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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
May 1, 1997
Vol. 54
No. 8

What Is Violence Prevention, Anyway?

Sixth-grade students in an urban school system learn how to resolve, avoid, or ignore conflicts—or diffuse the energy of potentially violent conflicts in a positive way.

Through role-play, 6th graders consider this conflict:Leroy and Joe are good friends who sit next to each other in math class. Both are worried about the grade they got on a recent exam. When the exams are returned, even though both students studied hard for the exam, Joe receives a D and Leroy receives a B. Leroy starts making fun of Joe's grade in front of the entire class. What is Joe thinking about? What type of self-talk will help him ignore Leroy while saving face and keeping his friendship?In the role-play, Leroy calls Joe "stupid." Then, before Joe responds, two students representing his positive and negative thoughts take turns whispering into his ear:
Negative self-talk: "Getting a B ain't all that great. Man, he's making a fool of me."
Positive self-talk: "I know it doesn't matter what he says about me. I'm still a good person. What really matters is this grade—I'm gonna ask Ms. Smith what I can do. I'll deal with Leroy later, when we're not in front of everyone."
After Joe listens to these two voices, he decides to ignore Leroy's comments, shrugs off the put-downs, and walks over to the teacher's desk to ask for help.
When the facilitator processes this role-play with the class, students discuss whether the "ignoring" response was realistic and what the possible consequences might be. Most feel that ignoring Leroy's comments might make Leroy feel a little embarrassed, as well as help Joe focus on what's really important—getting a better grade next time.
Role-playing is part of a violence-prevention program for 6th graders in the large urban district of Richmond, Virginia. The district includes nine middle schools with about 2,000 students, 95 percent of whom are African Americans. Our program, Responding in Peaceful and Positive Ways, reflects our vision of what we want for our youth—personal responsibility, respect for others, and a peaceful future (Farrell et al. 1996, Perry and Jessor 1985, Meyer and Farrell in press).
The 6th graders know the program by its assorted acronyms—like RIPP, SCIDDLE, and RAID—and the games and real-life activities that keep them moving, having fun, and learning critical decision-making skills.


  • RIPP stands for "Responding in Peaceful and Positive Ways."
  • SCIDDLE is a problem-solving model: "Stop, Calm down, Identify the problem and your feelings about it, Decide among your options, Do it, Look back, and Evaluate."
  • RAID represents four nonviolent options: "Resolve, Avoid, Ignore, and Diffuse."
The 25-session RIPP curriculum (Meyer and Northup 1995) is based in social cognitive learning theory (Bandura 1986). Throughout the program, students are continually involved in self-evaluation, which reinforces the concept that there is no "right" solution and helps students protect themselves from the negative influences in their lives.
The "Leroy/Joe" role-play is part of a RAID lesson on how to avoid conflicts. We help students understand what avoid really means by demonstrating what it does not mean: It does not mean rolling your eyes, sucking your teeth, or making sarcastic comments.
In our activities, we try to stay in touch with the reality of urban youth while helping them set a model for behavior that is something of a stretch. We want young people to be comfortable with trying something different and to feel successful about using nonviolent solutions.

Violence Prevention in a Violent Society

People have often asked us what difference we are making, after all, in a society filled with violence. Given the notorious status of Richmond as one of the top five U.S. cities for homicide, a local onlooker watching kids sitting in a circle playing a game like "Big Wind Blows" might doubt the validity of our program. In fact, the sight of a six-foot-tall male instructor yelling "A big wind blows for all people wearing basketball jerseys!" and then competing with five scurrying 6th graders for an open seat has led many observers to ask some serious questions. How could a program composed of such fluff stop a cycle of violence fueled by poverty, institutional racism, and drug trafficking?
Our response is that we try to model a positive approach to conflict through the very structure of the lessons and the tone of the classroom. First, asking children to sit in a circle helps model equality and a willing suspension of power. And by facilitating discussions, we model a sharing of power, because we have found that our young people often feel powerless, and many of the adults they encounter use power in inappropriate ways.
Second, we train facilitators in active listening and problem-solving skills. We have discovered that many young people do not believe they have any choices where violence is concerned. When asked "Why did you hit him?" a student will likely respond, "Because he got in my face . . . dissed me . . ." or some other offense. Apparently, the offense requires a physical response.
Third, we believe young people must develop trust in others before they will share their experiences and truly rehearse nonviolent responses to conflict. Lighthearted games that give kids a chance to be silly help break down the "street smart" reserve that these young people have developed.
Finally, we design activities with real-life experiences in mind. Young people learn more from their own engagement with the activities than they do from information shared with them verbally. For example, in one activity, the kids physically arrange themselves around the room, depending on their opinions about statements such as "People on welfare are lazy" or "A person who has a gun deserves respect." Moving around keeps kids engaged in the activity, establishes a physical sense of differing opinions, and lets them discover what is important to them.

Making a Difference

Another question people ask is whether our program is effective. Continuous critical assessment helps us answer this question. In fact, one reason we developed this program was that an evaluation of our previous violence-prevention curriculum showed positive effects for the boys but not for the girls (Farrell and Meyer in press). In response, we designed a more experiential curriculum that incorporated issues of interpersonal conflict and developmental concerns of both boys and girls. We found that our previous program had tended to focus on boys' issues, and we wanted to include the female voice.
Preliminary outcomes from a 1995-96 evaluation of RIPP show several promising, statistically significant differences between students who participated in RIPP and those who did not. The positive outcomes included both boys and girls.
For example, RIPP participants reported significantly fewer violence-related injuries that required medical treatment; they reported more positive changes in self-esteem; and they reported using resources such as peer mediation at a higher rate than did nonparticipants.
Students who did not participate in RIPP showed significantly greater increases in their incidence of bringing weapons to school, disruptive behavior, defiance of school personnel's authority, and other disciplinary code violations. The suspension rate for the last quarter showed dramatic differences: 16 percent for nonparticipants versus 7 percent for RIPP participants.
Our continuing evaluations are funded through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Farrell and Meyer in press).

Criteria for Success

We also ask ourselves when we might consider our program's outcomes satisfactory. What "percent reduction" is good enough? In Healthy People 2000 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1990), one goal for the year 2000 is to reduce the U.S. homicide rate to no more than 7.2 per 100,000 inhabitants. This goal is ambitious, given that the homicide rate has been greater than 7.8 per 100,000 for the past 20 years (Federal Bureau of Investigation 1995).
We do not consider this goal satisfactory. The U.S. homicide rate continues to greatly exceed that of similar countries across the globe (Dahlberg 1996, citing figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 1996, and from the World Health Organization for 1987). The 1984 U.S. homicide rate (7.9 per 100,000—the lowest rate in the past 20 years) was seven times that of Japan, four times that of Australia and Canada, and practically twice that of any European nation (Ireland's was less than 1.0 per 100,000; Spain's, 4.3 per 100,000). Therefore, although U.S. violence rates seem to be decreasing, we find no room for complacency when it comes to violence prevention in our schools.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Dahlberg, L. (1996). "Youth Violence in America." Symposium paper presented at the Society for Research in Adolescence, Boston, Mass.

Farrell, A., and A. Meyer. (in press). "Effectiveness of a School-based Curriculum for Reducing Violence Among Urban Sixth Grade Students: Differential Impact on Girls and Boys." American Journal of Public Health.

Farrell, A.D., A.L. Meyer, and L. Dahlberg. (1996). "Richmond Youth Against Violence: A School-based Program for Urban Adolescents." American Journal of Preventive Medicine 12, 5: 13-21.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (1995). Uniform Crime Reports for the United States 1994. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Meyer, A., and A. Farrell. (in press). "Social Skills Training to Promote Resilience in Urban Sixth-grade Students: One Product of an Action Research Strategy to Prevent Youth Violence in High-risk Environments." Education and Treatment of Children.

Meyer, A., and W. Northup. (1995). "Responding in Peaceful and Positive Ways: A Violence Prevention Curriculum for the Sixth Grade." Unpublished manuscript.

Perry, C., and R. Jessor. (1985). "The Concept of Health Promotion and the Prevention of Adolescent Drug Abuse." Health Education Quarterly 12: 169-184.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1990). Healthy People 2000. DHHS Publication No. (PHS) 91-50212. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Aleta L. Meyer has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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