Posted to ACW-L, WCenter, NCTE-Talk,
and TEACH on 4/24/99.
There's little question where this list's topic came from. The more media
coverage I've seen over the past week about the events at Columbine High
School, the more I've felt that it was time to come up with some writing
assignments that asked students to think what they know about conflict and
violence, the ways that they react when they face conflict or violence, and
the ways that society discusses conflict and violence.
I've written the questions as generally as possible, but you may need to
adapt them for your specific situation. I've avoided any writing projects
that ask students to put themselves in the place of the victims at Columbine
or that might ask them "what they would do if...." Instead, I've tried to
focus on more active assignments that as writers to consider ways to
improve their community and ways to interrogate the violence and conflict
that we see in the world around us.
Originally Posted on the NCTE Web on February 13, 2000.
[Who/What's Responsible?] When a violent action is reported publicly,
there's a move to blame someone or something for what has happened. As
people look for someone to hold responsible for the action, blame can be
attached to a variety of objects: guns, knives, and other weapons; violent
images on television and in movies; violent video games; and violent lyrics
Here are three ways that people talk about blame and responsibility for
violence in American society. Think carefully about the ways that humans
are represented in these ideas (1) Guns don't kill people. People kill
people. (2) Violent video games such as DOOM reward players for violent
behaviors, and that behavior affects their actions in day-to-day life. (3)
When students see violence glorified on television shows and at the movies,
there's little wonder that they commit similar acts of violence. What does
the "solution" seem to be according to each of these ways of assigning
blame? To what extent are these reasons valid? Who is responsible? Write a
paper that reconciles these ideas that are used to account for violence in
[Propose a Solution] Spend at least 10 minutes brainstorming a list of
things that cause tension at your school don't worry about analyzing the
causes, just get down as many things that can cause conflict or anxiety.
After you've gathered your list, share your list with others in your class.
Identify the items that appear on the most lists. They're most likely to be
the issues that most need to be addressed by your school's administrators or
your local school board. Choose the four or five most important issues.
Divide into task-forces to study the problem and suggest some solutions.
Your goal is to write a proposal that you'll submit to your school's
principal, your local school superintendent, or the local school board
(whatever is most appropriate). Your proposal should include the following
information: (1) an explanation and description of the anxiety-causing
action or problem that you're focusing on, (2) details on the reasons that
the problem is significant and deserves attention, (3) an action plan that
describes possible ways to solve the problem and evaluates the effectiveness
of each solution, (4) details on implementing the solutions that you've
described, and (5) a specific recommendation for the actions that you want
to see your reader take.
[In the Media] Analyze the media coverage of a recent violent event or
conflict. Begin by separating objective details and material from
subjective details and material. When are objective details used, and when
are subjective details most important? To what extent has the media
coverage publicized information that should have been kept private or
confidential? How was the media used hype and hoopla and to what end?
Do the reporters really care about the events that happened, or are they
just trying to get ratings? What is the end result of this kind of
coverage? Is it helping? Or is it contributing to the problem? Write a
paper that analyzes the ways that the media has covered a specific event
with an eye toward classifying the kinds of coverage that have been provided
and identifying the goals for each kind of coverage.
[Defining Moments] There's clearly a difference between violence and
conflict. One important difference is that conflict can be acceptable
politicians frequently have conflicting points of view, for instance. You
and I might have different, conflicting opinions about the best flavor of
Ben and Jerry's, the worst color for a pick-up truck, or the qualities that
make a movie worth seeing. It's simply not the case that everyone should
agree. The problem is when a conflict leads to violence. Write a paper
that defines the terms "conflict" and "violence," showing how they relate to
each other and giving specific examples to illustrate your point. In the
course of your paper, you should include details on when conflict is
acceptable and when intervention should take place to avoid having a
conflict result in violence.
[Enough is Enough] How much violence is too much? Choose a specific
television show, video game, movie, or song. Analyze the use of violent
words and images in the item you've chosen. What violent ideas are
included? Why are they there what are they meant to add to the overall
presentation? How would the show, game, movie, or song change if the images
were presented differently or not at all? Write a paper that analyzes
the use of violence and explains the extent to which the images are
unnecessary or gratuitous.
[First-Hand Narrative] Describe a situation where you faced a difficult
conflict that you were able to resolve using non-violent means. What
caused the conflict? What led to the problem? How did you feel as the
tension built? What actions did you consider taking, and how did you choose
among the actions? What solution did you choose, and how did you feel once
you were able to resolve the conflict? Your paper should tell the complete
story of the conflict that you faced, from beginning to end. Your goal is
to share a positive way of dealing with conflict with your readers. In
other words, by telling your story, you should tell your readers how
choosing a non-violent solution was the best course of action.
[Gender and Violence] Analyze the way that gender plays a role in
discussions of violence and in portrayals of violent actions on television,
in movies, in video games, and in other media. How often do the discussions
talk about men/boys and women/girls, and how often do they refer to people?
When is the gender specified and more importantly, why? How are
stereotypes influencing the portrayals, and how are the portrayals creating
(or supporting) stereotypes? Choose one show, movie, game, or article to
focus on and write a thorough analysis of the way that gender and violence
are connected (or not). In your paper, consider the specific
roles/characters involved, their actions and interactions, and the
underlying messages that the television show, movie, game, or article is
sending to viewers, readers, or players.
[Biggest Myth] What the biggest myth that you've heard in the media
about violence in schools? Write a letter to the editor, to the television
show, or to another pertinent reader that explains why you disagree with the
coverage they have given to the myth you've identified. In your letter, be
sure that you describe what you've heard and what you've seen written about
the issue, explain why you believe the assertion is untrue, and suggest
reasons that the myth has developed. Further, you might identify more
realistic explanations for the issue that the myth you've identified
addresses. Your goal is to persuade your reader to change the way that they
[Security Measures] Consider the security measures in place at a
location you go to often. Are there cameras, metal detectors, mirrors,
guards, and so on? After you've cataloged the measures that are in place,
write a proposal to your principal, your local school superintendent, or
your local school board that includes ways that security on campus can be
improved. Your proposal should outline the following points: (1) the
security concerns that are faced on your campus, (2) the security measures
in place, (3) the effectiveness of those security measures, and (4) ways to
increase the effectiveness of the security system at your campus. Conclude
your proposal with a specific call to action that tells your reader what you
want to happen next.
[A Fable] Brainstorm a list of things that cause tension at an
elementary school don't worry about analyzing the causes, just get down
as many things that can cause conflict or anxiety. After you've gathered
your list, share your list with others in your class. Identify the items
that appear on the most lists and the items that are the most important to
address. Each person in your class should choose an item to focus on.
After you've chosen an item, write a fable for students at an elementary
school. Your goal is to tell a story about the conflict or tension that
demonstrates non-violent ways of dealing with the situation and concludes
something about the value of the actions that the main characters take.
Remember that your audience is composed of students who are younger than you
you'll need to adapt your description, word choice, and sentence
structure to fit this special group of readers.
[This assignment could be adapted to another setting. For instance, older
elementary school students could write for K-3 students, and college
students might write for middle school students. Students could also work
in small groups rather than each writing a fable.]