Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Don't Worry, Be Observant

With the events of the past week, there's been a lot of attention given to violence in schools, and it's ceratin that some schools will overreact to this by going overboard on their security measures. But I'm encouraged by a column from Joshua Benton in this week's Dallas Morning News that reminds everyone to put things in perspective:
Sometimes the best service the media can provide is a simple message.

Stay calm. Things aren't that bad.

Whenever newspapers and the networks report on a school shooting – much less a mini-spree of them – the temptation is to think that the world is spiraling out of control.

The cable news networks start frothing for ratings. Up go the on-screen graphics – open-ended fear-mongering like "Is your child in danger?"

Self-appointed school-security experts – looking to make a buck as consultants – start e-mailing reporters about the urgent threat to America's children.

And legislators, eager for five minutes with Nancy Grace, start overreacting and throwing around dumb ideas.

Everybody wins – except for anyone who wants to point out the truth. Which is that violence in schools has plummeted over the past decade.
And indeed, if Benton's facts are correct, he does have a good point:
School shootings are extremely rare. There are roughly 125,000 schools in America. If you had 10 Columbines a year – many more than there actually are, of course – you could expect your kid's school to be hit roughly once every 12,500 years.

[...]In this country, you're more than 50 times more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to die in a school shooting. But strangely, Nancy Grace doesn't spend much time on the threat from above.
("Lightning: Is your child in danger?")
Read the whole thing. Benton provides several examples of the ridiculous results of that badly-thought-out "zero tolerance" legislation, a subject on which I've spoken before.

I'm not nearly ready to get into the specifics of my own situation (and may never do so on this blog, at least until the day that I'm a full-time college professor and no longer involved with the public schools), but let's just remember that, as with so many things in life, it's all about balance. Should schools be watchful of who's on campus? Of course. Teachers with badges? Sure--we've been doing that for years in my neck of the woods. Students with badges? Not a problem. But let's not follow the advice of the guy I heard on the radio a day or two ago who wanted to put a metal detector in every entrance to every school; that would pretty much bring the process of education to a screeching halt. As for the idea to arm teachers? I've weighed in on it at the original post.

And one more thing--I'm pretty sure it was on Ernie and Jay where I heard this idea, and I think it deserves some thought: Part of the problem with these high-profile serial school killings (or those of any kind, for that matter) is that it brings undeserved publicity to the killers. "The public's right to know" be damned--I say let's not release the name of the killer in situations like this, just like they don't release the names of rape victims (for another good, but completely different reason). If it would stop one person from "going out in a blaze of glory" if they knew that the world would never know their name, then perhaps this is an idea whose time has come.

Let me echo Benton one more time: Stay calm. Things aren't that bad.

Will it be called GooTube, or Yougle? As you probably know by now, Google is buying YouTube for a cool $1.65 billion. Co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen are the new Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner; I wonder how long it'll be before one of them buys a sports team...

Speaking of new names: To raise money for his family (as well as an orphanage), a U,S. Marine is auctioning off his naming rights to the highest bidder.


Eric Grubbs said...

Benton's feelings on this subject can be applied to so many other aspects of life portrayed in the media.

Kev said...

That's very true....but then again, stories designed to make people feel good about things don't sell as many newspapers as panicky, screaming, gloom-and-doom headlines, do they? *sigh*