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Have our Schools Become Laboratories for Violence?

Fighting in Schools Has Become all too Common

Girl on girl violence; student on teacher violence; teacher on student violence. Where will it all end? It seems these incidents are increasing in number and raise serious questions about our role as a civilized society. Some of you may think I am overstating to make a point. Perhaps so. Nevertheless, those of us who grew up in the 1960s through the end of last decade rarely experienced the kinds of situations that should make all of us stand up and take notice of the decline in time devoted to academic instruction and increase in monitoring of bad behavior (of both students and teachers) in the classroom.

I have read about some troubling incidents in the classroom recently. Here are a few examples.

Stockton, CA: On April 25, 2013, a high school student was arrested after getting into a physical fight with her teacher, but the student claims the teacher was the aggressor.

Marlina Martine was playing makeup in math class when her teacher, who authorities have not named, confiscated the makeup. Martinez called her mother on her cellphone to tell the teacher to return the makeup, but the teacher confiscated the phone.

At that point, the teacher and student began shouting at each other as a student recorded the action. In the video, the teacher pushed Martinez and the two began throwing fists, eventually falling on top of each other on the floor.

The student who recorded the video then posted it to his Facebook page, where it has since gone viral. [No surprise there.]

Fort Worth, TX: On May 1, 2013, a former elementary school teacher previously charged with fondling a child was arrested for a second time after two students told authorities he sexually assaulted them.

Fifty-year-old Max Marchelli is facing charges that include aggravated sexual assault of a child. Police say two second-grade girls at Western Hills Elementary School claimed Marchelli had assaulted them. Marchelli resigned from the school district and is free on $100,000 bond.

Bronx, NY: On December 9, 2010, a beloved teacher had a miscarriage after she was hit trying to break up a fight between two students in her fifth-period Spanish class at Exploration Academy.

Here is how it went down: A student arrived five minutes late, walked up to another student who was already seated and told him to get out of his desk.

When the seated student refused, the conflict escalated and the teacher tried to intervene. She was accidentally elbowed in the stomach and fell to the ground, crying.

"I can't believe it," said another student later on. "I can't believe she lost her child over a fight over a chair."

The two students involved in the incident have been suspended.

Other NYC Fights: A few days earlier, a 49-year-old teacher was punched in the eye by a 14-year-old eighth grader at a Junior High School in East Harlem. The teacher got a black eye and was treated at a medical center. The student was arrested for assault and has been suspended.

And in a third incident, fights in the hallways of Murray Bergtraum High School in Manhattan led to the principal becoming involved and threatening to stop issuing bathroom passes if kids kept getting into fights, prompting students to organize a riot between 5th and 6th period.

One student was injured and sent to the hospital, and several others are being disciplined.

Palm Beach, FL: On December 1, 2010, a middle school boy was beaten by another student while, according to the parents, the teacher did nothing but sit by his computer while the fight raged in his classroom.

Video of the fight between Joshua Poole, 13, and his Jeaga Middle School classmate shows Poole swinging wildly as he is punched repeatedly before falling to the floor. The teacher's inaction was reportedly due to a school policy that staff can only intervene after undergoing training, according to the school district.

That type of "policy run amok" is a growing problem in schools across the country, according to Carol Kochhar-Bryant, a professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Part of the problem is in the past there have been many instances where if the child gets injured in any way by an intervention by a teacher, the teachers have been reprimanded. "Those policies protect the school, they protect the teacher, but we are realizing now they don't protect the child in those situations."

The root cause of the school violence problem is two-fold. First, there has been a decline in ethics in society. All too many young people do not know right from wrong and what is worse, they don’t seem to care. Moreover, a lot of kids of all ages seem to think right and wrong is whatever they decide it to be. This ethical relativism approach to decision-making leads to acting out one’s aggressions rather than keeping feelings in check because such behavior is not acceptable under societal standards.

It is all too easy to blame social media for the problem. Perhaps some youngsters create mayhem to have their outburst videoed and go viral on You Tube. Maybe some even aspire to be on a reality TV show. That does not explain away the lack of parental oversight of what their kids are doing; who they are doing it with; and why.

I sometimes think parents find it easier not to care; not to discipline their kids. They don’t want to argue with their kids on what they can (should) and cannot (should not) do. It’s easier to let the kids decide what is in their best interests even though all too often those same kids fail to consider the interests of others and how their actions may affect others before deciding how to behave. As the old expression goes, this is like allowing the inmates to run the asylum.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on May 14, 2013