Young people can resolve conflict without violence

Education Week reports that violence reigns in Chicago neighborhoods, and taking steps to reduce the impact it has on our communities, especially where low-income students of color live, could not only keep them in school; it could keep them alive.

Kids in Chicago say they’re scared to walk out of the house, scared for their little brothers and sisters who walk around in dangerous neighborhoods, and fear for their lives just to walk to school sometimes. And these feeling are somewhat justified by hard data.

Homicide rates in our nation’s 10 largest cities this year were up 36 percent, compared with the first quarter of 2015, write Roseanna Ander, executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, and Julia Quinn, the lab’s associate director. They’re on a mission for a program that runs in Chicago Public Schools but is essentially a partnership with nonprofits in the community. One is called Becoming a Man, or BAM, and it supports young men of color navigating difficult life circumstances.

The Chicago-based nonprofit Youth Guidance, launched BAM in 2001, and to date, the organization reports that as of the class of 2010 school year, the program decreased violent-crime arrests by 45 percent in just one school year. Youths who participated in BAM were also 19 percent more likely than their nonparticipating peers to graduate from high school on time, according to a controlled study conducted by the organization.

A program that shares some common elements with BAM but is delivered by members of the detention staff within the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center showed similar success: participation in the program was correlated with a 21 percent lower rate of readmission to the detention facility over 18 months.

One of the advantages of BAM is that it meets kids where they are. By going into schools, they put themselves into kids’ lives—right in their traditional health education classes. Not all kids in impoverished neighborhoods spend a lot of time in school, but enough do so for enough hours in the day that a positive adult role model can have a good effect.

Traditional health education curricula in schools focus on topics like substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, internet safety, CPR training, and nutrition. Very few health classes deal with violence, yet violence kills more young people that the next nine causes of death combined. Most of the violence comes, they speculate, as a result of a provocation that begins small but quickly escalates to a catastrophic overreaction. While such a retaliatory response has proven to be advantageous to the survival of our species, if a weapon is handy, it can result in a homicide and cut a life short.

“Given the enormous social and financial costs of youth violence and the promise of repurposing existing health education resources to make real progress on preventing violence, perhaps the better question is, How can we afford not to invest in proven strategies to tackle this public-health crisis?” Ms Ander and Ms Quinn write.

“By meeting youths where they spend a great deal of their time—in school—with a program that works to reduce violence, we may be able to take a transformative step in national health education and finally give youths—many of them among society’s most vulnerable—the opportunity for a future that every young person in America deserves.”

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.