Expert speaks to local leaders about school violence prevention

WORTHINGTON -- Lt. Col. Dave Grossman began his presentation with a blunt question. "Do we take the lessons learned at Columbine ... Cold Spring and Red Lake, or do we have to wait 'til our kids die to start taking action?" he asked. "I cannot te...

(Laura Grevas/Daily Globe) Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, co-author of "Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action against TV, Movie and Video Game Violence," presents to community leaders on Monday at Worthington High School.

WORTHINGTON -- Lt. Col. Dave Grossman began his presentation with a blunt question.

"Do we take the lessons learned at Columbine ... Cold Spring and Red Lake, or do we have to wait 'til our kids die to start taking action?" he asked. "I cannot tell you the horror when you turn on the national news and hear about your son's school."

Grossman's son was a student at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro Ark., when five students were gunned down by their classmates, ages 11 and 13, in 1998. It was the largest juvenile mass murder on record in the United States until the shootings at Columbine High School the following year.

Grossman, a former army Ranger, West Point psychology professor, author and expert on human aggression, presented to community leaders as well as District 518 teachers and administrators on Monday at Worthington High School.

He compared prevention of school violence to fire prevention, saying that not one child has died from a school fire in the past 50 years, while in 2004 alone, 48 were killed by school violence.


"There is not a single thing in this building that would burn, but you try to prepare for violence and people think you're paranoid," he said. "I know you teachers didn't sign up for this, but we made this world, we can change this world."

He said there are simple things every school can do to prevent and prepare for violence: confining access to the school to a single door (known as SPE, or single point of entry), and locking the others; having armed security guards or officers; having securable classrooms; practicing lockdown drills with students; and forbidding student cell phone use (in an emergency, students jam the lines with calls home, making calls for help difficult).

According to Worthington High School Assistant Principal Keith Fleming, the school has already taken several such measures. A SPE is used, and that entrance is monitored. Fleming said the school also conducts lockdown drills with the students five times a year.

Deterrence is especially important, Grossman said, because the best result is a crime that is never committed.

"Killers aren't afraid to die, some of them want to die, but they fear failure," he said, emphasizing the importance of preventative measures that make it difficult for would-be killers to even get through the doors.

"Once that guy gets into the classroom, we've got nothing but dead options," he added.

He also advocated turning off the TV; it has a positive effect on test scores, he said, and he believes media violence -- TV, movies, especially video games -- can condition kids to associate human pain and suffering with rewards.

In his book "On Combat," Grossman writes, "For thousands of years kids have whacked each other with wooden swords or played 'Bang, bang, I got you.' This was healthy play because as soon as someone got hurt the play stopped. ... Today, kids are immersed in a virtual reality environment where they repeatedly blow their virtual, hyperrealistic, playmates' heads off in explosions of blood and gore. Do they get into trouble? No. They get awarded points!"


In psychologist and FBI consultant James McGee's profile of 19 school shooters, he learned "that all of them had an infatuation with media violence."

Additionally, Grossman distributed a handout that shows brain scans of normal teens with high exposure to media violence are the same as those of children with Aggressive Behavior Disorder. Those with low exposure to media violence are actually using more of the logical part of their brains, according to the scan research, performed at Indiana University.

Although Grossman admits only a few of the children using violent video games will go on to use their skills for mass murder, he contends that is enough to take action.

School board member Steve Schnieder agreed that violence in schools had escalated from fist fights to guns.

"But not all problems are mass killings," he added. "The bullying aspect is a huge issue."

As far as preventative measures go, he said the design for the proposed middle school addition will bring administrative offices closer to the building's main door, allowing better monitoring of those who enter the school.

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