Schools and the Media: Restricting Violence Without Restricting Rights

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Title: Schools and the Media: Restricting Violence Without Restricting Rights
Author: Helfand, Lewis
Advisor: Waldman, Sidney
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Political Science
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2000
Abstract: The issue of school violence has weighed heavily on the minds of Americans for a few years now. Students were gunned down in mass killings in Paducah, Kentucky and Jonesboro, Arkansas, as well as numerous other schools across the country. The murders at Columbine High School in Colorado almost a year ago still dominate discussions about violence in schools. Most recently, a six-year-old was gunned down by a classmate at Buell Elementary School in Michigan. These random incidents have led to a desperate search for an explanation as to why schools have suddenly become a battleground. America is and has been a violent society. Between 1986 and 1987, more Americans died of gunshot wounds than in the eight and a half years of the Vietnam War. Currently, 6 percent of adults are in prison. Every year there are 25,000 murders in America and 2 million assaults. A child is arrested for a violent crime every 5 minutes. And every 3 hours, an American child dies from gun related violence. Now that this type of violence has reached schools, concern is growing. It is difficult enough to determine what would cause an adult to commit a violent act, let alone a six-year-old. These mass killings have left teachers, parents and students with fear and uncertainty. "If you can't go to elementary school, you can't go anywhere." In an attempt to create a safe environment in schools, the government has joined the cause of school violence. President Clinton spoke more about violence in schools this past year than any other topic. It is also a leading issue in the presidential primaries, with each candidate stressing how important education is to them. But how can schools be made safe? There is an endless supply of factors that might contribute to school violence, such as easy access to firearms, the increase of single-parent households, availability of drugs, not to mention the school climate itself. With a limited supply of funding and an increasing need for swift action, where should most of the blame lie for the deterioration of security in schools and who should bear most of the responsibility for improving the situation? The easy target so far has been the media. Television, movies, music and video games have all been condemned for being too violent and shared the blame for the current state of our schools. The two students that opened fire on Columbine high school were avid consumers of violent video games and violent music. And they were dressed similar to characters from a violent movie as they went on their rampage. It seems the whole nation is calling for the media to change its practices, but the creators of this violent entertainment have shied away from any type of reform. Their claim is that censoring their creative freedom when violent speech is involved would violate the first amendment. The media believes it is merely reflecting the violence in society. But does it also influence the violence in society? A majority of Americans feel the question is not if the media affects school violence, but to what degree it does. Since most citizens are only exposed to serious violence in the media and not in real life, many in favor of restrictions point to the media as the common thread found in all school violence. If violence begets violence, then the one thing that all children share is repeated exposure to the media and America's violent culture. While there has been ample research on the media's impact on school violence, the bulk of this paper will deal not with establishing a connection, but it will deal with what can be done. If there is a connection, what role can or should the government play? In the battle against violence in schools, is restricting violence in the media a worthwhile course of action?
Subject: Violence in mass media
Subject: School violence -- United States -- Prevention
Subject: School violence -- United States
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Helfand, Lewis. "Schools and the Media: Restricting Violence Without Restricting Rights". 2000. Available electronically from

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