A broad offensive on youth violence

September 29, 2002|By Andrew C. Jones

AS MUCH as we would like to deny it, violence in our community plays a major role in the lives of educators. We are charged with teaching young people who have less than favorable home lives and live in distressed and violent communities.

Statistics from the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence show that violence among minority youths, particularly African-Americans, has struck with unique force in recent years. Homicide has been the leading cause of death among black males and females between the ages of 15 and 24 for more than 10 years, the center says. National news media show more and more cases of youths who are victims of violent crimes.

Domestic violence is rampant in homes, and our youths are carrying lethal weapons into the classrooms. With some of our communities in such a state of violence, we are experiencing domestic terrorism. Violence in our inner city communities has gotten so out of hand that it should at least be considered a major public health crisis.

How do educators handle such a crisis?

One solution is to develop violence prevention education programs. The Baltimore City government continually raises the issue of crime and violence, and organizational and individual efforts address them. But without a systemic solution, we are likely to fail.

Most proponents would agree that the problem has to be attacked on many levels, including:

Violence prevention and peace studies curricula as part of primary, secondary and post-secondary education.

Peer mentoring and conflict resolution strategies within the public school and college curricula.

Public school programs in which parents sign contracts committing themselves to be involved in their child's education.

Institutionalized rites-of-passage programs tied to the community service requirements that are needed by our youths.

Middle school and high school internships and volunteer opportunities that emphasize civic responsibility.

Incentives for students to participate in violence prevention programs.

Salary increases for the people in the trenches -- teachers, counselors and community service workers.

Increased violence-prevention outreach activities from religious organizations.

Role models in industry, government and neighborhoods who would mentor youths.

Studies and solution forums to discuss the causes of violent behavior.

The premise for this effort is that violence is largely a manifestation of hopelessness. Some would argue that it is the result of excesses, but there are many aspects to the causes and expressions of violence. Linking community-based organizations with educational partners may be a solid first step. Educational partnership programs would focus on teaching youths how to change attitudes and behaviors that contribute to violence and develop social skills to reduce impulsive and aggressive behavior.

A problem of such magnitude needs a collaborative effort with agencies such as the state Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, city and county public schools, law enforcement agencies, religious groups, nonprofit associations, businesses and community colleges.

Community colleges are where the rubber meets the road. We are a mainstay in the community and have the ability to develop courses in violence prevention education and train our youths. Our history of success with employment training and welfare-to-work programs underscores our ability to address social equity issues.

Community colleges should serve as the catalyst in violence prevention, bringing local and state organizations together with local businesses in an effort to curb youth and community violence. Our colleges can be a gathering place for group discussions and community forums. Pooling resources from various agencies to fund violence prevention programs and projects is imperative.

The time for violence prevention education programs is now.

The Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville will begin a series of forums with local government agencies, nonprofit groups, the clergy and interested citizens for rapid development of relevant curricula and training protocols. I challenge others in education to join us in spearheading such an effort.

Let's work together to make our communities safer for our youths.

Andrew C. Jones is the president of the Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville.

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