Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Violence and the educational system- the best way of looking at it?

My last blog post was a response to an article which was part trend story, part obituary. The Tribune has been keeping count on the number of Chicago Public School students who have been slain so far this year– and the number is scary. Two more have been killed since that last post, bringing it up to 28.

Carlos Sadovi and Angela Rozas, who both also worked on the last article, also wrote this one: Examining shockingly deadly year for schools.

The article says the number of deaths is unusually high, but acknowledges that it does not tell the whole story– it doesn't show how many have gotten close to being a part of that number, or include students who have dropped out or been killed during the summer.

The story does a good job of dealing with the complexities of the issues and examining measures that have been taken to stop the problem. Many of the things I pointed out as missing in my last post, and which some of you agreed on, appear here.

The article takes a step in the right direction: it gives personal context to the numbers and it looks at the highly complex forces fueling this trend and how the problem is being adressed. However, I don't think it goes far enough in divorcing itself from the numbers.

"You've heard and read the grim tally too many times recently," says the Tribune's Eric Zorn, opening up a column looking at how useful that statistic really is.

Zorn's column, Killings of students provides a grim tally, points out that while the number is sensational and brings killings which would have normally gone unnoticed into public light, its use presents problems.
"The number suggests that the life of a student is more valuable than the life of a dropout—though experts say fear of school violence is sometimes why youths drop out. And it points only indirectly, at best, to the root causes of street violence and possible prevention strategies."
Zorn delivers a tough verdict– but it really makes you think about how statistics, even if true and with some weight for catching the attention of readers, are limited in their usefulness and can show bias not normally associated with numbers.

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