It is this perception that is at the core of the problem of youth violence. The location of the violence is less important than the belief of so many young people that they are “on their own two” to create solutions. Thus, it is unrealistic to expect that schools would be spared the horrors of violent, at times fatal confrontations between young people, particularly in a nation with more than 200 million guns in the hands of private citizens. The miracle, in our view, is that there have not been more of them.
East New York was therefore, in many respects, the harbinger of events to come. Rather than an isolated example of ghetto violence, it is emblematic of the growing divide between adults and young people, and of the irrelevance of the schools as community institutions with the capacity to assist in the resolution of these problems.
It is also clear that schools must become more than buildings occupying space in their communities. They must become active participants in after-school efforts to bring adults and young people together. Thomas Jefferson High School was overwhelmed by the ambient violence in East New York in 1991–1992. Its teachers and administrators were not particularly active participants in any of the community efforts to deal with and prevent this violence. This is not to fault them in any way: Americans have always believed that the proper place for school staff is in the schools, and Jefferson’s personnel were engaged in the business of education.
But as we write this report, we are also aware that times have changed. Many American adolescents perceive themselves to be in untenable situations for which violence may offer the only way out. Many have the means to obtain weapons yet do not have the maturity or the capacity to avoid using them if the threat is perceived to be unbearable.
In another age, adults had both the time and the ability to invest a considerable amount of time in assisting young people to mature into responsible, contributing members of the community.118 This investment, which social scientist James S. Coleman termed “social capital,” has gradually eroded as adults become more and more involved in working and making money and have assigned more and more responsibility to the schools for socializing their children. This rift between adults, schools, and students must be repaired.
There is a danger that the American people will demand that their legislators and their schools develop solutions to youth violence in general and to school violence in particular. The danger lies in the belief that bringing children to adulthood is the responsibility of social institutions. Schools do have a role to play, but that role must be viewed as a partnership between adults in the community and school staff, each of whom has a critical role to play in the lives of young people.
Finally, adults in the community, not just parents, need to be more present in the schools. The roles that they can play there can be defined