Saturday, July 4, 2009

Declaration of Independence from Violence

On this day in 1776, our country's forefathers declared independence from the tyranny of the British monarchy and launched this shining example of democracy. However, somewhere along the way, the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" has morphed into a society based on violence and a winner-take-all mentality. The history of our democracy is filled with one tragic period of war followed by another, with all-too-brief interludes to reload. When school children are taught about our nation's history, the focus is mainly on learning about our glorious wars. Isn't this telling our children that violence is the best, if not only, means to resolve our differences?

Certainly, if we look at the fact that the U.S. has by far the largest per capita incarceration rate in the world, one might conclude that a large portion of our population missed the part in school about how your pursuit of happiness cannot infringe on mine. But wait! That presumes that there is a teaching in school about how to live peacefully with each other! Some schools may have such a curriculum, but most do not. We teach are kids the three R's, but leave out the most important "R" - rightdoing.

So where should people learn a sense of right-and-wrong and how to be civil if not in school? Some people will learn this in their religious communities, but they are also likely to learn about "us vs. them" and the concepts of "just war" and punishment for sinning. Many will argue that children should learn how to get along from their parents. But what about children whose parents are abusive? Those children will learn how to bully to get their way or how to be submissive, and the cycle of violence continues.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the violence. Several years ago, on the eve of the second invasion of Iraq, I pulled my head out of the sand and became painfully aware of the level to which violence has spread throughout our culture. I cannot go back to ignoring it, so I'm compelled to do something about it. This Independence Day, I renew my personal Declaration of Indepence from Violence, maintaining that all people are created equal and endowed with the unalienable right to live peacefully with neighbors, both domestic and foreign.


Violence B. Gawn


  1. Research has determined that from the Moment of Commitment (the point when a student pulls their weapon) to the Moment of Completion (when the last round is fired) is only 5 seconds. If it is the intent of a school district to react to this violence, they will do so over the wounded and/or slain bodies of students, teachers and administrators.

    Educational institutions clearly want safe and secure schools. Administrators are perennially queried by parents about the safety of their schools. The commonplace answers, intended to reassure anxious parents, focus on the school resource officers and emergency procedures. While useful, these less than adequate efforts do not begin to provide a definitive answer to preventing school violence, nor do they make a school safe and secure.

    Traditionally school districts have relied upon the mental health community or local police to keep schools safe, yet one of the key shortcomings has been the lack of a system that involves teachers, administrators, parents and students in the identification and communication process. Recently, colleges, universities and community colleges are forming Behavioral Intervention Teams with representatives from all these constituencies. Higher Education has changed their safety/security policies, procedures, or surveillance systems, yet K-12 have yet to incorporate Behavioral Intervention Teams. K-12 schools continue spending excessive amounts of money to put in place many of the physical security options. Sadly, they are reactionary only and do little to prevent aggression because they are designed exclusively to react to existing conflict, threat and violence. These schools reflect a national blindspot, which prefers hardening targets through enhanced security versus preventing violence with efforts directed at aggressors. Security gets all the focus and money, but this only makes us feel safe, rather than to actually make us safer.

    Some law enforcement agencies use profiling as a means to identify an aggressor. According to the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education’s report on Targeted Violence in Schools, there is a significant difference between “profiling” and identifying and measuring emerging aggression; “The use of profiles is not effective either for identifying students who may pose a risk for targeted violence at school or – once a student has been identified – for assessing the risk that a particular student may pose for school-based targeted violence.” It continues; “An inquiry should focus instead on a student’s behaviors and communications to determine if the student appears to be planning or preparing for an attack.” We can and must assess objective, culturally neutral, identifiable criteria of emerging aggression.

    For a comprehensive look at the problem and its solution,

  2. John-
    Thanks for adding to the conversation about teaching nonviolence skills to school kids. How about sending me a copy of your book - I'll do a review on this and other blogs to help spread the word about your approach.
    Violence B. Gawn