02 May 2014
Tightening school security would fail to deal with root causes of adolescent violence
The horrific and tragic death of Ann Maguire while she was teaching at Corpus Christi Catholic College Leeds on Monday 28 April stunned the nation, shocked the Catholic community and deeply agitated all those involved in the education and care of young people. Ann Maguire was lovely in all aspects, a brilliant teacher, deeply loved and respected by family, friends and of course the children she served. She loved the school she worked in, which has a very good reputation; her death is truly incomprehensible.
The eighteenth-century French writer Bernardin de St Pierre wrote: “Violence everywhere leads to deception.” In the rush to find a solution or a remedy we must be careful to avoid knee-jerk reactions. True, knife arches (walk-through metal detectors) and searches can do some good but, in the final analysis, weapons don't kill human beings – other people do. Violence can erupt in the most harmonious community, whilst any room holds objects which could be used as a deadly weapon. True, access to guns and knives and the carrying of such weapons has to be strictly controlled and monitored, yet there’s more to it than this.
In the main we live in a very peaceful, harmonious and fairly free society. Most of our schools reflect such calm and orderliness. We head-teachers are responsible for a culture of education and the care of young people. We are not army commanders in charge of an outpost in enemy territory or an institution where violence is part of the fabric.
Nevertheless I am also aware of a chilling paradox in our society. Why is it that dreadful acts of violence actually occur in the most peaceful communities, be it a primary school in the United States, a downtown cinema or a youth convention in Norway? These are simply three examples of such outrages, but they are growing increasingly common.
What can be done to counter them? A sudden outrage inflicting injury and death on the most vulnerable and innocent is deeply disturbing, but so is the creation of that creeping miasma of fear in communities specifically devoted to enhancing the life opportunities of its members.
This in turn begs other questions. Does the very harmony, peace and control under which we live actually intensify the violence and homicidal tendencies of certain individuals who search for a public forum where they can wreak the most hideous violence with the greatest impunity? Does our peaceful society and the restraints it imposes on specific individuals lead to this?
The latter may find some expression of their own inner turbulence in the violence portrayed in films, video games and so on but that does not fully satisfy their dark fantasies, which may erupt into real life. The influence of the media in all its forms and the effect of drugs are major factors for consideration.
However, as regards prevention, early profiling and identification would be more helpful. The physical and learning assessment of young people is carried out, in varying degrees, in most western countries. Perhaps such assessment should go hand in hand with that of emotional intelligence?
Violence by very definition is abrupt and brutal, but we must search for its true cause and not just satisfy ourselves with attempts at further control and the imposition of airport-type security in our schools, churches, cinemas or shopping centres.
Paul Doherty is Headteacher of Trinity Catholic High School, Woodford Green
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