Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Forum Attendees Develop Shared Vision on Stopping the Trend of Violent Children

Finding ways to develop public policies in a democracy to deal with violent children was the purpose of a recent program entitled “Violent Kids: Can We Change the Trend?”

All of the participants in this forum were childcare providers and they offered a unique perspective on an issue that frequently grabs headlines nationwide.

“The make up of this forum was unique and so was the shared perspective. This group basically agreed that violence in media and entertainment plays a role but parents who are absent or just simply don’t parent are the biggest part of the equation,” said David Burton, University of Missouri Extension’s civic communication specialist and forum moderator.

The focus of the forum centered around three very different choices.


Choice one said violence saturates the popular culture, immersing kids in a social environment where violence is portrayed as accepting, exciting and without consequences.

“Folks who took this position say it is time to ban violent entertainment to children under 17 and increase investment in television and after-school programs for children to provide healthy alternatives to the harmful popular culture,” said Burton.

In general, participants agreed that parents too often use different forms of indoor entertainment – television, the Internet and video games – to raise their children instead of being more actively involved in their lives.


Choice two put the emphasis on giving more help to children at risk of violence. This approach says cultural violence is a minor distraction from the real tragedy -- no system for helping troubled kids before they slip into serious trouble.

“Participants who took this position say we must take a systematic approach to identifying troubled and at-risk children, treating those who are traumatized and rescuing more from chronically abusive homes,” said Burton.

In general, participants felt that mental illness was a very small part of the problem. Certainly less significant than parents who are afraid to discipline or don’t teach respect.


Choice three said the root cause of violence in America is a meltdown in society and a lack of moral discipline. The problem is that too many children grow up in permissive homes where they are not taught the boundaries between right and wrong.

“Folks who liked this approach said that as a society, we need to take a much firmer hand in raising disciplined and respectful kids and parents have to be held accountable when their unsupervised children cause trouble,” said Burton.

In general, participants felt parents should be held more responsible for the actions of their children but that other institutions, like the juvenile system, are also failing our children.


Based on pre- and post-forum questionnaires, participants did change some of their views as a result of the forum.

For example, before the forum, 60 percent of participants said they were not sure about what should be done on this issue. After the forum, 60 percent said they had a definite opinion about what should be done.

A majority of attendees, 90 percent, said a “ban on the sale and advertising of violent movies, song lyrics and video games to children” was important.

There was also a strong sense that we should “expand character education programs in schools,” a statement that found 100 percent of participants said was important.

The idea that we need to “treat juvenile violence as a mental health problem,” got less support, with only 50 percent of attendees saying that was important.

“Making parents who do not supervise their children accountable when the children commit crimes,” was rated as important by 60 percent of attendees.

One-hundred percent of participants said it was important to “increase efforts to rescue children from abusive homes.”

Another statement, “too many parents and teachers are no longer teaching children the difference between right and wrong,” was something that 90 percent of attendees said they were concerned about.

And perhaps most telling, 90 percent of participants favored this statement: “We should restrict and control extreme violence in the popular media even if this places some limits on freedom of expression.”

For more information on these forums, contact David Burton at (417) 862-9284. More information is also available online at or at the National Issues Forums website.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Too Many Children Left Behind: How Can We Close the Achievement Gap?

The newest issue book put out by National Issue Forums deals with the hot topic of education.

The following is from the introduction to the issue book "Too Many Children Left Behind: How Can We Close the Achievement Gap?"

In a nation that prides itself on providing equal opportunity for all, too many low-income and minority children are falling behind their peers in school. In an increasingly competitive global arena, the United States cannot afford to ignore this widening achievement gap. What can be done to close it?

This issue book presents three possible approaches for dealing with this problem:

Approach #1: Raise Expectations and Demand Accountability
African Americans, Hispanic, and Native American students in many schools have become victims of what President George W. Bush calls "the soft bigotry of low expectations." If we are to close the achievement gap, we must push for increased academic performance of all students, and make educators accountable for the results.

Approach #2: Close the Spending Gap
Schools in low-income, high-minority districts often lack science labs, computers, up-to-date textbooks, and well-qualified teachers who most often choose to work in better-paying, better-equipped suburban school districts. We cannot realistically expect more of poor, minority students until these resource and funding inequities are addressed.

Approach #3: Address the Root Causes
Problems that show up as poor academic performance begin long before low-income minority children come to school. And they cannot be remedied unless we address underlying causes, such as unresolved health problems, poor nutrition, stressful living conditions, and lack of parental support, which are the source of these deficits.

For more information, find the discussion books online at or check out these material links:

Download the Issue in Brief, Too Many Children Left Behind.pdf (260 K)

Download Forum Questionnaire for Too Many Children Left Behind.pdf (37 K)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Reader's Surveys Important for Weekly Newspapers and Other Small Market Publications

Doing a reader’s survey for a publication is one way to involve the public in the evolution (and improvement) of a publication.

The use of reader’s surveys (or focus groups) to improve a publication is nothing new. Publications in larger markets have been doing these for decades. But the idea of doing a reader’s survey at a smaller market publication (or weekly newspaper) is fairly new.

One reason why reader’s surveys were not as prevalent (or maybe even as relevant) for weekly newspapers and small market publications was because those publications practiced real community journalism. The owner or publisher was active and visible in the community. Staff members lived in the same community, sent their children to the public school, shopped at local stories and went to a local church – the same as the people they wrote about. If a reader had an idea (or complaint) about the newspaper they were able to easily pass that information along to the owner, publisher or editor.

Now, small market publications have more turnovers in staff and owners. Plus, the staff and owners are too busy in other areas to be very active in the community. The dynamic with the community has changed (in many cases but not all). That change makes reader surveys more important now than ever before.

Readership surveys are important for any publication (online or in print). Time is probably the single biggest factor for not doing a reader’s survey but if done right, the information gained from the survey could save the editor time and increase both circulation and readership.

The goal of the survey is to find out why people read the newspaper/publication, why they do not read the newspaper/publication, what they like to read, what they hate about the publication and what information they need the most.

Experts on this topic, including one that spoke recently at the annual conference of the Ozarks Press Association, say focus groups work well for reader surveys. The other option is to put a publication survey in the newspaper itself and offer a significant coupon, prize or gift to persons who complete the survey and turn it in. One person suggested giving one-year subscriptions to readers who answer the survey.

Some important questions to ask in the survey include the following:

If you have done a reader’s survey in the past post a comment here. I’m sure other publications would be interested in both the questions you asked and the results of those surveys.

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