I was sitting at a table with a bunch of folks at the last ICA Governing Council Transition Meeting right after the Columbine Colorado incident happened, and of course the topic was on how counselors could be doing more to prevent these kind of events in the future. There was some feeling that perhaps counselors should have been able to assess these sort of incidents before they happen — a new platform for training. An interesting and important topic to be sure, but I am also well aware that as Americans we have knee jerk reactions to this sort of thing all the time. In fact the same discussion happened with some of our faculty at NEIU just the week before, and when I suggested that the national statistics for school violence indicated that the incidence of violence was down, I was laughed at. So I have, in my own defense been doing some statistics grabbing. And I have come up with some pretty interesting information and drawn some equally interesting and perhaps controversial conclusions. Let's look at some of the statistics first. The National School Safety Center (NSSC) http://www.nssc1.org/home.htm) studies these issues and has found that in fact, deaths at schools are down (Table 1).
Table 1. Deaths in schools during the last seven years
92-93 - 53
93-94 - 51
94-95 - 20
95-96 - 35
96-97 - 25
97-98 - 43
98-99 - 24 - includes the Columbine incident
mean = 36
median = 36.5
Information extrapolated from the National School Safety Center's data.
As I write this midway into
the year of 1999, deaths in schools are down by about a third over the
seven year average, even with the Columbine incident included. Students
in Michigan and Georgia have tried to up the number, with six shot in Georgia,
and we have a whole seven more months to go and could catch up. Part of
these next seven months are during the summer months when students will
not be in school, but the statistics go on.
According to the National Vital Statistics Report (1998), the leading cause of death for youth ages 15 to 24 in 1997, for which their data is most current, was Accidents and Adverse Effects, with motor vehicle deaths leading the way at 9,929, or a rate of 27.1 per 100 thousand. Maybe we need to improve our Drivers Education classes, or stop the kids from driving?
Homicide is next with 5,793 deaths for 1996, followed by suicide that comes in at 4,146 deaths. If you subtract the 25 deaths that happened at schools in 1997, you find that there were 5,768 homicides of our youth that took place in places other than schools. In fact, the data suggests that only 0.0043% of all homicides occur in schools. Now there is some variance with
the data, because the NSSC's data also includes a few teachers who were killed, and I'm extrapolation that data to the NVSR's data on children between the ages of 15 to 24, but it's close enough to make some inferences. It seems that schools are a safer place for youth than outside of the school grounds. But do these statistics help any school counselor, teacher or
administrator feel better? I think not, and as Dr. Ronald D. Stephens, the Executive Director of the National School Safety Center told the United States House Of Representatives Hearing On Understanding Violent Children on April 28, 1998, "Recent reports from the US Departments of Justice and Education reflect a slight reduction in school crime, but try to explain this to parents in Jonesboro, Arkansas; Pearl, Mississippi; Paducah, Kentucky; or to citizens and parents in Edinboro, Pennsylvania who experienced the killing of a teacher, along with the wounding of another teacher and two students." That goes double for the folks in Columbine. What the data does say, however, is that we have a problem with violence with our youth, but that schools seem to be a safer environment for the children than elsewhere. Schools are also a wonderful place for
Now, let's look at some other data from the NSSC. The leading cause of deaths in schools was from the use of guns. During the seven years studied by the NSSC, there were 251 deaths on school campuses in the United States. Of those deaths, 195 were attributed to shootings, roughly 78 %. Gender wise, 193 of the deaths were males — nearly 77%. Table 2 shows that 66 deaths were attributed to interpersonal disputes, with gang related deaths coming in third, after suicides.
What does this data tell us? It tells us that those deaths we know something about are between two male students where there is an interpersonal dispute that ends in violent gun inflicted death. As Stephens (1998) suggests "In the old days, when fistfights were the way to settle arguments, young people would walk away with a few bruises or black eyes. Today, however, with guns it is about body counts, not bruises. We have transitioned from the single shot zip guns to the six shooter to semi-automatic weapons. There seems to be a tendency to see how much more violent the next school-associated violent death can be." And now this prophesy has come true in Colorado. And you and I know that somewhere out there are disenfranchised, hurting and disturbed youth that believe what happened in Colorado was "really cool" and they are now
plotting to top it. We have always had disenfranchised youth in our communities and schools, but like never before, they have ready access to guns and other methods of mehem.
School Accidental Bully Drug Gang Hate Interpersonal Robbery Sexual Suicide Unknown
1992-93 2 1 13 1 18 2 9 7
1993-94 4 1 7 10 1 1 6 21
1994-95 4 6 3 7
1995-96 1 3 1 10 2 5 13
1996-97 1 2 2 10 1 1 8
1997-98 1 4 6 9 1 8 14
1998-99 1 1 15 3 3 1
totals 9 12 34 16 66 5 3 35 71
Data from the NSSC Statistics.
A Proactive Approach? Assessment of Disenfranchised for Remediation or Real Prevention?
After studying common characteristics
of youngsters who have caused such deaths, the NSSC
has identified 20 behaviors, which could indicate a youth's potential for
harming him/herself or others (http://www.nssc1.org/home.htm). And although
I believe it is important to identify youth who are at risk, my question
is two fold, 1) why have we waited so long in identifying these youth,
and aren't they usually the ones we already known about?, and 2) now that
we identify them, what can you do with them?
Zero tolerance as a method does little for the students identified, although it may increase the protection of those youth who are the innocents. I think that identification is too little to late. I contend that it is our very epistemology that causes us trouble. Our lifestyles have enslaved us at the same time they seem to advance our way of life.
Prevention, The Key To Our Freedom
Prevention and those programs
that proactively make a dent in quality of life safety issues are the strong
way to go in my opinion, and counselors should be prime for this sort of
work. Our roots are from an educational, wellness model as opposed to other
disciplines that use the medical model of diagnosis and treatment of individual
problems after they have occurred. But how many of you counselors have
ever taken a course, a full course on prevention? Our developmental model
as put in place by Toni Tollerud, Bob Nejedlo, and Dale Septowski has specific
plans for setting up developmentally appropriate experiences that comprise
preventative measures. Many of the suggestions that Stephens (1998) suggests
as prevention will help stop the incidence of violence getting on to the
school grounds, and anyone who has not read his report should do so at
http://www.nssc1. org/home.htm. What I propose, however is a different look at prevention. One that over time could make a bigger difference.
First Order Change Vs. Second Order Change
Systems thinking people categorize
change in two spheres, first order change and second order change. First
order change has to do with simple changes that occur behaviorally at the
local level, while second order changes are those that happen at the larger
level, or deeper level. Epistemological changes, or changes in how we know
what we know. Examples of first order
change with regard to prevention is schools might me things like a lower incidence of violence due to protective measures taken at the local (school property) level. Second order changes might be seen as examples of changes that happen with the disenfranchised youth so they are not feeling so alienated. First order changes are behavioral external controls, while second order changes are internal values-related changes. First order changes are wonderful. They can protect students and
faculty from violence and fear, to a limited extent. Second order changes however, get to what might be contributing to the continuation of violent youth.
Let's look at some of Dr. Stephens' suggestions to understand what I mean. First of all, he suggests that the twenty characteristics they have defined should "provide an early warning signal that safe school plans and crisis prevention/intervention procedures must be in place to protect" ( Stephens, 1998). Protection is important, but what about real prevention aimed at
dealing with the causes of the problem? For instance, Stephens also suggests that "Fistfights and fire drills in schools have been replaced by gun fights and crisis drills." ( Stephens, 1998). And in fact he admits that "Violence evades metal detectors, counselors and teachers because fear, anger, hopelessness, longing, and frustration are carried invisibly in hearts and minds" ( Stephens, 1998).
No amount of protection — first order prevention, if you will, will prevent another incidence. Do we really want our schools to be guarded places where uniformed guards patrol the halls looking for uniformed students who fit the list of categories of potential troubled youth? Or should we be about the work of making schools, homes and communities places where all children and families can feel welcomed and safe?
Stephens' report to the House Of Representatives Hearing On Understanding Violent Children (1998) points to the powerless and hopelessness these troubled youth feel. He points to School failures, alcohol and drugs, and gang involvement as precursors to this violent behavior. Schools and community programs are already set up to provide services for these problems, they should be stepped up. But the next several issues are problematic in that they invade our lifestyle in insidious ways that are hard to combat. He suggests that violence publicized in the media and sports are problems, too. Our fabric of society has become preoccupied with violence, in the sports we watch, the games we play, both video and otherwise. And the guns are more easily available and more dangerous. Instead of small caliber weapons, we now have armor piercing, nine millimeter, rapid fire, easily concealable weapons that are accessible to anyone.
Parents are not around to supervise their children or even interact with them. This is evident at every level of society, from the underprivileged where there is a focus on survival, to the wealthy where there is a focus on the accumulation of more.
Our Freedom Is Killing Us
Our framers of our constitution
never intended that the NRA would be able to push
the Right to Bear Arms down our throats. Nor can I believe that they intended
to have conceal able, large bore, rapid fire weapons in the hands of our
youth. But the NRA's claims are not written on Stone Tablets delivered
from God, like they would like us to believe. We can do something about
this, if we as a country, if we as counselors wish. As I wrote this article,
Congress was passing a bill that allowed guns to be sold to those who should
not have them. May 12, 1999, Washington, D.C. The Senate today voted
down an amendment to juvenile justice legislation that would have effectively
closed the gun show loophole allowing criminals and minors to buy guns
without background checks. The amendment, introduced by Senator Frank
Lautenberg (D-NJ), failed 51-47, garnering 6 Republican votes, and marked
the first important gun control vote on the Senate floor since 1996. The
Senate also approved an amendment offered by NRA board
member Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), which will continue the loophole on
gun-show sales, restore the ability of felons to recover their guns from
pawn-shops, protect gun-sellers from any civil liability for any
negligence in selling guns, allow licensed gun dealers to sell and transfer guns at out-of-state gun-shows, and eliminate funding and record-keeping for the National Instant Check System (background checks.)
"Only when the vast majority
of Americans who want to keep guns away from kids make
their voices heard will we see a response from the United States Senate." ( The Center for
Handgun Control, http://www.handguncontrol.org/default2.htm)
Are you aware that guns kill
many more children in the inner city, and that they go virtually unreported?
Americans still leap to action when problematic behaviors creep into the
sacrosanct suburban areas. My colleagues in the inner-city are arguing
rightly that we live in a racist society that cares little for their children.
But our actions could transform a whole nation if we choose. If you really
want to stop the madness, contact your legislature and let them know what
you think. If you don't know where to find your legislatures go to: http://www.vote-smart.org/ce/states/IL/s-leg.html.
While you are at that web site getting ready to tell your elected officials what you want them to do, consider this. The violence on TV, in the movies and on video games are desensitizing our children and giving them wrong messages. Albert Bandura's earliest work on modeling, something all good counselors learned in our earliest Psych classes (remember the clown doll that children began to hit when they watched others do the same?), gives us a great deal of information on how children learn these violent behaviors. Do you limit your children's viewing? Do you talk with them about what you think? The clearest change of this learning according to Bandura was demonstrated when parents and adults simply discussed these issues with their children. Nothing more. Taking a stand and telling them what we think about violence is a great deterrent. As counselors, do we set up forums to discuss these issues with our clients? We could.
Tell Your Legislator What You Think.
What about the competitiveness
that goes on in our society and the message that gives? What about those
that can not compete in the more "appropriate" venues? Here counselors
could be taking the lead by providing developmentally appropriate non competitive
games, and teaching the value of teamwork and non competitiveness over
competition and winning at all costs. If you don't know how to do these
games, get involved with the Association for Experiential Education
at http://www.aee.org/ for information on workshops. Northeastern Illinois
University has one of the best challenge adventure programs, and an annual
conference where great noncompetitive games are demonstrated and taught.
Call Dan Creely at NEIU for further information.
Sports is a big money industry, but the costs to our children may be subtle. Ball players who make large amounts of money for violent and highly competitive behavior send the wrong message to our youth. Somewhere competitive sports took a wrong turn, fueled by testosterone prone boys in men's bodies, it is channeled in the wrong direction. Super bowl Sunday still has the
highest correlation with family violence and drunkenness than at any other one day. We as a society glorify this behavior. Take the pledge, and talk up the pledge to stop watching violent behavior on TV or elsewhere. Make sure that you let your children and other youth know that you do not condone this sort of behavior, especially where it is directed toward women. Tell them
why, and discuss it with them rather than dictating. Become involved.
What about getting parents and adults involved? A great workshop developed by Project Adventure in Main (call me if you want the information) uses non competitive games as a bridge to getting adults and teens to talk about very important issues. They also do it with teens and police and with great success. The teens invite the adults to these events, by special invitation.
With parents and adults more available to these youth, real prevention can take place, real relationships can develop, and discussions in non threatening environments can become important products counselors provide.
Downsizing Our Own Expectations of Success and Happiness.
I was raised in a wonderful
little town in the western suburbs of Chicago. The police board had a listing
of all the crimes that had occurred since the village began, and I was
always drawn to that one murder that had occurred many years before. I
was fascinated and scared that murder could happened in my town.
That little town has changed a lot. The sleepy little town now has it's share of crime like big cities, but something else has happened, too. The small but comfortable houses that my friends and I lived in are now being torn down, and monster 1.5 million dollar homes are being built. Everyone wants to be a Rockafeller. But this wealth comes with a price in many cases. Many times it is two incomes that affords the big houses and fancy cars. And these two incomes, unlike my mother's work at the local high school, or my father's nine to five job, requires time away from family. Many of these families are adulterously tied to their jobs, keeping them from relationships with each other in the family.
Our country has a growth ethic that says more is better. Well, if more comes at a cost of indifferent or distant parents, who haven't the time to look in their own garage and question what sort of canisters are scattered about or why their children are fascinated with big knives, battle axes, and guns, then we have lost more than we have gained.
Start a Parent Support Group
Reach out to the families in your area. Get them to become a part of PTA's and parent support groups. Start one if you don't have one. I was involved in a discussion in a Chicago group of Principles and Counselors last year, and they all bemoaned the lack of interest in PTA. I am sure that the parents who stay away from these meetings would be all to happy to go to their own support groups if they had problems, or be willing to pay for the best treatment (until the insurance ran out) if they were in trouble. Why not put the efforts up front? Parent support groups can lead to PTA group formation. We need to begin thinking of ways we can front load services and involvement. Counselors are good at this. Maybe we should have a workshop at ICA on brainstorming ways to be proactive.
Turf Wars Suspended
Last, aren't you tired of
the competition of all the counseling related groups? When was the last
time you invited a psychologist or social worker or family therapist or
addictions specialist to lunch to discuss the problems and how you can
combine resources? Don't you think it's about time that we all begin to
work together for the better of our society and our children rather than
fighting over turf? We have yet to see the possibility within our own organization,
as the groups
fractionate and fight. What might happened if we all worked together? What are the possibilities? Are we part of the problem, rather than part of the solution? Community organizations need to be involved with the various groups. We need each other to deal effectively with this problem at the larger level. Can you envision what might happen if all of the counselors, social
workers, psychologists, family therapists, nurse practitioners, and medical doctors all banded together to force legislative change? Together we could be a very powerful group.
My friends in the substance
abuse counseling community tell me that legislation of tobacco has made
a major impact on stopping children and youth from smoking. They insist
that smoking by teens is down considerably, especially with the "Joe Camel"
suits that were leveled against the tobacco industry. If this is so, then
what prevents us from using the same good legislation measures to put pressure
against the gun lobbyists? And what about making changes in the other areas
I have suggested. How about more financial support for families and youth
projects? Are we as counselors going to get involve at this larger level
of change — the second ordered level — to begin making some changes happen
for the better, or are we going to keep doing what we have been doing all
along, working at the local level to protect and assess? I do believe that
counselors are in a unique position to provide this second order change
— values change. We may need to get involve with social workers more, to
get their help in community organizational skills, but would that be so
bad? Is our capitalistic society values going
to tip towards the making of money over the good of society ? Are we in this for the short haul or do we really want to see systemic change?
I think we as counselors are up to this fight; and it is a fight. But then counselors got licensure through a fight, and it made us strong. Maybe that fight was just a warm up to see what we could really do. These are some of my thoughts after the Columbine deaths. I am sure that some might not be applicable to some of you, and that others of you who read this might have even better ideas. If this article has peeked your interest, or if you have disagreements with me, feel free to contact me. Or better yet, join the ICA listserv and let's dialogue. I would really like to change the world, or at least my little piece of it. Won't you help me?
Send a message to ICA-L@neiu.edu
Jeffrey K. Edwards is a Counselor Educator at Northeastern Illinois
University, 5500 N. ST.
Louis Ave., Chicago, IL 60625 e-mail at J-Edwards1@neiu.edu
ICA now has a listserv for ICA that is ours alone. This listserv will facilitate an open communication between all members of ICA who are registered. It will be an excellent vehicle for providing important information to all of our membership. To get on this listserv send a message to Listproc@neiu.edu with the body of the message stating: subscribe ICA-L Counselor (and your name). You should get an acknowledgment within 24 hours that you have joined the listserve. If there are any problems, send a message to me, Jeff Edwards at Jemail@example.com and I will help you get on to the listserv.