Violence IN THE MEDIA: One Teacher’s Response
Hallenberg, Harvey[Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a letter sent by Harvey Hallenberg, director of Claremont Montessori, Boca Raton, FL, to parents in response to the school shootings in Red Lake, MN in March 2005.]
Many of the students in class have honestly responded to my inquiries about violence in our culture by admitting they are “fascinated” with violence in movies, in television shows, in video games, and in the music they listen to away from school.
I have been reading former U.S. Senator Paul Simon’s book, Our Culture of Pandering, which deals in part with violence in the media and its effects on children. Simon quotes the December 2000 report of the National Commission for the Prevention of Youth Violence:
Children and youth are greatly influenced by what they hear and see in movies, television, the Internet, video games, and music. Extensive evidence documents the strong, pervasive, and deleterious effects of media violence on children.
Simon goes on to cite the research of Professor John P. Murray of Kansas State University and others on the short-term and long-term harm to the brains of children by watching television violence. It is now known that the human brain grows throughout most of human childhood, not just through infancy.
Senator Simon quotes the winter 1993 publication of The Institute for Mental Health Initiatives:
What is a healthy experience that confirms one viewer’s abhorrence of violent solutions can be dangerously overstimulating for another, particularly for children and teenagers. . . . Children, teenagers, and adults whose life experiences and temperament have combined to limit their capacity to delay action or manage anger and fear are candidates for violent behavior. They may merge with the characters they see, losing the boundary between the characters and themselves . . . someone who is already angry and/or aroused by drugs lor] alcohol. . . is more likely to be pushed over the edge by viewing violent portrayals.
According to the Center for Media and Public Affairs study of 573 television programs during the 1998-1999 season:[Of the] 8,350 scenes of violence, 4,204 of those involved murder, rape, kidnapping, or assault with a weapon.
Most acts of violence were not presented as causing either physical or emotional harm. Bullets frequently miss their mark, heroes bounce back from beatings without a scratch, and few victims of violence are emotionally traumatized. Violence was often carried out by good guys, who acted out of laudable motives. Scripts almost never carried explicit criticism of the use of violence.
Television violence is heavily concentrated in programming aimed at young people.
The report cited above also notes: “The American Psychological Association estimates that the average 12-year-old has seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on network television.”
Other studies cited by Simon found boys to be particularly affected by television violence. I must add that among our upper elementary students who indicated they were excited or fascinated by violence on television or in video games, boys outnumbered girls 4 to 1.
I am coming to believe that some of our students may be addicted to violence in the media. This addiction could be just as harmful, in the years to come, as an addiction to a powerful drug or alcohol.
There are antidotes to the “infection by violence.” The first antidote, and perhaps the best, is a warm loving relationship with your child or children. Your love is a powerful bulwark against the tides of catastrophe and dysfunctional pandering that plague our society.
The second antidote is a strong philosophical belief that good is stronger than evil no matter how often evil appears to “win.”
Parents need to tell “life stories” to their children that illustrate the virtues of perseverance, courage, thoughtful analysis of problems, imagination, and individual initiative. If parents run out of stories about their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and neighbors, they should read stories about the lives of the heroes and heroines of our time and times past. Jane Goodall, Mother Teresa, Archimedes, Michael Faraday, Roger Bacon, Dorothy Day, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Orville and Wilbur Wright, Marie and Pierre Curie, Squanto, Albert Einstein, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Jane Austen, Zora Neale Hurston, Carl Sandburg, Louisa May Alcott, Montessori, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Chief Joseph, Sequoyah, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Brother Antoninus (William Everson), Thoreau, Claude and Francesca Claremont, the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, Jesus of Nazareth, John Napier, Clara Barton, Ursula LeGuin, Theodora Kroeber, and Senator Paul Simon are just a few names that come to mind. You should be able to think of hundreds of others. Stories about these individuals can become a potent antidote to the poison of violence so prevalent in our society.
Storytelling is not just a “gift” possessed by a few. It is the genetic heritage of thousands of generations of our human ancestors. Long before the invention of writing, we were storytellers. Long before the rise of a “class” of teachers, parents were the storytellers; parents were the teachers. We all possess this ability. We must win the hearts and minds of our children with our stories. If we tell true stories, our children will listen.
Lichter, Lichter & Amundson. Merchandising mayhem: Violence in popular entertainment 1998-1999. Center for Media and Public Affairs. Retrieved 02/01/2004 from http://cmpa.com/ archive/uiol98.htm.
Simon, P. (2003). Our culture of pandering. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
HARVEY HALLENBERG is director of Claremont Montessori in Boca Raton, FL.
Copyright American Montessori Society 2006
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