From the Archives: When Did We Stop Expecting School to Be Violent?

It’s an awkward thing to say, but I’ll say it: schools have always been violent places. Since the Columbine shootings, it has become traditional to mark 1999 as the start of an era of school violence. Historically, though, there has never been an era in which schools have not been violent.InkedSchool Violence Was Expected in 1830_LI

I understand that we’re talking these days about a grim new form of school violence–the mass shooting. And please don’t get me wrong: I abhor school shootings and school violence of any kind.

As I claw through the archives today doing research for my new book, though, I came across another bit of evidence that school violence has always been an expectation. When Louisville set up its free public school system in 1830, it created a short list of rules to handle expected problems. One of them was student violence. As the Louisville rules stipulated,

For violent or pointed opposition to his authority in any particular instance, or for the repetition of any offence, the instructer [sic] may exclude a child from his school.

Between 1830 and now, we seem to have lost the expectation that students will occasionally be violent. We seem to have stopped saying out loud that when we coop students up together for long stretches of time, some amount of violence will be likely. Why? Is it just politically expedient to pretend that schools could be violence-free?

I’d love it if schools could be violence-free, but it seems to me we gain nothing by pretending to be shocked that schools experience violence. Like our forebears, let’s assume the worst and hope for the best.

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