing that is the same as telling their private problems to the whole school, Peeks said of students' comments.

Adults working in abusive environments can leave, Peeks said.  Children don't have that option in school.

"A student has no choice.  He's got to go back to that environment every day.  If he doesn't have support at home or at church, then they're watching television.  And television says the way to solve your problems is to shoot somebody, " Peeks said.  "It's easy to see how frustration and lack of respect can turn to violence against a weaker student or teacher."

Brice Marsh, a computer scientist who facilitated the electronic think tank, and Peeks compiled 800 of the students' best ideas in a book presented to Governor Fob James.  The governor will meet the students at 3:30 Friday in his Montgomery office.

Their ideas to prevent school violence included areas involving discipline, moral values, student self-control and attitudes, school officials and parents, and law enforcement.

In the area of discipline, students said that neither violence, sexual abuse nor racism can be tolerated from students.  Punishment should be swift, firm but fair and directed to the offender rather than the student body at large.

In moral values, students said parents have the primary responsibility to teach children what's right and wrong, but schools can also teach values in a non-religious way.  Students as well as adults must respect and be courteous to each other.

The students said teachers who disrespect students and fail to be positive moral role models should be sanctioned or removed from the schools.  They also said all school faculty and staff should have a background check for a history of sexual abuse, violence and racism.

"Eliminate problem teachers and administrators.  Nobody should be beyond scrutiny," one student wrote.