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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bloodshed in the Hallways: Fighting in High School

A little violence, revenge, and bloodshed have always been a part of American high schools. I taught for almost 30 years, and I can't begin to tell you how many student fights in the hallways and classrooms I helped break up. Compound that with many more "brewing" confrontations the staff was able to stem before any action occurred, and it becomes apparent an undeveloped frontal cortex on edge fueled by raging hormones translates to daily rhubarbs.

These fights usually fester with gossip that first occurs as little tremors of menace during the school day then finally erupt into physical responses. The catalyst typically is uncorroborated rumor that an adversary has been "running their mouth." Of course, some high school fights occur because of dating relationships -- breakups, cheating, and refusal to accept unrequited love.

Now, you may not think so, but most students -- yes, even the best scholars and the most ethical, easy-going types -- love a school fight. Most of the school becomes quickly aware of any potential fight and hope their schedules permit them to witness the showdown.

By the time the contingent of instigators and rumor mongers sufficiently encourage the violence, tensions peak and the combatants are faced with being "yellow" and forgetting about being besmirched or being "tuff" and taking care of business. Really, they have no choice at all because "rep" in high school means everything. The fight is "on," and the affirmation creates an air of silent anticipation that sweeps the student body in hopes authorities can't prevent its occurrence.

Then, "high noon" arrives. And, usually, a large crowd gathers and circles the opponents while urging them to throw punches, pull hair, and draw blood. Very seldom does a fight last beyond a minute, and most fights feature David and Goliath match-ups in which the aggressors are assured of victory solely because of their dominant physical characteristics.

Generally, a lot of male confrontations begin with the customary, derogatory verbal remarks and threatening posturing before a single punch is thrown; however, some fights feature sneak attacks and sucker punches. On the other hand, girls usually skip all the foreplay and go for" teeth and eyeballs." Almost all well-matched confrontations seem to beg for referee stoppage because real, mutual damage results.

The student audience seldom does anything to stop a fight unless one of the opponents suffers a sickening blooding. Then, a friend or a concerned acquaintance may step in to separate the combatants. Most of the time a faculty member or two grab the flailing bodies and declare an end to the frantic proceedings and then escort the guilty parties to the office. Of course, the aftermath consists of discipline and cleanup.

After the contest, the hot-wire of communication burns with threats of revenge, warnings of ass-kickings by friends and family, and more unsubstantiated rumors. All-in-all, most high school fights result in parents storming into school offices to defend their precious, innocent babies while administrators enforce mandatory penalties for fighting on campus -- usually calling for mutual suspensions and promises of no further hostility.

High school fights usually produce ultimate injuries of bloody noses or other similar temporary damage although sometimes these altercations result in missing teeth, cuts deep enough to scar, and even a broken hand bone or two. Sometimes the combatants become best friends after fighting, yet usually they steer clear of each other for extended periods of time. Grudges may develop as the students eventually return to school and close proximity.

I don't believe fights between students will ever disappear. In the pecking order and blustering cacophony of peer groups, squabbles remain. The never-ending competition for social recognition and the constant threat of relationship angst keep high schools ripe for fist fights and open physical altercations. Can you confirm the lightning quick reactions of angered adolescents? Uh huh, I believe you understand what I mean.

What is the point to this post? Most schools do everything possible to discourage fighting. They print student handbooks that state specific, harsh penalties for having altercations. They attempt to sort out how every fight occurs, make judgments to correct the problems, and enforce all needed retribution.

At the same time, they know the student body enjoys an occasional fight because most kids deem these senseless showdowns as memorable gladiatorial contests brazenly displayed on campus for the consumption of their blood-lust. I say this to confirm that high school students are a curious species fascinated by risk, human beings with substantial ids prone to misinterpreting danger for fun. These students are not criminals or  bloodthirsty animals, rather they are ignorant to strategies that curb outrageous emotional displays in times of stress and fear. And, they have been made accustomed to the inherent "good" in violent contests. No kid wants to be branded a "pussy," a "wimp," or a
"candy- assed wimp."

Campus fights are mindless and most usually pointless affairs. They do nothing but disrupt school days. Bravado? In a blustering and defiant sense, yes. But, courageous, no, the fights usually occur as a result of trivial disagreements and misconceptions. There is nothing honestly "brave" about them.

Machismo? Absolutely, the fights are exaggerated displays of pride and virility. And, today these cocky reactions are launched by emotional males and females alike. We have come to the age of praising the fighting "bitch ninja" stereotype. It wouldn't surprise me to see feminine campus shooters and knife wielders in future violent outbreaks.

I hear you reading my mind. You are saying, "If the fights are part of the maturation process, why worry about the scuffles?" No, I am not fond of the fights; instead, I am confirming their likely continued existence; I am not exhorting their need or value. I hate high school fights. They are ugly and brutal displays of juvenile behavior.

When Junior or Miss is raised to defend themselves, it is inevitable that they will do so, but it is unalterable that they will err at times in judgment of their own defense. And, if you know teenagers, you know they can easily err on the side of uncontrollable outbursts and sudden, often skewed mentality. Add constant peer pressure (often misguided) to their plates, and you understand how many are in their "time bomb" years.

High school students need more instruction in problem solving and emotional management that might allow them to achieve a great reputation with nonviolence. There is very little respect for this intelligent "brain fighter" in the fast lane of present high school society. Rep is earned through fashion, money, brawn, sexy looks, and yes -- violence. Violence is taught as a necessary means to survival, yet high school students may be equipped with Ferrari bodies and Hyundai minds. The combination can be lethal -- deadly in complex relationships and deadly in simple altercations and disagreements.

I don't know why a student would take two kitchen knives to school and randomly slice up the student body. Maybe somewhere in my understanding of high school fights I can find a sliver of an answer. Maybe not. You see it's a long, long leap from throwing a punch at an opponent in the hallway to slaughtering scores of innocents in a fit of blind, psychotic rage. 

Here is a report of Alex Hribal, 16, a sophomore at Franklin Regional Senior High School, and his five-minute rampage in which he stabbed 21 students on April 9:

 "the attacker a shy and quiet boy 
who largely kept to himself, 
but they said he was not an outcast
 and they saw no indication before the attack that he might be violent."

I am shocked and utterly confused. God be with his victims.

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