10 of 14 DOCUMENTS

	The San Diego Union-Tribune

	March 8, 2001, Thursday

	Targeting the soul of a community; Picking out the few bad apples

	BYLINE: James Alan Fox and Jack Levin; Fox is the Lipman Family
	Professor of Criminal Justice and Levin is the Brudnick Professor
	of Sociology and Criminology, both at Northeastern University in
	Boston. They recently co-authored "The Will to Kill: Making Sense
	of Senseless Murder" (Allyn & Bacon, 2001).

	SECTION: OPINION;Pg. B-11:2,6,7; B-7:1

	LENGTH: 877 words

	The latest episode of schoolyard bloodshed, this time at Santana
	High School, again raises concerns over missed opportunities for
	stopping a disgruntled student before he strikes. Already much of
	the attention has been on reports that friends of the gunman had
	apparently dismissed his talk of committing such an atrocity as
	nothing more than a joke. 
	If the response to the Santana High tragedy is anything like the
	hand-wringing following Columbine and other similar episodes,
	parents and politicians will likely call for efforts to identify
	the would-be perpetrators -- the "few bad apples" who are rotten
	to the core -- before they wreak havoc on their classmates.
	However, some important lessons on the ABCs of prediction may
	increase the chances for success. 
	Predicting violent behavior, especially in rare and extreme forms,
	is enormously difficult. In terms of the "few bad apples" theory,
	there are lots of apples that are not quite perfect in color, size
	or shape, but are fine just beneath the skin. There are lots of
	kids who look, act or dress like our image of the schoolyard
	shooter -- they might wear black trench coats, scary tattoos or
	gang headgear. Yet very few of them will translate their deviant
	adolescent attitudes into dangerous acts of violence. The few
	accurate predictions will be far outnumbered by the many "false
	Plus, an attempt to single out the potential troublemakers could
	do more harm than good, by stigmatizing, marginalizing and
	traumatizing already troubled youths. "Don't play with Johnnie --
	he's a bad apple." Already ostracized and picked on by his peers,
	Johnnie will now sense that even the teachers and the
	administration are against him. The "bad apple" label could even
	become a self-fulfilling prophesy, encouraging doubly alienated
	children to act out violently. 
	Despite the limitations in predicting violence, a host of
	prediction tools has been widely disseminated in the wake of
	several episodes of school violence. The U.S. Department of
	Education sent to every public school in America a manual which
	highlights 16 warning signs of violence. This broad-ranging
	collection of red flags includes children who bully classmates as
	well as children who are bullied by their classmates. Another
	telltale sign warns of youngsters having low interest in
	academics. Just these three flags would capture significant shares
	of most middle and high school populations. In an attempt not to
	miss one potential troublemaker, the net widens to include nearly
	The American Psychological Association, in conjunction with MTV,
	also produced a handy pamphlet of warning signs which is very much
	in demand.  The National School Safety Center offers a similar
	checklist of 20 warning signs. School districts across America
	distributed these pocket guides, hoping that teachers would
	determine how their students measure up on these scales of
	violence proneness. Even the FBI got into the act by training
	educators in the craft of profiling potentially violent students. 
	Stressing how to identify characteristics of the individual
	troublemaker lets schools off the hook. By turning the problem
	into a lesson in abnormal psychology, the blame can be located
	outside of the school setting -- in a child's inadequate
	upbringing, in excessive exposure to violent media, in parental
	neglect and abuse (that is, bad apples not falling far from the
	tree). From this perspective, students have to change, not the
	To understand the course of events at Santana High, we should
	examine the student culture and school environment as closely as
	we scrutinize the perpetrator's personal background. A child who
	is bullied and teased may decide through violence to show his
	schoolmates that he is not as weak as they think. To children, the
	expectations and approval of peers can be all important,
	especially when adults are not around to supervise. The issue may
	not be one of a few bad apples, but of a poorly tended orchard. 
	The best approach to reducing the potential for violence through
	prediction involves making it possible for school personnel to get
	to know students as more than just nameless faces in a crowd. Like
	other sites of school shootings, Santana High enrolled close to
	2,000 students. Reducing school size as well as the caseloads of
	teachers and guidance counselors would allow school personnel to
	observe even subtle issues, which cannot be easily determined from
	a simplistic checklist. 
	More important, our focus should not be on the potentially violent
	kid, but on the unhappy kid (although at times these may be one
	and the same). We should use warning signs, but to reach troubled
	youngsters, long before they become troublesome.  If we wait until
	a student has murderous intentions and talks about murder --
	jokingly or not -- we have waited much too long.
	In whatever we do, we should borrow the physician's credo: do no
	harm. With the help of school personnel (who often spend more time
	with children than even parents), we can make a difference.
	Perhaps we ought to develop warning signs to identify dangerous
	school environments rather than dangerous students, and then get
	to work improving the climate for learning and for living.

	LOAD-DATE: March 10, 2001



	Copyright 2001 The San Diego Union-Tribune