Broken Windows Theory

First of all, I can’t get enough of Malcolm Gladwell. Blink was an amazing look at perception and first impressions. I’m in the middle of The Tipping Point right now, and I came across a theory that helps to explain behaviors in the world, but in schools in particular. Why does it seem like bad behaviors in schools end up multiplying? What makes it seem like an epidemic?

The Broken Windows theory, coming from a criminologist, is an explanation for this. Here is a quote from Gladwell that sums it up:

“Crime is the inevitable result of disorder. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes. In a city, relatively minor problems like graffiti, public disorder, and aggressive panhandling, are all the equivalent of broken windows, invitations to more serious crime.”

Gladwell is using the theory to discuss violent crimes and felonies, which, cross your fingers, I’m hoping your school doesn’t have to deal with!

I’m picturing our school’s computer lab. I don’t spend much time in there because of my easy access to laptops and netbooks, but we do need to MAP test in the lab. There has always been some writing on the mouse pads, but it just seemed to go with the territory. If you put 25 middle school students in front of computers, they are bound to tell everyone that “Mandy was here” or insert two names into a squiggly heart of eternal love.

Well this year during MAP testing, I noticed some more vulgar language on the mouse pads, and even worse, the F-word penciled onto a computer along with a drawing of a knife. And these are nearly brand new iMacs! I couldn’t help but think if this was done because of the graffiti and writing that was already there.

It’s time to take a look at the things that we let go and don’t think about as a big deal. What kind of message is that sending to our kids? If we aren’t fixing our broken windows, we are telling kids that this is not a place of order and consequences. Instead of assuming that kids will be kids, we should take a step to improve the conditions around our school, starting with the little things. They make a big difference!