Why not Non-Violence?

The following was recently written in response to a class blog generated by students in our History of Urban Education course:

Dear Anonymous, I really enjoyed your commentary and inquiry on perceptions of youth. I’d like to jump off from your ideas and delve into conceptions of violence present in the culture and experience of youth, particular to both contexts highlighted in our readings by Pritchett (2002) and Burkholder (2007).

My connection to the Burkholder reading and current chapters in Pritchett bring me back to Mike Tyson’s one man show; Undisputed Truth (2012). Tyson was born in 1966 and his experiences of growing up in Brownsville are impacted by the residual values of the WWII era. As noted in Burkholder’s reading, it struck me when a student shouted “The only solution is to get a tommy-gun and kill them off.” It causes me to ask even broader questions as to why we, as an American society, are so ingrained with a propensity to lean toward violence as a reaction or solution to difficulties or difference? How does the impact of the conflicting logic during the nation’s deadliest era (WWII) still ripple through the way we educate and socialize youth?


During his recollection of youth experiences growing up in Brownsville, Tyson describes fighting on street corners in organized fights in which he, tiny Mike, would win by laying out kids far larger than he was. He said it gave him an overwhelmingly empowered sense of identity, in some regard a reconciliation for previous mistreatments of the past. When he was later institutionalized at the age of 13, he begged to be permitted into the reform school’s Boxing Club. They wouldn’t let him join for a while because they felt he was too much of a risk. I had a hard time reconciling why a “reform” program would formalize physical assault, especially for kids who were penalized for the same offense. But we, as a culture, take for granted how in one way, street fighting is considered violence, and in other ways disciplined sports are considered admirable. The same goes for soldiers in the Army versus those in gangs. We face contradictions of context, yet the presence of a common denominator of violence, in many ways as a means to stabilize or generate fairness or equality.

That being said, I’m drawn back to Burkholder’s discussion of antiracial education during the 1940’s. We are provided with an image of teachers who are working diligently to counter the dominant logic of the time, in some ways using science as a covert guise to undo societal impairments. For me, the question stands, for all the effort to teach and justify equality, why not put as much emphasis on teaching non-violence? There will always be difference and non-conformity. There will always be conflicting theories around difference, but the root of the issue is our reaction to it. Why proceed in violence? How have we become programmed to respond in such dehumanizing ways? (And I don’t mean this for youth, I mean to direct this toward systems on an institutionalized level.) Even though I do not believe it is solely the job of teachers to “right our collective wrongs” by reforming youth, I can’t help but ask- In what ways can critical pedagogy teach us to confront ourselves? And in the same regard, in what ways does an asymmetry of power prevent us from seeing this as an essential issue in the education of our youth?

Burkholder, Z. (2007). ” Out to DeBunk the Bunk”: Antiracist Teaching in the 1940s and Today. The Teachers College Record.

Pritchett, W. E. (2002). Brownsville, Brooklyn: Blacks, Jews, and the Changing Face of the Ghetto. University of Chicago Press.

Tyson, M. (2013). Undisputed Truth. Penguin.

* COPYRIGHT: (c) 2016 Jennifer Dauphinais, All Rights Reserved, image: jcdauphinais, 2007


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