Part II
Understanding and Preventing Lethal School Violence

The cases presented in Part I present very specific, concrete images of lethal school violence in America in the 1990s. The images are tragic and compelling. They force one to ask why. But even with the benefit of hindsight, the answers seem exceedingly mired in complexity. In each case, there seem to be so many factors that give impetus to the events; so many things that if they had not been present might have lessened the likelihood that the events would have occurred; so many moments when a particular small intervention might have averted tragedy.

However, for purposes of stimulating the imagination about the factors that might be important causes, and the kinds of interventions that might be effective in preventing and controlling such tragic events, the very richness of the cases is their value. One’s mind is opened to a variety of possibilities. Stereotypes and confident assumptions with which one began the inquiry are undermined. One emerges from these cases less confident that one knows anything for sure, at least partly because many more things now seem potentially important. Even though it sounds paradoxical, learning that one knows less than one thought, that there are many more possibilities than one imagined, that one’s favorite theory is not particularly well supported by a confrontation with the detailed facts of these cases, represents a gain in knowledge.

But there is another use of the cases as imperfect pieces of evidence that allow distinctions among different kinds of violence, as well as the development of some hypotheses that may seem a bit more likely than



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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence Part II Understanding and Preventing Lethal School Violence The cases presented in Part I present very specific, concrete images of lethal school violence in America in the 1990s. The images are tragic and compelling. They force one to ask why. But even with the benefit of hindsight, the answers seem exceedingly mired in complexity. In each case, there seem to be so many factors that give impetus to the events; so many things that if they had not been present might have lessened the likelihood that the events would have occurred; so many moments when a particular small intervention might have averted tragedy. However, for purposes of stimulating the imagination about the factors that might be important causes, and the kinds of interventions that might be effective in preventing and controlling such tragic events, the very richness of the cases is their value. One’s mind is opened to a variety of possibilities. Stereotypes and confident assumptions with which one began the inquiry are undermined. One emerges from these cases less confident that one knows anything for sure, at least partly because many more things now seem potentially important. Even though it sounds paradoxical, learning that one knows less than one thought, that there are many more possibilities than one imagined, that one’s favorite theory is not particularly well supported by a confrontation with the detailed facts of these cases, represents a gain in knowledge. But there is another use of the cases as imperfect pieces of evidence that allow distinctions among different kinds of violence, as well as the development of some hypotheses that may seem a bit more likely than

OCR for page 285
Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence others. In order to use cases in this way, we had to find a way to put them in an aggregate context, to see where these particular incidents of violence might fit in a broader overall pattern, and to decide how the different kinds of violence that appeared in the cases might be related to one another. It also is important to put these cases in the context of theoretical literatures that help sort different kinds of violence into different classes distinguished from one another in terms of their character, causes, and effective modes of prevention and control. In this part of the report, we put the cases in context, first, by looking at where they fit in the aggregate patterns of violence that have beset the country, and, second, by seeing where they seem to fit in the academic literature on violence, and what that literature says about the causes and effective means of controlling such incidents. Part II ends with the committee’s observations about potentially important strategies for preventing or controlling the violence and recommendations for future research. In offering these, we have stretched to the breaking point the evidentiary power of the sources at our command. We do so because we think the nation needs some considered observations about the nature of this problem, and that it cannot necessarily wait to get more information before it acts. Already, communities have begun to take steps to guard themselves from these incidents. Costs are being incurred; consequences—intended and unintended, good and bad—are beginning to accumulate. We therefore recommend an agenda for additional research, and that it be done quickly to ensure that the nation is better off a year from now, and five years from now, in terms of the ability to understand and control these events.