February, bloody February

Standing in line during a recent visit to Books n' Bytes (an activity that regularly affords me the time to get most of my thinking done), I noticed something disconcerting.

Glancing at the TV, I saw a CNN news report on the recent scare at Ferrum College in Virginia, where a man with a gun was reportedly spotted by a housekeeper in one of the dorm buildings. The man, as yet unidentified, told her not to say anything, and disappeared.

No one was injured and no threats were reported, and this incident alone wouldn't have been enough to arouse alarm. But the incident's occurrence, not 50 miles from Virginia Tech and on the heels of an unprecedented rash of other school shootings had me feeling a little unsettled. Like any other relatively sentient human being with access to the news media, I've noticed an unusually high prevalence of school violence in recent months. Concerned, I went online to see just how grim a picture we're facing.

Initially, results seemed promising, and a stop at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site divulged some uplifting figures: According to a January report, between 1992 and 2006, "Total school-associated student homicide rates decreased significantly (from .07 to .03 per 100,000)." According to the same report, "From 1999 and 2006, 116 students were killed in 109 school-associated incidents, translating to an average of 16.5 student homicide victims each year." Despite the CDC's finding that these figures were actually on the decline, they still seem unsettlingly high to me. The report was quick to allay my concerns, however. Imagine my relief to find that, "Despite these events, schools remain a very safe place for children to spend their days." And here I thought that places where children might be murdered were considered unsafe.

These figures, however, fail to take into account school-related violence since 2006, and only account for homicide rates of students in elementary through high school.

A look at more recent developments - four separate shootings in February alone, resulting in a total of 10 deaths over the span of just one week - reveals that this surge in violence is very much out of the ordinary. 2008 has already reached 60 percent of the CDC's yearly school homicide rate. And we're not even through February yet.

Obviously, the picture of the American education system painted by these statistics is pretty bleak. But what could be behind this seemingly inexplicable rash of violence?

The CDC Web site points out that 20 percent of homicide perpetrators, "were known to have been victims of bullying and 12 percent were known to have expressed suicidal thoughts or engage in suicidal behavior," and that nearly half give some kind of warning before they strike - a bitter lesson learned in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy.

In other cases, however, tragedy can strike out of the blue, as in the case of the Feb. 14 shooting at Northern Illinois University. Stephen Kazmierczak, the shooter, displayed no red flags, and was described as, "revered by faculty and students alike," by University Police.

When there can be so little predictability of violent acts, how can we act to ensure that schools are secure? I doubt the answer lies in banning Harry Potter books for their evil Wiccan undertones, as champion of school safety Laura Mallory of Atlanta, Ga., would like. Currently on her second campaign to have the books pulled from school shelves, she warns portentously that we must, "ban Harry Potter or face more school shootings."

For the clear-headed among us, however, the question of how to curb school violence is more complex. But if obscurantist book bans won't save us, then what will?

At present, it seems that our own alma mater is taking the most responsible and realistic precautions available: the implementation of the NY-Alert system, firearms and new training measures for University Police and a push to heighten faculty awareness of student mental health. In the absence of more foolproof means, these strategies will have to be Geneseo's best defense against tragedies like those occurring elsewhere in the nation.

Though I can only speculate as to the underlying sociocultural causes of the trend, it is my hope that they can be identified sooner rather than later, and that schools can truly be made "a very safe place."

Matt Dubois is a senior English major and Lamron Opinion Editor who'd ban Pat the Bunny if he thought print censorship could save lives.

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