Gun Violence and the Meaning of American Schools

Educational Theory 65 (4):371-386 (2015)
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Abstract

In the United States, targeted school shootings have become a distinct genre of violence. In this essay, Bryan Warnick, Sang Hyun Kim, and Shannon Robinson examine the social meanings that exist in American society that might contribute to this phenomenon, focusing on the question: “Why are schools conceptualized as appropriate places to enact this form of gun violence?” The authors analyze the social meaning of American schooling by using empirical data, everyday observations, films, and poetry, and then connect these points of meaning to stories of individual school shooters. Through this analysis, three aspects of school stand out. First, schools are places of both real and symbolic violence, where force and power often rule the day. Second, schools are places connected to expectations of hope and refuge, friendship and romance, and when these expectations are not met, bitter resentment flows against schools. Third, suburban schools are seen as places of expressive individualism, which, in rare cases, is manifest in terms of “expressive violence.” Together, these points of meaning can make schools, for some youth, seem like appropriate places to express violent intentions. The essay concludes by speculating about how this analysis can be applied to prevent school shootings

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Sang Kim
Kyungpook National University

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