School Violence

September 30th, 2006

No surprises about the topic of discussion this Saturday morning, right? High schools have become interesting places over the past couple of years. Hopefully, you’ve seen the latest headlines of school violence occurring in our own backyard (In case you’ve been marooned on a deserted island for the past week, you can click on the word “headlines” to find out what I’m referring to).

A Wisconsin freshman shot and killed a principal and also wounded a janitor at Weston High School in Cazenovia, WI. We don’t really know what happened to prompt such violent behavior (and I’m certainly not going to speculate). However, it’s truly tragic for all parties. For all I know, Cazenovia may be your hometown.

Several topics are worthy of addressing from such a situation. There’s the certifying of this kid as an adult for these crimes. This, in my opinion, is a hot topic; however, I will save it for another time. We might also want to address the topic of gun control after such a situation occurs, as one might well claim guns are much too easily accessible by kids in the US of A. Positing such a case, we could use this argument to further argue that the presence of guns in our society necessarily results in more severe bloodshed (One might argue that if guns we banned in the USA that at least kids would have a harder time locating a shotgun and pistol to use at school). Still, this is an argument for another time (and by the way, I am a gun owner [I AM FROM TX, YOU KNOW]).

My interest in this topic is more macro-level (larger level). So here’s my question: What is ultimately behind the violence on our high school campuses? Don’t misunderstand I’m well aware that high school campuses are, for the most part, safe places so I’m not attempting to paint high school campuses as a war zone. That said, this instance along with others beg us to answer the question of what is causing these outbursts of violence that are resulting in death and destruction.

What is my opinion? There is a multiplicity of possibilities. First, we could say this level of anger has always been around, but is only recently rearing its head due to an overabundance, accessibility, and emphasis of guns within our society. We’ve all been pissed at the principal one time or another in our lives, right? Maybe younger students are being over-socialized to using guns to solve problems (too much TV, video games, etc.).

Second, we could simply blame the kid. It may be that he’s got issues in his life (psychological, physiological, etc.) that made him “snap” and engage in this deadly behavior.

Last, maybe we should be looking at what’s occurring in and around this child’s surroundings. School campuses can be treacherous places with the cliques nowadays. Teenagers can be awfully rude and condescending, right? Can we consider this a factor that leads to violence in schools? Sure, but how much of a factor did it play in causing this violence is the larger question?

In the end, I guess I’m more interested in why this type of violence is playing out AT SCHOOL. Is there something taking place in our schools that leads to this type of violence or is it more of a case that this is where kids spend a great deal of their time (they’re either at home or school). Many questions…not a lot of concrete answers unfortunately. What do you think?

Taking Sides on the “Ivory Tower”

September 24th, 2006

It’s another rainy weekend and I’m sitting around with my dogs. By the way, here are some pictures of my mutts if you’d like to check them out. So I found a rather interesting video clip this morning that shows a professor trash a students cell phone during class (Please note that the video can only be viewed with Quicktime). The video shows this younger professor lecturing when suddenly a cell phone rings. The camera then moves over to a student who has answered and is talking on the cell phone during class. The professor walks over to the student and asks for the phone and then throws the cell to the ground. I’m sure the phone was ruined.

A couple of questions: (1) Who do you think is more in the wrong? Obviously, neither a doctorate degree nor tenure gives one license to destroy another’s property. Still, it’s well known that cell phones should not only be shut off, but also never answered during class lecture. So which is worse?

The professor could actually be charged in many states with malicious destruction of private property, which is normally a fairly serious offense. Moreover, he could have to pay restitution back to the victim for the price of the phone, which could be costly (hope it wasn’t a Blackberry).

The student could definitely be reprimanded and possibly kicked out of the class. That’s probably it. It’s an interesting question, right? As a student, I’d never think of answering my phone during class. What kind of idiot does this? Still, in the end, the professor has got some serious problems. He probably should consider another field of work, if deviant students set him off that easy, right? What do you think?

Another Saturday Chat

September 16th, 2006

So, here I am again at my home in “The Bay” chillin with my pets. My wife has been gone for approximately 2 weeks due to a death in the family. Yep, it’s pretty boring around the Gregory home. That is, until I rec’d a stimulating email from a student regarding our recent discussion of War Metaphors. Here are some of her/his comments:

One thing that I wanted to add about declaring war on social problems is how humorous it is that so many presidents have tried and failed and yet it still happens. You would think that after the bad publicity the past social wars have recieved when they failed that government officials would try and prevent further war symbolism from being used. Is it really that our leaders don’t really care about the long-term goal that their “war declaration” insists and they really only care about rallying people behind their policies for their own gain as a politician… is it a coincidence that a presidential term is only 4 years…. maybe they see a social war as a way to gain support for their term without having to deal with the long-term consequences. Also do u think that certain wars on social problems maybe only result as a response to an outcry by the nation about crime, drugs, etc… and in bush’s case the threat of terrorism post 9/11?

Great comments! Why didn’t you make these comments during our class time? I’m kidding. Let me offer some thoughts on these comments/questions:

Your question about the use of war metaphors that seem to fail is a good one. I think, as you alluded to, one explanation goes to motive. Let’s remember that war metaphors are a form of social policy. They are, at the very core, a use of language. There are no real written declarations of war on cancer, crime, or terror. As a result, what ARE the possible motives of presidents and their administrations for declaring wars on social problems?

Let’s be fair. Politicians are not evil. Many of their intentions are good. President Nixon was definitely interested in stopping cancer when he declared war on the disease. And yes, Dubya really wants to defeat individuals who participate in terrorist activities around the globe. We must start here.

That said, Richard Nixon, Dubya, Clinton, and others don’t lack intelligence. Moreover, the individuals in their cabinet certainly don’t lack intelligence. Dubya was more than aware of the implications of uttering the words “War on Terror” prior to his speech days after 911. Again, one has to view this subject in terms short and long-term goals and administration and public motives.

First, war metaphors garner support in the short-term. There’s simply no argument about it. People rally behind such language in the short-term. Governments tend to act in unity (which is a miracle in itself) and the public rallies behind the government. As a result, these types of metaphors are terrific for solving “solvable” problems. However, the complete eradication of social problems is another topic altogether. The comparison (real wars with social wars) is a bad one, as real wars normally have tangible end, whereas, social one’s don’t.

Second, one must also look at why I call administration politics versus public motives. Let’s face it most politicians all want the same thing: another term in office. And war metaphors, as I stated earlier, bring much needed public and political support to the office. This, in my opinion, is a larger problem embedded within politics. That is, political offices tend to be more concerned with survival instead of “doing the will of the voters.” As a result, politicians selectively choose “safe” topics, while often avoiding “hot” topic issues around election time. What does this mean for our argument about war metaphors? Well, one could posit that administrations might forego using war metaphors when they understand that they are doomed to fail in the long-run. In the end, one must weigh the costs versus benefits FOR THE PEOPLE, NOT THE ADMINISTRATION.

Last, you are right! Many politicians feel compelled to use strong language such as war metaphors as a result of public sentiment. The outcry to go find Bin Laden after 911 was huge and somewhat justified. To what extent should we carry this mission with the realization that we cannot fully wipe out all terrorist organizations in the world? That is the question I pose to you?

No Frills for Jails/Prisoners?

September 9th, 2006

I got up this cool Saturday morning and was chillin on my sofa with my two pooches. While sitting on my comfortable couch, watching TV, and surfing the Internet, I found an intersting article about corrections. The main subject of the article focuses on “No Frills Prison.” Essentially, some lawmakers feel prisons/jails should not have the everyday niceties enjoyed by normal law abiding citizens. Frills in prison refers to a number of educational, recreational, psychological treatment, or physical fitness programs and equipment. The frills label has been applied to college courses, access to cable TV, excercise equipment, etc. One of the main arguments in favor of “No Frills” is that prisoners should fare no better than the least advantaged individuals in society. As a result, if disadvantaged or low income individuals don’t have cable TV, excercise equipment, and the like, then neither should prisoners. Of course these same individuals propose that prisons/jails are meant to be both punitive and deterrent. Thus, they believe frills tend to distract from inmates from “doing their time.”

So why do we have frills in prisons/jails? Well, many believe that educational, treatment, and recreatoinal programs keep inmates busy and help them develop life skills. Such frills, some propose, tend to keep inmates busy thus reducing tension and agression, thereby preventing problems such as riots and other forms of prison/jail violence. Moreover, say these proponents, society should be striving to provide such educational, treatment, and recreational activities to all in society. And let’s face it, no matter what type of chair you sit in, the existence cable or not, jails/prisons are by no means places anyone would want to stay at for any length of time.

Interesting arguments. It seems really important that we do whatever necessary to ensure that prisons/jails remain peaceful institutions and gaurantee inmate safety. That said, I must admit as I sit in my comfortable couch with my laptop watching HBO that I do feel a bit uneasy at the thought of inmates/prisoners spending their Saturdays doing the same. What do you think?


September 5th, 2006

This blog is entitled Social Chat. It was started with students in mind, as I hope to create some lively discussion about my classes, sociology, and other miscellaneous things during this semester.

Today is the first day of class so it will probably be a fairly uneventful day. I was, however, saddened to hear about the death of Steve Irwin. Yeah, if you haven’t heard (and you would have had to been locked in a cave to not), the “croc man” died suddenly yesterday after being stabbed by Stingray. I say stabbed because I watched a news blip on CNN and saw the “tail” that reporters say “stung” him. Let me say, that was not a tail. It was a knife, friend. That had to have been one of the worse ways to die. What do you make of his death? On the one hand, it really saddens me that a man should die so young (44), while on the other hand, Steve Irwin both knew and loved the risks he took and died doing what he loved. What do you think? This makes me sort of kick back and contemplate my own live and the extent to which I’m living it to the fullest.