|Back to Jan. Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 168||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||JANUARY 2000|
School Violence is Big Government's New 'Crisis'|
Big government solutions to problems in the public schools have been expensive and intrusive and, in recent years, have actually provoked the "crisis" of violence as teaching has focused on emotions vs. academics. In New Jersey, the magic elixir is a potentially noxious brew of "peer mediation," "personality profiling," and "tolerance," to be stirred by an invading army of mental health professionals funded by government and foundation grants.
Violence bills to fund initiatives
Sources of funding include two separate bills currently winding their way through the New Jersey legislature. A3332/S2024 would appropriate $1,000,000 for curriculum development and training seminars. These funds do not cover the cost of implementation but will be allocated strictly for use by the Violence Institute of New Jersey, a multi-pronged organizational resource established in 1997 to assist the state in addressing violence.
The Violence Institute coordinates more than 45 violence-related initiatives at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark (UMDNJ) and is linked to the RWJF. (Robert L. Johnson is secretary/treasurer of its advisory board.) In January 1999, the Institute began collaborating with the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) on a two-year project funded by the USDOE's Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program.
The second bill is "The Safe Schools and Communities Violence Prevention and Response Plan Act of 1999" (A3473/S2272). It appropriates $5,100,000 to identify at-risk pupils supported by on-site school mental health services, and to outreach with mental health providers, community agencies, law enforcement entities, courts, and families.
During a New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing in December, few meaningful questions were asked of Violence Institute personnel before the $1,000,000 grant was allowed to go to the full Senate, where it was approved. (It is now pending in the House.) Only one Senator questioned the wisdom of giving the entire amount to a single organization as opposed to dispersing it among local authorities. After the hearing, the Institute's executive director Michael Greene boasted, "That was easy!"
The Violence Prevention Act requires each local board of education to offer violence instruction as part of the state's Core Curriculum Content Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education or other area. Mr. Greene testified that students will become "peer mediators," with "tolerance" as the focus.
Eagle Forum of New Jersey testified against the bill, citing concerns that the state board of education would have no voice in how the legislation will be implemented and that the full cost of implementation remains undetermined. We pointed out that parents are excluded from the process and that class time for academics will suffer. Other possible contributing factors to the problem of violence, including the effects of "legal" psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin, and the lack of accountability of school supervisory personnel, are not being addressed.
Eagle Forum also noted its concern that the violence curriculum will include the widespread use of nosy attitude and behavior tests (see article below), and that "tolerance" means instruction inclusive of lifestyles that many parents find both inappropriate and in conflict with deeply held family values and beliefs.
'Violence Prevention' Plan
If the new legislation becomes law, each county superintendent of schools will receive a $50,000 grant to employ a "violence prevention specialist." The Department of Human Services will receive $4,050,000 to be divided among 15 mental health teams, each of which will receive $250,000 for implementation. An additional $300,000 will be awarded to a "qualified" mental health organization to act as an advocate of the violence prevention program.
Each local violence prevention specialist will develop a plan to create an intervention team of mental health specialists assigned by the New Jersey Division of Mental Health Services in the Department of Human Services. This plan will provide "at-risk" pupils with on-site mental health services and facilitate interaction with community agencies, law enforcement officials, the courts, and the children's families. The plan will further expand mental health services through screening, assessment, treatment, and followup at school or through referrals to other agencies.
In sum, it's all about assessments and profiling. The lion's share of the financial benefits of "violence prevention" legislation will go to government bureaucrats and psychologists. Local communities will suffer the results, with no opportunity to prescribe a more sensible, practical approach to school violence.