University of Leicester eBulletin

Violence in Schools - Have We Got What We Deserved?

May 2002
No 105

Law of the jungle in a material world

Self-seeking behaviour and material consumption so highly prized in western culture has led to increasing problems of violence and social exclusion in schools, says a Professor of Education at the University of Leicester.

"When societies are reduced to collections of unrelated individuals, the law of the jungle prevails: personal survival and personal advancement are the driving forces."

That's the view of Professor Paul Cooper who is pulling no punches in his lecture at the University of Leicester on Tuesday, May 28.

"Essentially, societies the world over get the problems they deserve," he says. "Britain must address the values that underpin our society."

Dealing with Pride and Prejudice: Sense and Sensibility in the Education of Children with Emotional, Social and Behavioural Difficulties is the title of the free public lecture that is being delivered in the Ken Edwards Building, Lecture Theatre 1 starting at 5.30pm.

Professor Cooper said: "This lecture addresses key questions relating to the nature of, and remedies for, emotional, social and behavioural difficulties (ESBDs) in schools. These problems are characterised by extreme unhappiness among school pupils that sometimes manifests itself in severely withdrawn and/or disruptive and even violent behaviour."

Professor Cooper said that popular opinion, as reflected in the press, seeks to place the blame for ESBDs on such factors as: poor parenting; poor teaching and discipline in schools; the negative influence of some outputs of TV, film media, and popular music; and the inherent 'badness' of some young people. 

"Whilst there is evidence which links some of these factors with emotional and behavioural problems, years of research into these problems has failed to establish any simple causal relationships between any of these factors and ESBDs," he said.

Instead, says Professor Cooper, the breakdown in community and the increase in individualism that characterises the evolving state of western culture has had a damaging effect on society.

"In a culture in which self actualisation through material consumption and self-seeking behaviour is highly valued, it is not surprising that increasing numbers of young people are disturbed and sometimes enraged by the gap they perceive between what they learn to see as their rights and the reality of their situation.

"In these circumstances it is extremely hard for parents and teachers to persuade young people of the importance of selflessness and social conscience.  In a world that is obsessed with the self it is difficult to understand the rights and needs of others."

Professor Cooper said parents and teachers for the most part do their best in the face of these difficulties. But it is an increasingly uphill struggle: "While in some areas adults retreat from the streets, children face the choice of a life of solitude or the precarious self-preservation of the gang. The commitment to delayed gratification required by schools is difficult to sell in places where there are no positive role models to show that it really can work.

"On the other side of this coin schools in such areas feel the negative brunt of punitive government policies, which degrade pupils and communities through the instrument of crude, unfair league tables, whilst at the same time imposing a curriculum which constrains schools and teachers in ways which inhibit them in their efforts to meet local community and pupil needs."

Professor Cooper calls for social solutions to social problems: "If Britain is serious about removing the causes of  ESBDs then it must address the values that underpin our society.

"There is massive pressure in our schools, for example, to exclude pupils who are disruptive.  Such pupils are seen as an undeserving underclass whose presence in society is regretted.  The effect on schools of such pupils is to undermine the quality of life for others, to depress the school's examination performance, and as a result encourage consumers to choose other schools.  The assumption underpinning such punitive exclusionary action is that such pupils choose to behave in disruptive ways.

"Punitive approaches conflict with understandings of what might be necessary for pupils who do choose disruption to choose alternative forms of behaviour. It is not uncommon, of course, for such 'socialised deviants' to come from family and neighbourhood backgrounds where anti-social behaviour is ingrained and is part of the everyday world into which they are born.  In these instances anti-social behaviour is not a choice, it simply an accepted way of being.  Children are then sent to local schools, which are avoided by those who have cultural and financial capital which enables them to go elsewhere. 

"In a society dominated by concerns over levels and standards, efforts need to be made to ensure that schools and communities are served in ways that ensure high standards for all.  Schools should be judged not by how well they manage the most gifted and well-adjusted pupils, but how they improve the lives of their most vulnerable and unattractive pupils."

NOTE TO NEWSDESK: For more information, please contact Professor Cooper on 0116 252 3751 .

[University Home] [Press and Publications] [University Index A-Z][University Search][University Help]
Information supplied by: Barbara Whiteman
Last updated: May 2002
University Administration Web Maintainer

This document has been approved by the head of department or section.