Gangs In Schools Essay, Research Paper
Gangs throughout inner cities among young people are not new to our culture. Youth gangs have been a major part of the urban cultural landscape since the late 19th century. In the more recent 20th century, however, gangs have taken on a different character and have moved from inner cities and closer to homes, in suburban areas (Bodinger-deUriarte, C. 1993). At the same time, gangs have become an increasing problem in urban areas and worst of all in public schools.
The majority of gangs share many common characteristics. Although there are exceptions, gangs tend to develop along racial and ethnic lines, and are typically 90% male (Bodinger-deUriarte, C. 1993). Gang members usually show their association and pride through distinct styles of dress and through specific activities and patterns of behavior. Gangs almost always show strong devotion to their neighborhood, often marking out their territory with graffiti. All of these representations can be visible in the schools.
The specifics of gang style and activity can vary tremendously from gang to gang, and can even change rapidly within individual gangs. For instance, African American gangs tend to confine their activities to their own communities, while gangs like the Hells Angels now have members nationwide. In contrast, Asian gangs often travel thousands of kilometers from their home base in order to conduct their activities (Bodinger-de Uriarte, C. 1993). In addition, African Americans and Hispanic gangs are much more likely to
display their colors than are Asian gangs. Gangs also vary tremendously in numbers and in age range
Relatively few young people join gangs, despite their high profile in the media. Even in highly impacted areas, the degree of participation rarely exceeds 10 percent. In addition, it has been reported that less than 2 percent of all juvenile crime is gang related (Bodringer-de Uriarte, C. 1993). Low statistics like the above, may camouflage the impact that the presence of gangs has on a school. Gangs play a significant role in the widespread increase of violence in schools throughout North America. School violence has steadily increased since a 1978 National Institute of Education study, found that
school-aged children were at a higher risk of suffering from violence in school than anywhere else (Gaustad, J. 1991).
Since gangs are organized groups, and are often actively involved in drug and weapons trafficking, their mere presence in school can increase tensions there. With the level of violence increasing in today s schools, both gang members and non-gang members are arming themselves with increased frequency. Students in school with a gang presence are twice as likely to report that they fear becoming victims of violence than their peers at schools without gangs (Gaustad, J. 1991). A 1992 report, stated, that schools with gangs are significantly more likely to have drugs available on campus than
those without gangs (Bodringer-de Uriarte, C. 1993). In Gaustad s words, gangs create a tenacious framework within which school violence can take root and grow (1991, p. 24).
Nowadays, schools not only suffer from gang related violence coming in from the street, but are themselves rapidly becoming centers of gang activities, functioning particularly as sites for recruitment and socializing (Bodinger-de Uriarte, C. 1993). Although many gang members acknowledge the importance of the educational objectives of school, it is much more important to them as a place of gathering with fellow gang members for socializing and other more violent activities (Gaustad, J. 1991). Even those gang members who had been suspended or had dropped out of school could be found on campus with their associates, effectively using school as a gang hangout rather than as an
educational institute. Gangs can also spread unexpectedly from school to school as students transfer from gang-impacted schools to gang free schools, causing an unintentional spillover of gang activity in the new school (Gaustad, J. 1991).
Gangs are formed in school atmospheres for many key reasons. Their primary reason is that they often provide students with a sense of family and acceptance otherwise lacking in their lives. The second primary reason is among groups of recent immigrants as a way of maintaining a strong ethnic identity. Understanding how gangs meet these students needs prepares schools to better respond to them. Four factors are primary in the formation of gangs (Gaustad, J. 1991):
+ First, youth experience a sense of alienation and powerlessness because of a lack of traditional support structures, such as family and school. This can lead to feelings of frustration and anger, and a desire to obtain support outside of traditional institutions.
+ Second, gang membership gives youth a sense of belonging and becomes a major
source of identity for its members. In turn, gang membership affords youth a sense of power and control, and gang activities become an outlet for their anger.
+ Third, the control of turf is essential to the well being of the gang, which often will use force to control both its territory and members.
+ Finally, recruitment of new members and expansion of territory are essential if a gang is to remain strong and powerful. Both willing and unwilling members are drawn into gangs to feed the need for more resources and gang members.
These four factors interact to produce gangs that become more powerful and ruthless as they work to maintain and expand their territory and membership.
Despite the significant influence that gangs have upon violence and crime in schools, it is still considered a fallacy to state that schools are powerless to respond. The reputations of gangs can sometimes force schools to react harshly with restrictive actions or to be so intimidated that they refrain from taking any action at all. What is needed is a strategy that mobilizes schools and communities to offer alternatives to gang membership. The school s strategy must be built upon the four factors of formation in gangs and find ways to address student s feelings of powerlessness and low self-esteem.
A strategy that understands these principles, increases the probability that gangs will be less able to attract new members and retain old members (Bodinger-de Uriarte, C. 1993).
Many interventions are extremely effective, and are also the basis of a school strategy. Targeting students vulnerable to gang recruitment for special assistance, through the use of peer counselors, support groups, conflict resolution programs, and tutoring. Establishing a moral and ethical education, values conflict resolution programs as important components of the school curriculum. Schools must create an inviting climate and atmosphere where every student feels wanted. Schools must not only educate students; staff must also receive formal education about how gangs develop and how to respond to them. Offering special programs for parents on gangs and how to deal with them as parents, presenting the information in a culturally sensitive way, and in a variety of languages, to reflect the diversity of the community. Monitoring youths that are not enrolled in school, however, still hang out on or near school property. This can help school officials assess the existence of gangs in the neighborhood, and anticipate and prevent formation within the school. Offering educational programs for students about gangs, their destructiveness, and how to avoid being drawn into them, preferably in small groups where they can express their feelings comfortably. Finally, providing regular opportunities for students individually and in small groups to discuss there experiences in school and make future plans that offer hope and personal rewards (Gaustad, J. 1991). Taking these steps into account do not simply eliminate gangs, they may help many individuals make wiser choices and prepare individual students to more effectively resist gang pressure.
Gangs have been located throughout the world for many years. There is not going to be a simple solution to resolve the problems of gangs. Education and experience will help teach youths to better develop themselves and not be affected by gang pressure. Without the presence of gangs, our schools will be considered safer and once again be treated as an educational facility to all attending students.