The writing is on the wall -- spray-painted in bold and angry graffiti.
The message? America's schools are troubled more and more by violence, whether it is student against student or student against school official.
Indeed, a study released last fall by the National League of Cities indicated that disorder in U.S. public schools has almost bypassed academics as the main concern of many school administrators, teachers, parents and pupils.
According to the NLC survey of communities in 700 cities and towns, 40 percent of the respondents said school violence climbed "significantly" during the previous five years. Seventy percent said police officers routinely patrol their local schools. Nineteen percent said their schools use metal detectors at the entrances. Thirty-nine percent said gangs pose a "serious" problem.
The violence is not only more widespread but also more lethal than in past decades. Whereas fists used to settle most disputes, now knives and pistols are the weapons of choice.
The repercussions of this growing turmoil register throughout the nation. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month in an Oregon case that education officials can test student-athletes for substance use in the name of combating drug-related violence in schools.
That same week, a study on violence in the Baltimore County system stated that the number of school disturbances has climbed rapidly in recent years and is not likely to decline in the immediate future. Also close to home, a Howard County football player was recently convicted of attempting to maim a rival athlete from another high school. Before the trial, the Circuit Court judge felt compelled to warn students from both schools against misbehavior in or near the courthouse during the proceedings.
One positive upshot of this alarming trend is that school districts and communities have acknowledged the problem and begun seeking remedies. Baltimore County, for example, has improved its system of "alternative schools" for unruly pupils and will implement recommendations from the just-completed study of school violence.
Yet there's only so much educators can do. Already they must shoulder more of the basic duties that should be learned at home, from proper eating habits to personal traits such as honesty and integrity. Parents and guardians must do their part by teaching their children the elements of socially acceptable behavior, so they will no longer come to class unable and unwilling to learn. Any concerted campaign for peaceful schools will fail unless all sides share the responsibility.