My Practice FSOT essay question- Responding to School Violence

This Friday I am taking the FSOT exam in order to become a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department.  Today I took a practice FSOT.  I feel pretty good about the results.  Below is the prompt, and my practice essay response.  Let me know in the comments how you thought I did.

School boards and educators in the United States have begun to implement measures to ensure student safety as school violence seems to become more prevalent. Some schools have installed metal detectors and instituted locker searches to ensure there are no weapons on school property. Other schools have addressed personal expression seen as problematic by banning some types of clothing and hairstyles. However, many parents and students argue that these measures infringe on students’ rights and privacy and may create situations in which students are misunderstood or even harassed. In your view, where should the line be drawn between student safety and student privacy rights? Carefully explain the rationale for your position.

In America, student safety is a touchy subject, especially after incidents involving school shootings or criminal violence. As communities struggle to implement the best policies to protect students, they are discovering that there is a fine line between protecting student’s safety and protecting student’s civil rights, such as freedom of expression and right to privacy.  This tension is understandable, and in some ways is a debate between a micro and macro view.  An individual parent would be willing to go to absolute lengths to protect their own children, often regardless of concerns about other student’s civil rights.  However, this assessment requires an acknowledgment of a realistic risk assessment.  It is impossible to achieve absolute security, and at some point, each attempt to secure it will result in diminishing utility.  The task for communities designing and implementing these policies is to find the point where security has reached a reasonable standard without unduly restricting student rights.

Violence in a school setting provokes a strong emotional response, similar to terrorism, and can lead to a disproportionate response. It is important for local leaders to resist the desire to give in to this response, and to decide policy rationally.  It can be easy to think of all the ways a particular tragedy could have been prevented, and then try to implement all of them, but this is rarely effective.  Also, policy-makers need to be mindful of the chances of school violence occurring, and make sure that they are not ignoring equally, or more, likely problems that are less sensational.

When implementing policies like installing metal detectors, or limiting personal expression, schools need to be careful not to institutionalize the educational experience. People’s actions are influenced by their surroundings, and by the expectations, they imply.  If schools become more like prisons, then why should we be surprised that students feel more like prisoners, and that their actions would reflect this. Schools should be places where students feel comfortable, and since they are still developing their identities, the freedom to express themselves is an important part of the educational experience. The more restrictive the school environment becomes, the less the schools seems a collaborative place to grow and learn with the help of teachers and facility, but more like a fearful and combative place where teachers are there to insure compliance and other students might be a potential threat to be guarded against.

School administrator’s responsibility to maintain student safety is a heavy burden.  Some rules and regulations must be allowed to ensure basic safety for the school and the staff.  Examples of reasonable rules could include having a school resource officer on campus, or instituting a school uniform that does not discriminate against any particular style or group of students.  Many of the necessary rules will vary depending on the particular school circumstances in each area.  However, in some sense, the idea that there is a conflict between students civil rights and their safety is a false one.  If students are in an environment where they feel valued and trusted, there is a greater likelihood that they would also discuss potential threats with their teachers, and the greater trust would likely contribute to effective action during an actual crisis situation.  The temptation to attempt to maximize school safety is going to flare up every time there is school violence, but responding proactively and rationally to the problem is going to be more effective than a reactive approach that tries to solve the problem after it already has happened.

About Leon Whyte

I'm a recent graduate of the Fletcher school of Law and Diplomacy. My interests include Pacific Asia and Security. I am looking for related opportunities.
This entry was posted in General, International Relations, Student Life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to My Practice FSOT essay question- Responding to School Violence

  1. Hi Leon,

    I wanted to first praise you for being able to write so well given the 30 minute time constraint in the exam. I am also prepping to take my FSOT this upcoming Friday, and was wondering if you could elaborate a little on how you started to write this particular essay? I tried to answer this prompt and found myself after fifteen minutes simply not being able to take a stance to generate arguments in favor or against (I then read your response and realized you took a middle position). In the end, i realized I struggle no matter where I start -whether that be with middle (developing topic-sentences for the body), or conversely with the thesis. Do you have any suggestions? Also curious on how you did and maybe what to expect, as writing is my weakest link.



    • Leon Whyte says:

      Hi, thanks. Firstly, they don’t care about what you say, just how well you say it, so don’t worry too much about which side you pick. Also, 30 minutes is not much time, so make sure you have enough time to get the structure in- i.e have an intro, body, conclusion, and make sure you are defending a clearly stated thesis. I guess other advice would be not to spend too much time thinking about it beforehand and let the thoughts flow as you write and you can go back and revise it later as new ideas come.

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