Tempers Too Hot in People So Young

October 06, 1994

In one sense, it was a relief to find out that racial tensions were not behind last week's brawl at Meade High School. Racism causes divisions that can destroy not just a school, but an entire community. Look at what happened to the Alabama high school where the principal cancelled the prom because of interracial dating. Tensions exploded, the principal was ruined and the school was burned to the ground. So if local school officials said a silent thanks when they learned that a stupid bit of rudeness and not the complex evil of prejudice ignited the Meade fight, who could blame them?

And yet, the origins of this melee that resulted in injuries to six students and two teachers are troubling enough. It started when one student bumped into another and didn't say, "Excuse me." That simple breach of etiquette was enough to set 10 to 15 kids to pummeling each other and their teachers while 100 other students watched.

Three days later, 250 concerned students from Annapolis High, another school that has been blighted by fights, gathered for a workshop on school violence and concluded that little of it stems from anything important. Kids fight over the most stupid things -- "words, boys, grudges, things that happened in the fifth grade," as one senior said.

Yes, schoolyard tussles are as old as time. But children today seem less and less capable of turning the other cheek, of letting silly insults slide off their backs. Their level of combustion is sky-high -- a fact made deadly dangerous because more children than ever are using guns and knives to avenge themselves, a fact made more frightening by the knowledge that these children quickly will be adults. How will they react when someone butts in front of them in the ATM line, sneaks into the parking space they'd been waiting for at the shopping mall or accidentally jostles them in a crowded grocery store?

Surveys done by candidates for elective office show that school violence ranks as a top concern among Anne Arundel County citizens.

We want tougher discipline in schools, we want teachers and principals to let kids know they can't act uncivilized and get away with it. Perhaps we also ought to ask if, as parents, we're doing enough to teach our children basic politeness, the ability to look the other way, to take a stupid comment and just let it go.

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