Fear mongering article? America’s real school-safety problem

Posted by on August 30, 2010

Good theory, perhaps, but clueless in understanding School Resource Officers (SROs), school security, and so-called “zero tolerance.”

This is my take on America’s real school-safety problem, an article posted Sunday on salon.com.  The article is mostly a Q&A with Aaron Kupchick, author of “Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear.”  He spent two years researching “zero tolerance” and security measures at four (4) public high schools. 

School Resource Officers Mischaracterized

Kupchick has quite a different perspective on a number of issues related to school discipline, School Resource Officers (SROs), school security equipment, and related topics.  For example, on SROs he described them as “great” and noted that he “really enjoyed the time” he spent with them, but then went on to say:

“But their role is an odd one for schools. They don’t have a counseling background, and they are just not able to deal with kids’ problems the way that some of these problems need. Their day-to-day experience trains them and socializes them to deal with kids in not the most productive manner. And their presence in schools creates a law-and-order mindset to govern schools rather than the type of counseling and democratic mindset that we know prevents crime.”  

I have seen great counselors in schools and every now and then, I have seen lousy counselors.  The same applies to SROs.  But in the majority of my 25+ years in school safety, the number of good counselors and SROs has far outnumbered the bad.

Kupchick notes there have been “big decreases in crime” and comes to the conclusion that, “it’s unlikely that the SROs have had an effect on that.” But in the next sentence, he says, “There have been only a few studies that have tried to look at effectiveness, and they’ve been totally mixed.”

Well if they few studies are totally mixed, how can he conclude it is unlikely that the SROs have had an effect on decreasing school crime? (We also know the claim that of dramatic school crime decreases is questionable because there is no federal mandatory K-12 school crime reporting and tracking.)

Zero Accuracy on “Zero Tolerance”

The article also claims that schools have adopted “strict policies” and are filled with “armed guards, metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs.” Perhaps the author of the article and/or Kupchick visited four very tough schools in a large district with chronic violence or four schools in some other country?  I have been in the school safety field for over 25 years and this characterization of the majority of our schools is totally off-base. 

My take on zero tolerance is that there really is no mass conspiracy in education called “zero tolerance.”  Most administrators strive for firm, fair, and consistent discipline applied with good common sense.  Unfortunately, from time to time we see the “good common sense” missing in the application of discipline in anecdotal cases, but there is no mass conspiracy in my experience in education.

Maybe Kupchick’s research was limited to a non-representative sample of America schools.  Or perhaps Kupchick has some pre-determined, biased philosophies and slants?

I do find it ironic that an article and book portraying school discipline and school-based policing strategies as fear mongering is actually written in a manner to create unnecessary fear of reasonable school security and emergency preparedness measures.

What’s your take on the article?

Ken Trump

Visit School Security Blog at:  http://www.schoolsecurityblog.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *