Safety from the Inside Out: Rethinking Traditional Approaches

“Safety from the Inside Out: Rethinking Traditional Approaches” by Alfie Kohn aims to educate the public regarding the real threat of violence to children. While school shootings and other violent crimes that happen on school grounds gain a lot of media attention, it is far more likely for a child to become the victim of violence off school grounds (Kohn, 2004, 33). Further, children are more likely to suffer from violence at the hands of an adult rather than at the hands of their peers (Kohn, 2004, 33). However, the issue of school violence is analyzed along with the mistaken assumptions of how to respond to school violence.
The problem the article tries to address is how to create policy that will be both effective as well as reduce violent acts committed against children while on school grounds. There are several terms that must be defined in order to present a clear picture of the issue. The first is violence which by definition means attempting to or engaging in actions with the goal of inflicting bodily harm or death. This definition is important when discussing violence both in schools and off school grounds. Technical fixes is another definition that directly relates to this article.
Technical fixes are technologically advanced pieces of equipment designed to reduce violence and include such things as metal detectors and video cameras. The final term to be defined is zero tolerance. Zero tolerance is the idea that any type of violence or intent to become violent be dealt with swiftly according to a designated set of strict consequences. In response to these definitions, the author of the article assumes that the vast majority of Americans equate violence against students as being violence that happens at school.

The author also assumes that Americans believe that technical fixes and zero tolerance policies will solve the problem of violence against students (Kohl, 2004, 34). The orientation of the article strives to make sense of the misguided assumptions that Americans have with regards towards violence against students (Kohn, 2004, 34). It builds upon existing research that proves that teaching anti violence skills to students isn’t enough. The author proposes that students must also be taught how to apply these skills if violence prevention is going to be effective (Kohn, 2004, 35).
Further, the author discusses behaviorism and the tendency for humans to preoccupy themselves with behavior rather than looking deeper at the values, reasons and motives behind certain behaviors (Kohn, 2004, 35). Finally, the author argues that when skill based prevention does not work then technical fixes are the answer to the problem (Kohn, 2004, 36). The research the author completed for this article disproves many of these assumptions. Using research as his method, Kohn discovered several discrepancies between what Americans believe and what students actually report about violence.
For example, Kohn’s research shows that zero tolerance policies have the opposite of their intended effect. Instead of making students feel safer, zero tolerance policies actually make them feel less safe (Kohn, 2004, 36). Additionally, zero tolerance policies don’t make schools any safer than they were before (Kohn, 2004, 36). As part of his research, Kohn suggests that the threats of zero tolerance policies can be replaced with safe school environment where students are taught to trust and protect one another (Kohn, 2004, 36).
Kohn also discovered that teaching students anti violence skills is not as effective as creating schools that are committed to the value of peace so that the physical safety of students is protected (Kohn, 2004, 36). The solution to the article seems to be getting rid of zero tolerance policies that turn children into criminals and replacing them with policies that promote peace and trust among students (Kohn, 2004, 36). According to the author, the consequence of not doing so will ensure that school violence remains a problem.
Personally speaking, I think Alfie Kohn has noble goals and ideas to keep children safe at school. However, creating peaceable schools is very difficult because it seems impossible to instill peace values into every single student. The reality is that there will always be a few students who do not care about peace and would rather cause trouble through violence. At the same time, Kohn raises some important questions that I think should be addressed and considered as schools continue to search for a solution to the problem of school violence.

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