To stop kids' exposure to violence, teacher Jackie Chism has created a programme to wean students off violent games and movies – she buys them and burns them.
Jackie Chism, a teacher at Jackson Heights Middle School in Florida, has long believed that violent movies and video games make teens more accepting of violence. But on the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December 2012, Chism says she had seen enough.
“I just lost it. I said to myself: ‘This has got to end,’” Chism says, as she remembers the anger she felt after hearing that a 20-year-old man walked into the Connecticut school and fatally shot 20 children and six adults. He also shot and killed his mother.
So Chism came up with the idea of Peace Buy Piece. She buys students’ violent movies and video games with the hope that they will watch less violence in the media. Students also have to pledge they won’t use the money to buy other violent games or movies.
She began using money she had been saving for a spring-break vacation. Chism has bought back more than 200 DVDs and games to date. After the buyback, she and her students then destroy the discs. In the coming weeks, they plan to create an art mosaic using fragments from the broken discs. “We buy back guns, so why can’t we buy back movies and violent games?” Chism says.
The programme has become so popular – not only with her students, but others at the school – that Chism plans to launch Peace Buy Piece as a nonprofit organisation that she can expand beyond Jackson Heights. “If I can get my students to just change their habits, then I feel I’ve accomplished what I set out to do,” says Chism, who teaches graphic arts and video production.
Courtney Ring, 14, an eighth-grader who recently turned in PlayStation and Wii games, says some of today’s games are “too extreme”. “I think it definitely does make someone lose their sense of reality,” Courtney says.
But Chism agrees that not all violence in movies – such as slapstick humour – is harmful. For example, is Moe poking Curly in the eyes in a typical Three Stooges episode too violent? Chism says she leaves it up to her students to determine whether a movie is too violent. Still, she thinks a movie is excessively violent if it doesn’t contribute to the story line.
“Does the violence help tell the story? Is it there for comedy? Or is it there for shock value?” she says. “It’s mostly the gangster movies and the action movies. And these are 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds watching these.”
In a 2010 study, researchers reported in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience that teens who watch violence portrayed in movies and other media may be more accepting of violence. In the study, 22 boys ages 14 to 17 appeared more desensitised after playing mildly and moderately violent videos than after playing the ones with the lowest level of violence. Boys with the greatest level of exposure to violent media seemed to show the greatest desensitisation, according to the study. The study, however, did not test girls.
Clay Calvert, a professor and Brechner Eminent Scholar in mass communications and media law at the University of Florida, says studies support the theory of a correlation between students playing violent video games and becoming desensitised to violence or acting more aggressively. “But we can’t really show that playing a violent video game causes a student to do violence,” he says. “It may be that people who are inherently violent seek out violent games.”
Steven Cox, 60, whose son, Mark, 14, is one of Chism’s former students, says it’s more than just video games and movies. “I think the American culture is more violent overall,” Cox says. “And I think bringing this programme to the classroom draws attention to the issue.”
Jackson Heights Principal Winston Bailey says middle-school students start watching violent video games at home, then come to school and discuss them with friends.“Students in middle school see watching video games as ‘cool’ and are therefore more accepting of violence in movies and games,” Bailey says. “Many violent activities, including shootings, have been linked to video games, and it is believed that more than 50% of video games are violent.”
Chism, a former TV news reporter, says she has received few negative comments about her buyback programme from parents. Someone likened it to burning books. “I have had a couple of people say: ‘Like, what is the point?’ Or: ‘What is the big deal about violence in movies?’” Chism says. “But I definitely think that most of us are more desensitised to violence.” – The Orlando Sentinel/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.