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School Violence Knows No Borders

by Josephine Mazzuca

It has been just over three years since school shootings in Littleton, Colo., and Taber, Alberta, Canada, stripped North Americans of their belief in the inviolability of their schools and left them struggling to understand how and why such violence could have been committed. School violence is an important issue in both the United States and Canada, and residents of the two countries share many similar sentiments about what causes school violence and how it can be prevented.

School Discipline

Some have argued that increased discipline is critical to preventing school violence. But such an approach carries risks of its own; in a case of discipline gone sadly awry, several New York City first-graders were sent to the hospital last week after their substitute teacher allegedly became upset with the students' behavior and attacked his young charges with a broom handle.

While few would condone this teacher's behavior, it has fueled renewed discussion about school discipline. In the United States, slightly more than two-thirds (67%) of adults believe that "the way schools discipline their students" is an extremely or very important cause of school shootings, according to a 2001 Gallup poll*.

Acts of violence as extreme as the Columbine shootings are even more rare in Canada than they are in the United States, yet Canadian adults hold views similar to those of their American counterparts regarding discipline in schools. More than three-quarters (78%) of Canadian adults polled in 2001** reported that discipline in secondary schools is not strict enough. Sixty-eight percent believe the same about discipline in elementary schools. These figures have been increasing over the past 10 years.

Parental Involvement

Regarding the causes and potential prevention of school violence, Americans and Canadians hold many similar views. When asked in 2001 about the single most important thing that can be done to prevent another school shooting, almost a third of American adults (31%) responded with "parental involvement and responsibility." In the same poll, a majority (57%) also said that students' home lives and their relationships with their parents are extremely important factors in school shootings. Similarly, 45% of Canadians polled in 1999*** suggested that parents bear "a great deal" of blame for school shootings. With regard to preventing this type of crime, 42% of Canadians believe that parents should be held legally responsible for crimes their children commit with their parents' guns, and 31% believe that stiffer penalties for parents whose children commit crimes would serve as a deterrent.

Gun Control

Americans and Canadians also both view gun control as an important factor in the cause and prevention of school shootings. Even though gun control laws are already much stricter in Canada than in the United States, 62% of Canadians responded in the 1999 poll that stricter gun control laws for teen-agers would be a very effective way to stop school violence. A majority (64%) of Canadians believes that gun availability shoulders a great deal of the blame for school shootings. Just under half of Americans (46%) reported in 2001 that the availability and ease of obtaining guns by students is an extremely important cause of school shootings, which placed it second on a list of eight causes behind family home life.

Key Points

Violence in North American schools is an unfortunate reality for today's children. Stricter discipline at school, increased parental involvement, and stricter gun control are some of the ways that Americans and Canadians alike believe these tragedies can be averted.

*Results based on 1,024 telephone interviews with U.S. adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 26-28, 2001. For results based on this total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3%.

**Results based on 1,001 telephone interviews with Canadian adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 12-18, 2001. For results based on this total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3%.

***Results are based on 1,003 telephone interviews with adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 14-23, 1999. For results based on this total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3%.

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