In 1991 activist and writer Paul Kivel and UC Berkeley health educator Allan Creighton co-authored a book called Helping Teens Stop Violence: A Practical Guide for Counselors, Educators and Parents. The book was written as a guide for adults who work with teens, to help them tackle violence between young people and within families.
“The world has changed immensely in the past two decades. We decided the book needed a wider focus,” Kivel said Tuesday night at a downtown Oakland launch party for the 2011 updated version of their book, Helping Teens Stop Violence, Create Community and Stand for Justice. “There has been a tremendous consolidation of wealth in this country,” Kivel said. “Public education has suffered, and prospects for young people look more bleak.”
The co-authors discussed their new book at the Prevention Institute, an Oakland-based national non-profit that works with government groups, foundations and community-based organizations doing research and training in injury and violence prevention. Institute program coordinator Benita Tsao introduced Kivel and Creighton by saying, “We know how to prevent violence. The research is there, the community wisdom is there. We know how to do it, it’s just not happening.”
Between 1991 and 2011, Kivel and Creighton said, as their first book’s workshops were being presented by teachers, counselors and other adults who work with young people, they began to experience what Kivel called a “push-back” from young people regarding its content. The two authors had met in the Bay Area in the 1970s and were especially interested in studying violence and tensions between the sexes, particularly within teen dating. So their 1991 volume asked young people to agree or disagree with statements like, “Violence happens in very few teenage dating relationships,” “Some girls like to be hit,” or “It’s natural for boys to be aggressive and hit others when they are angry.”
But the young people who participated in these workshops prodded Kivel and Creighton to look at the bigger picture, Creighton said. “There’s gay bashing and hate crimes, family violence and gangs, police brutality and racial profiling,” Kivel said teens told him, “and look at the state of our schools.” Interested in examining these issues of “institutional violence,” as Kivel put it, the pair decided to revise their book. As the years went by, they said, they came to believe that they needed to include problems like homophobia, trans-phobia and “Islamophobia” because they have become more common in 2011.
The first volume, dealing mostly with sexual violence in dating and abuse in families, provided worksheets that asked young people straightforward questions like “Do you know anyone who has been molested, beaten or raped?” and “Describe briefly a situation in which you felt unsafe. Were you abused or afraid of being abused?”
“I had to unlearn everything I knew,” Creighton told the crowd, “I knew we had to figure out how to have students tell their own stories instead of telling them for them.”
The updated book includes images of different groups of people in various states of protest, holding banners that read things like “Teach Resistance!” because of the new emphasis on social justice. It includes a workshop about racism called the “People-of-Color Exercise,” in which adults instruct young people to silently stand up if certain criteria apply to them, such as, “Please stand up if your ancestors were forced to come to this country, were forced to relocate from where they were living in this country—either temporarily or permanently—or were restricted from living in certain areas because of their race or ethnicity.” Instead of looking at young people as the perpetrators of violence, in the new book Kivel and Creighton examine how kids experience violence both from adults and in a larger, systematic way, such as attending schools with poor resources.
The evening’s fifty or so attendees milled about the Prevention Institute’s large, stylish open loft space on 3rd and Oak Streets, sipping wine and snacking on hors d’oeuvres while they waited for the guests of honor to speak. Noticeably absent were any of the young people that Kivel and Creighton speak about so passionately—the crowd was mostly full of adults. Two exceptions were Kivel’s two young grandsons who were there to see their father, Ariel Lucky, perform a spoken-word in honor of the two authors. His poem, called “ID Check,” listed famous perpetrators of violence and racism throughout history. Lucky, Paul Kivel’s son, has been influenced by his father’s work and often performs his historical and political poetry in high schools throughout the Bay Area. “Young people are bombarded with messages about who they are or are supposed to be,” said Lucky, “I try to give them some historical context to think about.”