|Prospects - Quarterly Review of Education, Vol. 26, No. 2, 1996 (Issue 98) - Violence in the School (UNESCO, 1996, 218 p.)|
The first paradox produced by recent history is the rapid fading of optimism following the end of the 'Cold War'. In its place a profound concern has arisen with the phenomenon of violence, occurring in practically all societies. On the one hand, we are witnessing the spread of violent phenomena linked to cultural and political issues like xenophobia, anti-Semitism and different forms of religious intolerance. On the other hand, we are now seeing violence arising from situations of social exclusion and the breakdown of social patterns associated with unemployment, poverty and drug addiction. One of the most significant consequences in the widespread multiplication of violence is the failure of the institutional limits that existed in the past. In many countries, the school used to be a 'haven' and has now been transformed into the daily theatre of violent incidents in which children and young people have become active participants.
In olden days, any violence in the school was carried out by teachers on pupils. The most common form of this violence was - and still is in many countries - physical punishment connected with behavioural problems and poor performance in class. To a certain extent, this form of violence benefited from an understanding by the different partners in the educational process and its disappearance has called for a profound cultural change. In contrast, at the present time, violence has assumed many different forms not directly associated with the educational process: violence by the teachers on the pupils; violence by the pupils on the teachers; and violence among the pupils themselves.
The increase of these phenomena has led - both in public opinion and among various educational groups - to the expression of requests which are not based on the idea of countering violence with educational actions so much as strengthening security measures and/or putting forward strategies intended to break down the education system into a supply which provides each sector - individual or group - with a form of education completely adapted to its cultural and psychological needs. Even though this type of request is understandable and may appear as an appropriate short-term solution, in the long term it may contribute to making the problem worse rather than better.
Violent phenomena in schools have very different origins and forms. The articles contained in this edition of Prospects provide eloquent testimony of this diversity. Educational strategies to overcome violence in schools cannot, therefore, be the same in different contexts. However, whatever the origin of the violence, strategies to overcome it must be based on an educational approach to the problem and not simply on repression of its manifestations. On this point, one of the most pertinent criticisms of traditional educational activities was that education had attempted to resolve the problem of violence by eliminating the theme of violence from the school's activities. As Bruno Bettelheim stated in his essays on survival, nothing in the education of our children and young people prepares them to dominate the violence in themselves because it has been suppressed during their schooling. Modern culture, particularly Western culture, has the tendency to stimulate an extremely competitive attitude, to encourage the aggressive feelings resulting from rivalry but, at the same time, of casting a taboo on this same aggressivity. We have become used to condemning the displays of violence presented so frequently in the mass communications media, but in fact what is lacking, both in our education systems and in the media, is the encouragement of satisfactory modes of behaviour in the face of violence.
In this context, one aspect indicated by several research projects is the close relationship that exists between violence and language. Children and young people who behave in a violent manner typically have poor language ability. This lack of confidence in language represents one aspect to which it is necessary to pay attention. In order that the school should be able to develop models of verbal communication, it is necessary to promote much greater activity in the field of language teaching and to train teachers with technical skills which, at present, many of them lack. The contribution of mastery of one or several languages to the development of values and attitudes towards international understanding has at least two major aspects. The first of these, rather of a psychological nature, concerns a better ability to handle representations and symbols using models of verbal communication to resolve conflicts instead of direct action. The second, of a cognitive nature, is connected with greater understanding and tolerance as a result of learning the language and the culture of the 'other'.
However, if language is fundamental from the point of view of the content of educational action, the teacher plays a central role from the operational point of view. This is neither the time nor the place for a revision of the teachers' situation in general nor of their role in values education and training in particular. There is, however, one important point to be made. A large amount of the educational literature on this theme is based on an abstract view of teachers, as if they did not form part of the problem to be resolved. From the point of view of educational needs, there is general agreement in recognizing, at least in words, that it is necessary to train citizens who are mutually supportive, tolerant, ethically responsible and able to become involved in unfamiliar situations. There is also agreement in accepting that violence, intolerance, prejudices and stereotyped behaviours thrive in insecure situations brought about by a massive increase in needs and ambitions that the social system seems unable to satisfy. Yet, throughout this analysis, there is an assumption according to which the teacher is detached from these problems. Empirical information available shows that, on the contrary, it is necessary to pay greater attention to teacher insecurity, to their own prejudices, stereotypes and aggressive behaviour towards 'others'. Deterioration in the working conditions and social prestige of teachers is also an important factor in explaining these circumstances, which are an expression of a broad process in which the school and its different partners have gradually lost their socializing ability. This loss implies, from the point of view of the teachers' role, a marked deterioration in their professionalism. In this situation, only a broad, sustained policy directed towards strengthening the professionalism of teachers will lead to a certain optimism with regard to the success of strategies to improve the quality of education in general and education for peace in particular.
Overcoming problems of violence in schools will not be achieved uniquely by educational strategies. It is obvious that beyond these behaviours there are social and cultural factors connected with contemporary models of social development. However, it is also evident that the school must address these problems with specific actions, such as increasing its daily activity to encourage learning experiences aimed at the development of the ability to overcome conflict through non-violent means. This edition of Prospects is designed to increase the quality of academic and political discussions on this theme by making available to researchers and decision-makers an important quantity of information and analyses on the main contexts of violence in the school. To complement this analysis, the article by Ernesto Ottone on globalization processes also enables us to identify the social challenges which lie at the origins of the violence that our societies are at present experiencing.
The International Bureau of Education hopes to add to the efforts expended in the preparation of this edition of Prospects with other comparative research and training activities, within the framework of UNESCO's programme designed to promote the construction of a culture of peace.
Two other articles have been included in this issue of Prospects. The first one is an exhaustive analysis of higher education in Latin America prepared by Jorge Balán and Augusto Trombetta; and the second one is the profile of one of the most important Argentinian educators of the first half of the twentieth century, Victor Mercante, written by Inés Dussel.