Extreme environments can kill the human spirit and motivation. Among the most toxic environments are deserts, the tundra, and prisons. Schools can be an extreme environment and be just as toxic as the desert, the tundra, or prisons.
Ever since the incredible horror at Columbine, the assault on children and adults in schools has increased. The toxic climate and culture of schools are incubators of violence, stunted growth and development, and feed a raging mentality that school is not a safe place to be.
Evidence screams schools can be safe. However, fifty percent of perception can be reality. Particularly when an isolated event goes viral and conveys a sensibility that Armageddon is the prevailing condition in schools and classrooms. Surely, it does not help when sexually adventurous adults prey upon nubile students with raging hormones. Similarly, the advent of bullying, beat downs, initiation rites, the rancor of competition, and the capacity to incite via social media renders schools hot houses of vulnerability for all within the walls of learning. And, the plague of gangs baffles.
What should, and must be, a safe haven is, too often a toxic, extreme environment. Some have proposed blowing up schools. One mayor wanted to place an armed police officer in every school building—clearly a prescription for nourishing the schoolhouse to jail house pipeline.
An essential element of an effective school is a safe and orderly environment. Both in the building and the corridors surrounding it. About this there is no commonsense argument. But, locking down schools is akin to a prison.
Contrary to perception, schools can, intentionally, even in difficult settings, reduce abhorrent behavior, create and sustain safe and orderly learning environments that are essential for the growth and development of students.