In a recent article, an author argues that the lack of respect for authority has a correlation to high school violence. The lack of authority for many Black students begins with their entrance into school. High school violence is a product of classroom racism for which school security and police personnel are responsible for enforcing.

According to the article, High school violence shows lack of respect for authority, a student responded to school security personnel by attempting to ignite their bodies with gasoline. The female high school student carried a 2-liter bottle of gasoline with the intent of assaulting two school security personnel. The incident was a product of the student getting caught using a cellphone during classroom instruction. If we truly look to end high school violence we must begin by determining the root cause.

What is the root cause of a lack of respect for authority which can lead to high school violence?

The beginning point for the cause of a lack of respect for authority begins when Black students enter preschool. According to the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, Black children represent 18% of the students enrolled in preschool but represent 48% of the preschool children receiving more than one out of school suspension. While White students represent 43% percent of the students in preschool, but only 26% of the preschool children receiving more that one out of school suspension.

The battle for respect of authority begins in preschool for both the teachers and the Black students. The teacher is battling to maintain the power structure endowed by the school. The Black preschool student is battling for the respect from the teacher. This battle continues through high school. Since the teacher has the support mechanisms developed by the school which includes school security personnel, not only does the preschooler develop disrespect for the teacher but also for the enforcers which include administrators, police, and school security personnel.

What is the hidden battle between students and teachers that eventually becomes school violence?

The hidden battle between teachers and students that can eventually result in school violence is the conflict between the expectations of verbal and nonverbal behavior. Education is a communication process that is not limited to transmitting knowledge but also involves interpersonal communication behaviors and nonverbal behaviors that are the major aspects of interpersonal relationships, which are critical in all learning situations. The teaching-learning process is essentially a communication event that includes verbal and nonverbal communication. Teachers and students are verbal and nonverbal message senders and receivers. Developing respectful relationships with students requires considerable knowledge of their verbal and nonverbal communication styles which will result in a decrease of school violence.

Schools and Black student conflict develop from expectation differences related to communication styles. The general public fails to accept that Blacks have different communication norms and conventions by assuming that Blacks communicate using standards set by socially dominant Whites. Whites’ dispassionate and detached communication mode creates distrust among Blacks due to its similarity to Blacks who front which occurs when Blacks perceive there is a communication risk factor and chooses to remain silent in Black-White communication encounters. Most Black educational failures arises from the teachers’ inability to understand how the students communicate. Educators must become more aware of the specific verbal and nonverbal communication style that impacts the student’s ability and motivation to successfully engage in learning activities.

Educators must consider teacher and student cultural differences as well as differences in their verbal and nonverbal behavior. Teachers and students from different cultural backgrounds have historical and cultural perspectives that can create classroom clashes that result in nonproductive classroom environments where the students’ education suffers. If teachers are unable to understand and accept their cultural differences and student differences in verbal and nonverbal behavior, the result is not only a nonproductive classroom environment, it is also an environment entrenched with school violence.

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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.

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