Violence is a difficult topic to talk about as an isolated issue because it is integral to so many social concerns, from raising and schooling children, to dealing with the day-to-day realities of the streets and schoolyards, to institutionalized economic and racial oppression, to the latest war zone. Despite the enormity and complexity of violence, we, as educators, need to address directly the violence in the lives of young people in U.S. society. More than a year ago, the Harvard Educational Review Editorial Board
decided to devote a Special Issue to the subject of violence and youth. From the outset, the Board sought to extend educational debates on violence beyond the reporting of how unsafe schools have become, or the recounting of the often horrific consequences of violence by and against youth. Instead, we invited contributions that would frame questions of violence in ways that make clearer the various dimensions of this issue, and that illustrate what can be and is being done to work with young people around the problem of violence.
Our premise is that the causes and contexts of violence are interwoven with our various cultures and histories in complex ways that require a diversity of perspectives, as well as an interdisciplinary approach, to understand the multifaceted nature of violence in our lives. Too often, however, various elements of the violence dialogue are separated by discipline, focus of concern, and scope of consideration. By gathering these diverse voices into one issue, we hope to inform our readership, and the broader education community, of recent scholarship and program innovation pertinent to the topic of violence and youth — from the social and cultural, to the media, to inter-group and interpersonal dynamics, educational innovation, school discipline, intrapsychic processes, moral development, and gender identity. In addition, we include a selection of writings by youth, previously published only in small school-based papers, and a national resource guide containing the names and addresses of organizations involved with violence and youth.
Contemporary debate about violence in the United States can be better understood when seen in the context of the development of American society and culture. In our first piece, Noam Chomsky provides a sociohistorical account of the dominant ideology of this country and the role that institutionalized violence, including the Native American genocide and African slavery, have played in its development. A variety of other socially embedded practices help maintain an acceptance of violence as inevitable in this country, and our contributors explore and address many of these hidden beliefs and practices.
Nan Stein describes the aspects of school culture that allow and even encourage sexual harassment in schools, and delineates the progression from bullying to more serious types of violence. Janie Ward provides a cultural analysis of the development of moral values and positive group identity in the Black community in spite of historical oppression, and argues that a solution to youth violence may lie in reconnecting African American teens to the communal values she describes. Pedro Noguera explores the function of schools as agents of social control, and how they actually encourage violent behavior by their treatment of students and the overall atmosphere of the school community. Jackson Katz describes a program utilizing male athletes' social prestige to raise young men's consciousness of the range and types of male violence against women. J. Alleyne Johnson discusses her experience as a classroom teacher in dealing with the day-to-day reality of violence and even death in students' lives. Nancy Uhlar Murray and Marco Garrido offer their reflections on a journey that attempts to recreate for today's youth the passion, experiences, and power of nonviolence inherent in the civil rights movement.
The proliferation of violent imagery and values in the mass media also contributes to the problem at hand. Addressing that issue, Peggy Charren reflects on policy issues relating to violence and children's television, while George Gerbner critiques one effort at using media for violence prevention. Henry Giroux explores violence in popular movies that combine violence-as-pleasure, racist stereotypes, and a desensitization to the reality of the violence being shown. Gilbert Herdt addresses the issue of violence against lesbian and gay young people in his book review.
These articles raise and address a number of questions about violence and youth. Other questions, however, remain unaddressed in this Special Issue. For example, what special concerns and particular challenges do younger, preschool children who grow up in violent environments face? How does witnessing or suffering abuse impact children's development? How have recent criticisms of research conducted in the area of violence been dealt with, so that we can better understand which programs and processes are effective?
While there is much left to explore in the field of violence and youth, our intent for this Special Issue is to strengthen the bridges between classroom practice, research, scholarly dialogue, and social change.
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