Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Helping Teens Stop Violence, Build Community, and Stand for Justice (review)

by Allan Creighton and Paul Kivel.

What it is:  A 200ish page compilation of consciousness-raising activities for teens, focused on the power hierarchies and some of the "isms" political and economic systems in the U.S. might seem to support: adultism, sexism and heterosexism, racism, and able-ism (this last one focused on systemic discrimination against those with 'disabilities'), to name a few.  Also offered: chapters with activities related to Christian hegemony, anti-immigrant oppression, and environmental justice.

What it isn't, that I assumed - from the title - it would be: A practical system for helping teens move from awareness to action.  In fact, there wasn't more than 20 pages' worth of content related to what teens can do to build community (and that's a generous estimate), unless you count whatever community is built naturally among participants in the no-doubt thought-provoking but also emotionally risky activities that form the bulk of the book.  

I do appreciate the opportunities this book provided for sometimes-uncomfortable personal reflection on my role as a part of an educational system that has - in the past and to some degree in the present - tended to reinforce cultural norms.  Heightened awareness of one's cultural framework/worldview, and the degree to which one's personal ethics or morals depart from or coincide with them is - in my view - an outcome worth applauding, and so I suspect that the activities herein could prove enlightening, sometimes surprising, and perhaps even life-changing for teens. 

But here's something else I know: The activities herein - if they're actually to shift individuals' consciousnesses, and then their actions - require students to offer up their emotions and experiences in ways that almost surely would cross some privacy lines not often even tiptoed toward in public school settings.  Perhaps as part of a voluntary after school program, or embedded within one of our existing service or support clubs, one could use these activities, but that would impact only a small number of students, and ones already predisposed - for the most part - toward the aims of the book.   And one might perhaps embed some of the activities in content areas when appropriate for the objectives and outcomes involved.  But that would certainly dilute the impact of the full curriculum offered herein.

On the other hand, for private citizens working with youth and families who are fully aware of the intimate emotional nature of the conversations that may proceed from examining what are sometimes taboo and often uncomfortable societal biases, this book will provide plenty of time-tested activities and general guidance.  If you're looking for activities to facilitate conversations with your own children or if you're an experienced facilitator working with a community group toward peace and justice, this would be a terrific book to read as you begin your liberation journey. 

Finally, and oddly, I found no proof or research offered that this book's twenty-years-tested methods to encourage resistance and alliance (Creighton & Kivel's top two strategies for teens) impact students' future decisions or actions, only implication and hope.  Perhaps I just missed it, or it's provided in the authors' other book, Making the Peace, but I would want to know that I could expect some concrete shifts in at least some participants' actions if I were to take on the emotional, political, and even - given my role as a teacher - professional & economic risks inherent in using these methods.

MFB, with worthy content that just doesn't suit my situation,

I'm grateful to have received the 20th anniversary edition through Library Thing's early reviewer program.

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