A Principle-Based Psychology of School Violence Prevention
A PRINCIPLE-BASED PSYCHOLOGY OF SCHOOL VIOLENCE PREVENTION
School violence continues to be a vexing problem. Devoe et. al. (2002), for example, reported that in 2000, students aged 12 through 18 were victims of about 1.9 million crimes of violence or theft at school including about 128,000 serious violent crimes (i.e., rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault). Many youth are demonstrating an increased capacity for violence which has crept into schools, and more students are fearful of victimization by their classmates. The most recent School Crime Victimization Study (2000) revealed that 17 percent of 12th graders reported that they had been injured at school and the number of students who felt unsafe at school rose from 6 percent in 1989 to 9 percent in 1998. The prevalence of other violent behavior at school has also increased. For example, in 2001, 8 percent of students reported being bullied at school during the past six months, up from 4 percent in 1999 (Devoe, et. al., 2002). According to Ericson (2002), an estimated 1.6 million children in grades 6 through 10 are bullied at school at least once a week.
School violence, aggression, and impulsivity are also predictive of subsequent student chemical abuse (e.g., Caspi, et. al., 1996; SAMHSA, 2001), possession of firearms (e.g., SAMHSA, 2002), gang membership (e.g., Curry, et. al., 1996), suicidal behavior (e.g., Greenblatt, 2000), risk taking and victimization (e.g., Windle, 1994). Several experts (e.g., Fox, 1996) have predicted a significant increase in school violence over the next decade if current population trends persist.
This paper proposes that school violence in every destructive form, is not typically the
result of emotional disturbance or psychopathology, but rather is caused primarily by the absence of well-being, Self Esteem, common sense, and other healthy attributes of positive youth development. It suggests, therefore, that the best way to prevent school violence is to teach young people how to access and experience the healthy psychological functioning that is their birthright. Put another way, just as maintaining innate physical health is the best defense against disease, teaching young people how to maintain their natural psychological health is the best defense against insecurity and the myriad of violent school behavior it can spawn.
Until recently, there has been a glaring absence of prevention research on the etiology of healthy psychological functioning in young people. With the emergence of positive psychology, however, the field’s emphasis has begun to shift from studying youthful pathology and dysfunction to developing a psychology of optimal youth development. In the words of Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000: 7):
Prevention researchers have discovered that there are human strengths that act as buffers against mental illness; courage, future-mindedness, optimism, inter-personal skills, faith, work ethic, hope, honesty, perseverance, and the capacity for flow and insight, to name several. Much of the task of prevention in this new century will be to create a science of human strength whose mission will be to understand and learn how to foster these virtues in young people.
While shifting the field’s focus from youthful dysfunction to understanding and promoting health in young people is long overdue, psychology as a science is not yet grounded in fundamental causal principles that explain all youthful behavior from dysfunctional to optimal. Without universal principles that account for all youthful behavior, any explanation of optimal youth functioning is as possible and as feasible as any other. Only a principle-based understanding of positive youth development can lead to marked improvement in the mental health of American youth followed by a significant reduction in school violence. The purpose of this paper is to offer school personnel a practical and effective principle-based psychology which can significantly improve student mental health, and substantially reduce school violence.
The initial research on this principle-based psychology was done at the University of Oregon by psychologists, Roger Mills (1990, 1992, 1995, 1997, 2001), and George Pransky (1990, 1997). This project was funded by a five-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health’s Special and Innovative Projects Branch on Primary Prevention (1974-1979). The discovery of the principles of this psychology was facilitated by the work of Sidney Banks (1983, 1989, 1998, 2001), along with many other social scientists (e.g., Fox & Prilletensky, 1997; Maslow, 1971; Miller & Thoresen, 2003; Sorokin, 1959; Targ, 1997), suggested that the field’s insistence on conventional research methods that objectify human behavior prevented the pursuit of issues of profound human importance such as those associated with religion, spirituality, and human meaning. Thus, in the early 1970’s, Banks proposed that a deeper understanding of human experience could be achieved by looking beyond the realm of form in which psychology had typically restricted its domain of inquiry. Banks asserted that there were psycho-spiritual processes that operated to create form and offered the time-honored principles of Mind, Consciousness and Thought to represent these processes. Banks asserted that these inter-related principles provided a connection between the formless impersonal life force and the personal world of form.
Banks’ psycho-spiritual view of the human life experience as a dynamic, continuous merging of the formless life force and form (with thought as the link between these two worlds), is consistent with current perspectives in several hard sciences like quantum physics and neuro-physiology (Mustakova-Possardt, 2001; Talbot, 1991). For example, string theory in physics links general relativity theory and field quantum theory and has eleven dimensions, none of which have yet been observed (Taubes, 1999). According to Miller and Thoresen (2003: 25-26):. . .(like string theory) subjective states and latent constructs are increasingly common subjects of investigation in the social, behavioral, and biological sciences, as well as in the physical sciences (e.g., Dennett, 1991; Forman, 1998; Westen, 1998). We suspect that some features of spiritual experiences, broadly construed, may never be adequately captured by scientific methods. Yet much of spiritual experience can be studied in an empirically rigorous and sensitive fashion, especially by scientists working collaboratively with religious scholars and practitioners to develop meaningful research (Barbour, 2000; Miller & Delaney, in press).
Viewing the entire spectrum of youthful behavior through the three principles of this psychology represents a significant shift to a deeper, generic level of psychological understanding that can integrate (1) disparate schools of thought on both optimal youth functioning and school violence, (2) multiple levels of research on these important issues and, (3) diverse approaches to facilitating positive youth development and school violence prevention. Mustakova-Possardt describes the value of these principles in terms of a deeper convergent explanatory power (2002: 4): …it may be possible by redefining and realigning these concepts, to frame a
conceptual model that could enable psychology to illuminate new relationships across Mind, Consciousness, and Thought while simultaneously exploring important aspects of human experience and well-being that have been ignored because of their complexity and nature. This, of course, has been the continual argument of many of psychology’s most important historical figure in psycho-dynamic (e.g., Carl Jung), humanistic (e.g., Rollo May) and transpersonal (e.g., Abraham Maslow), psychology. And, in addition, it has been the argument of major thinkers in theology (e.g., Paul Tillich), physics (e.g., Fritcjof Capra), and philosophy (e.g., Soren Kierkegaard). While none has offered a model that integrates these principles, all have recognized their importance
for human behavior, and especially for understanding more complex concerns of existence, meaning, and purpose.
The Principles Behind Health Realization
The Principle of Mind
This psychology defines the principle of Mind as the purest life force, the source or energy of life itself, the universal, creative intelligence within and behind life, humans, and the natural world. Historically, Mind has been given many labels, including divine ground, spirit, absolute, universal intelligence, and God. On the level of form, this life energy is continually manifested in, and flows through “personal mind,” the individual mind of living things. Banks (1998: 31-34), described these ideas as follows:
The Universal Mind, or the impersonal mind, is constant and unchangeable. The personal mind is in a perpetual state of change. All humans have the inner ability
to synchronize their personal mind with impersonal Mind to bring harmony into their lives…Universal Mind and personal mind are not two minds thinking
differently, but two ways of using the same mind.
The Principle of Consciousness
This psychology defines consciousness as the capacity that allows people to be aware, to be cognizant of the moment in a sensate and knowing way. Powered by Mind, consciousness transforms thought, or mental activity, into subjective experience through the physical senses. As people’s thinking agency generates mental images, these images appear real to them as they merge with the faculty of consciousness and register as sensory experience. Put another way, this psychology proposes that consciousness is the element that translates the ongoing sensory experience of thought into reality. Another dimension of consciousness allows people to recognize the fact that they are continually creating their moment to moment experience of life from the inside-out. Finally, as this understanding deepens, consciousness embodies the human ability to survey life from a compassionate, impersonal or objective stance; a perspective that this psychology calls wisdom or common sense.
The Principle of Thought
This psychology defines Thought as the creative agent, the capacity to give form to formless life energy; the link between the source and the form one’s experience is taking in the moment. On a personal level, thought is viewed as the mental imaging ability of human beings; continuous moment to moment thinking; the ongoing creation of personal experience via mental activity. Thus, this paradigm views thought and consciousness as two sides of the same process of experiencing life; consciousness allowing the recognition of form, form being the product of thought.
In sum, according to this psychology, all human experience is produced by the Mind-powered combustion of Thought and Consciousness, and is the only experience of which human beings are capable. Thus, each person’s mental life is the moment-to-moment product of their thinking transformed into experience by their consciousness. Furthermore, according to this perspective, all behavior unfolds in perfect synchronization with the moment-to-moment thought plus consciousness reality that occurs for each individual.
Some physical analogies help to clarify the operation of the three principles of this psychology. Physiologists assert, for example, that our bodily organs are powered by a force beyond themselves; a life force (i.e., Mind) which science has yet to quantify. They propose that by itself, a kidney does not function, a heart does not beat, and a nerve does not fire. Our organs make use of this life force, and by so doing, our body accesses a profound natural intelligence not yet fully grasped by science. According to this psychology, thought powers the brain in a parallel way. The source of thought, which this paradigm calls Mind, is not located in the brain in the same way that the source of physical life is not in human organs. This psychology views thought as a function originating beyond one’s psychological personage, just as the life force originates beyond one’s physical personage. This psychological paradigm proposes that people experience their thinking through their senses, just as they experience the life force through the operation of their organs.
Innate Mental Health
This principle-based psychology further proposes that all youth are born with innate mental health defined as the synchronization or alignment of personal mind with Mind. Put another way, at birth a youth’s personal mind is basically uncontaminated by conditioned ideas and memories and thus, is essentially one with Mind. Following birth and the ongoing conditioning of socialization, a youth’s potential for experiencing innate health continues to be available and accessible in every moment. According to this paradigm, whenever a youth’s personal mind quiets or clears, it automatically aligns with Mind and receives an intelligent stream of effortless, natural thought that is unfailingly responsive to the moment. This psychology proposes that this generic thinking process is the source of optimal youth functioning, effortlessly producing the experience of non-contingent well-being, contentment, compassion, Self Esteem, exhilaration, and common sense. Regardless of a youth’s current mental status or prior socialization, this psychology proposes that all young people have the
same built-in potential for optimal mental health, and will exhibit its attributes to the degree that their personal minds are in sync with Mind allowing this natural thinking to emerge. In the words of Mustakova-Possardt, (2001: 11):
…Mental health is the innate capacity of youth to return into alignment with Mind from a clear mind, and manifest fresh understanding and creative respon-siveness in the moment. The Three-Principle Psychology proposes that mental health is an innate ‘intrinsic, natural state of well-being or wisdom arising from
pure consciousness and accessed via a clear mind, or from realizing the infinite capacity for formless creation of new experience by a thought’ (J. Pransky, 2000).
In every moment, when individual mind is spontaneously or intentionally aligned with Mind, and focused away from its intensely personal memory-based world, innate mental health bubbles up, and is characterized by a natural and effortless flow of thought…as the experience of peace, contentment, larger perspective on immediate reality, detachment, and a general generous, loving, and deeply moral view of life…
This three-principle psychology proposes that the innate design for all young people is to live predominantly in the experience of psychological health produced by natural thinking. Unfortunately, for most youngsters this doesn’t occur because most youth not only under-utilize this generic thinking process—most don’t even realize that it exists. What most of young people have learned to view as the preeminent, if not exclusive, thinking process, is learned, personal thinking (i.e., analytical or processing thinking). Unlike natural thought, personal thinking is conditioned, deliberate, restricted to memory, and always, and only, useful when applying known variables to a known formula (e.g., solving a math problem). Being memory bound, personal thinking limits youth to what they already know, giving them no opportunity for original thought. Also, personal thinking produces conditioned emotions, which are always superficial, externally contingent, less often satisfying and frequently stressful (e.g., anger, anxiety, boredom).
In contrast, natural thinking is effortless, providing youth with fresh perspectives, and producing deeper feelings (e.g., exhilaration, contentment, compassion) which are inherently satisfying, unconditional, shared by humanity, and span age, gender, and culture. Pransky contrasts the natural feeling of exhilaration with the learned emotion of excitement which many youth crave and often achieve through violent behavior at school (1997: 74):
Although some (learned) emotions, such as excitement, might appear to be positive, no emotions are as desirable and pleasurable as natural human feelings. The emotion of excitement as a ‘positive’ experience in comparison with other learned emotions pales in comparison to the natural feeling of exhilaration, for example. Excitement has a component of frenetic energy that needs to be maintained, exhilaration points to the inspiration of contentment and actually has a calming effect in the moment.
Personal thinking, when used appropriately, is essential for cultural adaptation. Unfortunately, very early on, most young people innocently learn dysfunctional uses of personal thought, either over-using it, or misusing it. Because it takes effort, chronic personal thinking, even when used appropriately (e.g., to study for exams) produces fatigue, exaggerated mood swings, and excessive emotionality. Common habits of misusing personal thinking include worrying, self-conscious thinking, perfectionistic thinking, judging or fault-finding, obsessive thinking, cynical thinking, and angry thinking. Personal thinking is also misused by youth to create the illusion of a self-image or ego by thinking (and believing) that their personal worth is tied to external factors like their possessions, physical attributes, or particular behaviors (e.g., toughness). For example, if children grow up in homes where there is a lot of anger and criticism, they might learn to think that they are “bad” or flawed, that they can’t do anything right, or that they can hurt others just by their presence. They might then develop insecure personal thinking habits leading to painful feelings and obscured Self Esteem. Then, if a teacher is in a bad mood and begins acting impatiently with such students, they might misinterpret the teacher’s behavior as proof that they are at fault and troublemakers; that merely by their presence, they are causing the teacher’s upset. They may even generalize this thinking further to feel that they will never be successful in school or in the workplace.
Since the particular thoughts a youngster thinks determines his or her feelings, habitually thinking painful thoughts or memories (e.g., of child abuse or neglect) results in chronic psychological pain. The more painful the thoughts processed, the more painful the youth’s experience. Thus, according to this psychology, the abuse of personal thinking not only produces stress and distress, it obstructs natural thinking (i.e., the alignment of personal mind with Mind), the source of innate mental health.
According to this three-principle psychology, in moments of healthy mental functioning, a youth’s thinking takes on a balanced movement back and forth between a spontaneous reliance on the intuition and wisdom of natural thought, and the implementation of personal thinking when appropriate, without getting stuck in the personal mode. This psychology asserts that this healthy use of thought surfaces naturally as young people recognize the three operating principles that function in every moment to bring their thoughts to life and to create their personal reality from the inside-out. Pransky puts it this way (1997: 407):
…in this model, the overuse or misuse of personal thinking is seen as the sole source of all mental dysfunction. Mental illness is defined in this model as losing one’s psychological bearings by drifting away from one’s innate, natural thinking process. Mental health is seen as returning to natural thinking and regaining one’s
emotional bearing. The degree of mental dysfunction is seen as how far a youth
has moved away from his innate, natural thought process.
Using The Three-Principle Psychology to Prevent School Violence
This three-principle psychology proposes that the key to preventing school violence is to teach young people how to unleash their natural mental health – to rekindle what is already within and draw out the inherent well-being available to all youth in every moment. This psychology proposes that this can be done by empowering school personnel to help students recognize the inside-out creation of personal experience through the principles of Mind, Thought, and Consciousness. Mills (1997: 206) cites two elements of this understanding that have helped many violence-prone youth to relax in school and psychologically take charge of their lives:
The first is knowing how their reality is determined in the moment. When youth
understand how their view of life, their perceptions, are a product of an ongoing continuous thought process, they gradually and gracefully move into the driver’s seat of their thinking. As a result, they start to experience more self-efficacy, along with the ability to better manage their moods and behavior. The second is knowing
that a responsive, functional mode of thought, what we have called natural thinking, is always available.
Both recognizing its existence and seeing that the mind is always trying to elicit and utilize this generic thinking mode, helps youth relax and feel less of a need to rely on their learned, memory-based personal thinking habits to project artificial images and to look for answers.
Furthermore, through learning these principles, young people begin to realize that their feelings serve as a reliable, moment-to-moment barometer of the quality of their thinking. The purpose of stress-producing emotions (e.g., anger, boredom) is to inform youth that the quality of their thinking is poor and they need to lighten up and clear their mind. Natural feelings (e.g., contentment, well-being), on the other hand, signal youth that their thinking is working for them, that their innate wisdom is engaged, and they’re heading in the right direction. Instead of viewing emotions as entities with which to contend, work through, or act on, youth learn to see their feelings as reliable guideposts to the momentary quality of their own thinking. According to Sedgeman (1998:3):
When young people realize the one-to-one connection between thought and ex-perience, they gain perspective on life. Changes in their experience of reality no longer look as though they were randomly caused by outside events or forces.
Fear, hopelessness, and alienation begin looking like thought-events, rather than horrible life circumstances. Seeing the emergence of experience from the process
of thinking appears to bring young people peace of mind, no matter what they are thinking. Understanding the three principles gives the power of experience to the youth, not to life events.
According to this psychology, as youths’ understanding of the three principles deepens, the more closely they approach the standard of mental health proposed by this model; a naturally responsive thought process, a set of deeper, innately satisfying feelings, and the ability to remain graceful and resilient during insecure moods and difficult circumstances. Also, as their level of understanding these principles deepens, young people naturally exhibit more responsive school behavior and act in more virtuous ways, regardless of their current circumstances or past history. This three-principle psychology proposes that the natural inclination of young people to be happy, productive, and non-violent in school can be rekindled, drawn out and maintained by helping youth understand these three principles, and the inside-out nature of human perception.
Classroom Conditions Conducive to Teaching This Psychology
Once teachers understand the principles of this psychology, they can begin creating a climate in their classrooms conducive to teaching these principles and drawing out the innate health of their students. It is essential that teachers model and nurture certain conditions in their classrooms necessary for the change process to unfold. In such classrooms, teacher-student interactions are characterized by respect, viewing students as equals, humor, empathy, compassion, engaging interactions, and by the realization that alienated students are inadvertently caught up in artificial roles, having innocently forgotten that these roles were learned, and not who they truly are. Principle savvy teachers view their students’ behavior, no matter how misguided, as learned ways of coping with life the best they can, given how they learned to think about life. As violence-prone students gain experience being at ease, relaxed, and playful…as the pressure of their insecure personal thinking wears off, they begin to relax and be themselves without self-consciousness. By so doing, they begin to see themselves as the equals of anyone, and to experience a caliber of relationships and quality of interactions only available outside an alienated state of mind. These relational qualities further help these youth to recognize their inherent integrity and to re-engage their innate health.
When this relaxed openness and acceptance is achieved, teachers can begin showing their students how to use the power behind Thought in the way it was designed to be used. They can then help youth recognize how the outcomes in every area of their lives are determined by the quality of the thinking they bring to those situations. They can show youth the link between their thinking and their resulting perceptions and feelings. For example, they can teach their students to distinguish between the kinds of feelings and quality of perception that characterize personal thinking versus the quality of feelings, perspective and common sense that come from natural thinking. They can help their students see the logical connection between their moods and their shifting states of mind. They can point out, in a way that students can connect to their everyday experiences, the tendency of natural thinking to re-emerge spontaneously when they clear away the debris of their personal thinking. Mills and Shuford describe the typical reaction of students who catch on to these principles (2002: 11):
The students in our school programs were enthusiastic about learning these principles. They liked the idea that they had the capacity to think for themselves and could make mature and wiser choices while being less influenced by their past or peer pressure.
They also became less affected by what others thought because they could see that those people too were living at the effect of their own conditioned ‘thought-created’ realities. We were able to help them see that wisdom or common sense were also
natural attributes of the Mind. These inborn attributes were also transmitted and accessed via the function of Thought, but as a distinctly different quality of thought from conditioned or learned habits of thinking.
Students’ pasts, their culture, their family, peer relationships, past traumas, and so on are not the direct focus of school interventions based on this psychology. This perspective does not deny that many violence-prone students grow up in tough circumstances, in dysfunctional neighborhoods and family environments. It asserts, however, that the degree to which such students are impacted by these conditions is less a function of their severity and more the result of how students hold these conditions in their personal thinking combined with their level of understanding of how their reality is mediated by thought. As teachers help students realize and remove the smoke screen of conditioned thinking around these factors, their innate capacity for wisdom and resiliency begins to move into the foreground. The more deeply students tap into their own inner wisdom, the more easily they begin to solve their own problems and improve their own functioning in all of these areas. For example, when students grasp how thought carries the past through time to the present they begin to transcend their past, no matter how negative. Mills and Shuford describe their experience of teaching the three principles in the classroom (2002: 9):
We were delighted to discover that students could gain a concrete grasp of these principles, in the same way that they could learn principles of addition, or chem-istry, or any other science. As we developed a curriculum to teach the principles,we found that the best way to present them was in the form of neutral, universalfacts about the psychological process by which perception is formed in our day-to-day lives. We found that youth did not have to tell their story or express theiranger, frustration or other negative feelings, nor did they have to learn any newskills or rely on external coping mechanisms or rituals. All they had to recognize were the underlying dynamics of how perception is created at each moment, via the fabric of Thought. This recognition was taught in a way that allowed the understanding to come via insight rather than intellectually. These insights helped youth ‘see’ their own thinking with adaptive distancing (Marshall, 2000; Pransky, J., 1997).
It should be emphasized that there is no fixed formula for teaching the three principles of this psychology to young people. Teachers must first be grounded in these principles, (i.e., walk the talk), and then trust their own wisdom to reveal the best way to teach in each setting. To assist teachers in this endeavor, several teachers and clinical practitioners have offered various principle-based teaching approaches in practical manuscripts (e.g., Bailey, 1990; Carlson & Bailey, 1999; Kelley, 1997; Mills, 1995; Mills & Spittle, 2001; G. Pransky, 1990, 1997; J. Pransky, 1997, 2003). Several videotape presentations are also available which depict the teaching of these principles in various settings (Health Realization Institute, 2002). Also, several scholarly articles are available which apply these principles to delinquency, youth violence, and positive youth development (e.g., Kelley, 1993, 1996, 2003a, 2003b; Kelley & Stack, 2000; Mills et. al., 1988). Finally, Pransky and Carpenos (2000) developed a three-principle based middle school curriculum and guide for the prevention of violence, abuse, and other school related problem behaviors. This curriculum specifies in extremely practical terms one approach for teaching at-risk young people these principles and the inside-out construction of reality.
According to the authors (2000:5):
The intent of the curriculum is to draw forth the opposite of insecurity – that is, security which is only possible with secure, ‘healthy’ thinking. When young people come to understand, recognize, and experience the difference between their natural thinking and their personal thinking, and allow the infinite possibilities of natural thinking to flow freely within them, they will be far less likely to follow their per-
sonal thinking down problem paths into violence and other behavior problems. Pransky (2003) further emphasizes the need for a support system for students having difficulty catching on to these principles. In such a system, student supporters who understand this psychology, where appropriate, act as liaisons between the school and parents, the school and after-school programs, and the school and work. Pransky also recommends that schools establish programs to teach parents parenting skills based on this paradigm.
Several principle-based practitioners with considerable teacher training experience (e.g., Mills & Shuford, 2002) caution that working with teachers can be tricky at first, as teachers tend to want a “quick fix” or set of techniques that will quell their students’ unruly behavior. These trainers first request that teachers focus on their own conditioned thinking about their students, perhaps their own stereotypes about students from “the projects,” or about students who are ill at ease in the classroom, uncomfortable at school, or who act out. Teachers are then helped to recognize that their students’ angry feelings and violent behavior come from personal learned thinking habits that look compellingly real to them. Over time, teachers are enabled to see their students’ innocence more clearly and began to take their unruly behavior less personally. Rather than reacting punitively, teachers begin to see ways to help such students calm down, regain their natural good feelings, and re-engage their interest in learning. According to Mills and Shuford (2002), following principle-based training, teachers have typically reported that they realized that, (1) how they interpreted their students’ behavior and viewed their students’ capabilities produced up to 90% of the violence, negativity and poor performance they got back from these same students and, (2) when they paid less attention to their students’ “front” of toughness or apathy, they saw through these disguises to their students’ innate resiliency and mental health. As a result, teachers became more patient, stayed in rapport, and drew out their students’ wisdom and common sense. In return, they got back more healthy, motivated, non-violent behavior.
Contemporary Supportive Research
There is voluminous evidence in the child development literature which supports the major premise of this psychology that children are born with innate psychological health.
Thousands of naturalistic observations of infants and toddlers raised in nurturing settings reveal unequivocally that such youngsters possess a natural curiosity to explore and to learn. The vast body of developmental research appears to conclude that at birth, children do not have mind-sets that predispose them toward violent behavior. Instead, these studies point almost unanimously to an inborn state of healthy mental functioning in children, which includes a natural interest to learn, an intrinsic ability to act in mature, common sense, non-deviant ways, and a natural desire to use and expand these abilities in pro-social directions (e.g., Ainsworth, 1982; Arendt, et al., 1979; Mills, et al., 1988; Sroufe, 1979; Sroufe, et al., 1983; Stewart, 1985; Suarez, et al., 1987; Wilson & Herrnstein, 1985).
Furthermore, there is also considerable research evidence which supports the second major premise of this psychology that the innate mental health in youth is always available and can be drawn out by school personnel—that even high-risk youth can access a natural capacity to behave in more mature, common-sense, non-violent ways in the school setting (e.g., Dodge Masten, 2001; Mills, et. al., 1988; Stewart, 1985; Suarez et. al., 1987). Several longitudinal resiliency research studies (e.g., Benson, 1995; Bernard, 1996; Garmesy, 1974, 1981; Henderson & Milstein, 1997; O’Connell-Higgins, 1994; Rutter, 1984, 1999; Werner, 1990, 1995; Werner & Smith, 1989; Wolin & Wolin, 1993) have described the resiliency of youth who grew up in highly dysfunctional families and/or communities, who overcame or transcended these conditions to have healthy, productive adult lives. These studies, many following large cohorts for up to 40 years, offer empirical support for the natural capacity of youth to regain their mental health, as most of the samples studied experienced no outside intervention or psychotherapy.
Outcome studies of several national prevention programs focusing on substance abusers, school dropouts, and delinquents who bonded with healthy teachers, began to display healthier functioning as predicted by this psychology (e. g., Curtis, et al., 1979, Foley & Warren, 1985; Gadwa & Griggs, 1985; Heath, 1991, 1994, 1999; Larson, 2000; O’Connor, 1985; Peck et al., 1987; Shure & Spivak, 1982; Smoll, et al, 1993, Smith & Smoll, 1990, 1997). Students involved in such relationships showed significant improvement in positive attitude, rational problem-solving ability, pro-social behavior, and motivation to attain educational goals and non-deviant lifestyles. In these programs, the consistent predictor of program success was the caring, supportive, non-judgmental, non-punitive qualities of the relationship between youth and school staff.
Research on a national level has identified the qualities of teachers who were capable of improving the self-efficacy of youth, reducing their performance anxiety, minimizing school violence, and influencing potential dropouts to stay in school. Such teachers were found to be consistently positive and empathetic, and demonstrated respect and concern for their students. Also, they were optimistic about their students’ ability to learn, and allowed them to structure their own learning. In so doing, they were creative and flexible in adapting their teaching methods to the needs, interests, and performance level of each student. In this type of educational climate, even high-risk students were able to see the distortions that emerged from their dysfunctional learned thinking habits, and began to experience more mature and objective frames of mind (e.g., Coombs & Cooley, 1986; Ekstron et al., 1986; Heath, 1991; 1994, 1999; Larson, 2000; Peck et al., 1987).
Applied Three Principle-Based School Programs
Research is growing in direct support of the simple logic of this three-principle psychology. This research has been conducted primarily in three applied areas; clinical settings, community empowerment projects, and educational programs. At present, there have been several post-hoc, pre- and post, and controlled clinical studies demonstrating the effectiveness of principle-based psychotherapy for adolescent and adult clients displaying a wide range of DSM-IV TR clinical diagnoses (i.e., depression to schizophrenia) in both inpatient and outpatient settings (e.g., Bailey, 1989; Bailey, et al., 1988; Blevens, et al., 1992; Borg, 1997; J. Pransky, 1999; Ringold, 1992; Shuford, 1986; Shuford & Crystal, 1988; Stewart, 1987). There have also been several longitudinal studies documenting the effectiveness of principle-based community empowerment programs initiated in some of the most criminogenic urban communities in Florida, California, Minnesota, Hawaii, Colorado, and New York. Since school violence prevention is the focus of this paper, the nature and outcomes of principle-based educational programs will be highlighted.
Stewart (1985), for example, used this psychology in her work with remedial reading students in Miami. Twenty students randomly selected for control and experimental groups were a mean of two years behind their grade level in reading. The intervention consisted of 30, 40-minute classroom sessions over a six-week period. The experimental group instructor was trained in these principles and spent much less time on actual instruction and traditional reading exercises than control group teachers. Instead, her emphasis was on building rapport, raising the mood level of student by telling stories, jokes, or playing games, and finding “teachable moments” in which she would instruct until students became bored and distracted. The experimental group gained 14 months in reading level, significantly higher than the mean gain of seven month for the control group as measured by the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Achievement Test. The mean gain for vocabulary was 1.6 years for the experimental group, versus .45 for the control group (p = < .01). Stewart concluded that a youth’s state of mind and level of well-being significantly impact learning, and that learning is accelerated and discipline problems reduced when both teachers and students are in a positive, stress-free state of mind.
Modello and Homestead Gardens, two Miami public housing communities with the highest violent crime rates in Dade County, Florida began their principle-based community revitalization project in 1987. Initially, the greatest concern for residents was the high rate of truancy, school discipline referrals, and school failure. Following training in this psychology, residents organized their own PTA groups and began meeting with the area school superintendent and school administrators. Subsequently they obtained funding from the school district for principle-based teacher training and school climate change programs. They also wrote grants and received support for after-school recreation and youth tutoring programs.
As the project moved into its second year, residents reorganized a moribund tenant council and began working with the police department on community policing initiatives and crime watch programs. Also, they met with the private industry council and chamber of commerce in South Dade County to explore job training and placement projects. They then wrote a grant to build a new community center to house a day care program, and pursued GED and other educational programs. After three years, the program served 142 families and over 600 youth. Mills (1990) reported the following results related to educational climate and school violence:
School truancy rates dropped 80%.
School discipline referrals and suspension decreased 75%. Only one student from the two communities failed at the middle school level – from a baseline of a 64% failure rate.
Police serving these communities reported no school or community calls for drug trafficking or criminal activities such as stolen cars or burglaries in community schools for almost a year. Parent involvement in schools increased by 500%.
Eighty-seven percent of parents reported that their children were more cooperative, and that they were significantly less frustrated with and hostile toward their children.
Interestingly, after the second project year, twelve school dropouts who had joined drug-dealing gangs sought out project staff and requested help to get back in school and to obtain legitimate jobs. These youth had observed dramatic changes in the quality of life of their parents and younger siblings. They were intrigued by the possibility of a less stressful, more productive life, and wanted out of their violent, dead end lifestyles. The increased maturity, understanding and healthy functioning of community families observed by these youth appeared to draw out their innate common sense without direct intervention (Pransky, J., 1997; Mills & Spittle, 2002).
In 1990 and 1991, the Comprehensive Community Revitalization Project, a five-million dollar program funded by a coalition of foundations in the South Bronx, and the East Bay Recovery Project in Oakland, California, carried out extensive site visits to the Modello-Homestead Gardens project and subsequently requested similar principle-based programs. In Oakland, the program was carried out in Coliseum Gardens, a 200-unit housing project with the highest homicide and drug-related arrest rates in the city. At the end of the second project year, homicides had dropped by 100% (none reported in year two). In fact, the homicide rate in this community remained at zero for six consecutive years (1991-1996). Also, school and community violent crime rates dropped 45%, drug possession sales went down 16%, and assaults with firearms decreased 38%. Furthermore, gang warfare and ethnic clashes in school between Cambodian and African American youth ended, and youth involvement in Boys and Girls Clubs increased 110% (Mills & Spittle, 2002).
School data were also collected from the Dade County, Florida and Oakland, California empowerment projects, where specific principle-based programs targeted youth fitting each school district’s profile for violence-prone youth at risk for dropping out. These projects were funded through federal drug-free school grants to work with at-risk youth, teachers, school counselors, youth agencies, and parents from all twelve high school feeder patterns. Over the three-year pilot program, 375 students in grades 7-12, 36 teachers, five guidance counselors, and 40 parents received training in the principles of this psychology. Pre- and post- grade point averages revealed significant improvement in all three years of the project. The mean increase was 64% for year one, 56% for year two, and 57% for year three. Interestingly, students ending principle-based instruction after year one continued to show additional GPA improvements of 24 percent during both the second and third project years (Cherry, 1992).
Furthermore, absenteeism and discipline referrals decreased significantly in each year of the project. By the end of the program, participant’s rates of absenteeism and discipline referrals were significantly below county school norms. By the third project year, participants displayed an overall 58% decrease in absenteeism, and an 81% decrease in discipline referrals. Finally, significant pre- post- test differences on the Pier Harris Self Esteem Scale were found for youth on both the positive cognition and self-worth sub-scales (Cherry, 1992).
In May of 1990, the Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory initiated a principle-based Youth and Community Empowerment Project in Aurora, Colorado, defining their target community as the catchment area for West Middle School which served a large population of low income minority students. This program was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Results showed a significant decline in student suspension rates during both the 1990-1991 and 1992-1993 school years. Thirty students who participated in a principle-based after-school program (compared to non-participating students) showed significant grade improvement, decreased absences, and
fewer discipline referrals (Mills & Spittle, 2002).
Aurora teachers participating in the principle-based training reported they were able to change their perceptions of high-risk students, to see them in less judgmental ways, and to establish more positive relationships which resulted in students taking more interest in school and achieving higher grades. All parents participating in principle-based empowerment training sessions reported a positive impact on their relationships with their children (Mills & Spittle, 2002).
Funded by the Hawaii Department of Education, the Hawaii Counseling and Education Center (HCEC) on Oahu has provided principle-based school counseling and continuing educational services to youth and their families since 1985. These programs offer mental health services to at-risk youth and emotionally handicapped youth and their families representing diverse cultural backgrounds. HCEC also operates day treatment programs for at-risk elementary, junior and senior high school students. Each program is based on the three principles of this psychology. Program evaluations revealed that these interventions were significantly more effective than traditional intervention methods for improving the educational performance and reducing the acting-out behavior of emotionally impaired students (Mills & Spittle, 2003).
Heath, Emiliano and Usagawa (1992) investigated the effectiveness of principle-based counseling with emotionally disabled students. Fifty-five students from kindergarten through 12th grade and their families participated over a two-year period. All students were certified special education and diagnosed as severely emotionally impaired. The intervention consisted of three components; principle-based individual and/or group counseling, family counseling, and teacher training. Students were helped to understand the link between their thoughts and feelings and how to use their innate common sense to make constructive changes, function better, and be more successful in peer relationships. Parents learned the three principles and how to apply them to parenting their emotionally disabled children. Parent sessions further focused on reducing stress, and gaining a deeper understanding of how to draw out the innate health in their children. Teacher training focused on helping teachers learn how to live and work in a healthier, calmer, more positive state of mind. From this more stress-free place, teachers were able to elicit more healthy behavior from their students. Teachers reported that 85% of students who received counseling based on these principles demonstrated significant improvement. Results also confirmed that teachers who remained calm, loving, firm, positive and self-confident had more control, and set an emotional tone for the classroom that facilitated more positive, productive student-teacher relationships, enhanced learning, and reduced violence.
Shuford and Gaughen (2000) analyzed outcome data from principle-based treatment program files of youth referred by the Hawaii Department of Health and the Hawaii Department of Education. Data came from three-day treatment sites in Makalapa, King and Kahuku over the 1999-2000 school year for 64 youth ranging in age from 9-18 years and diagnosed ADHD, ODD, clinically depressed, and dual diagnosis. These youth came from diverse cultural backgrounds including Hawaiian, Caucasian, African American, Filipino, Samoan, and mixed. Pre- and post- treatment measures were compiled for the Achenbach Teachers Report Form (TRF) and the Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scales (CAFAS). Significant change scores were found for both the TRF and the CAFAS. The researchers concluded that the principle-based interventions used in day treatment settings with at-risk youth produced significant reductions in anxiety, depression, social problems, thought problems, somatic complaints, attention problems, and delinquent and aggressive behavior.
Grenelle (2001) conducted a longitudinal study of the impact of principle-based treatment with 102 students referred to the Hawaii Counseling and Education Center between 1994 and 2000. Pre- and post- administrations of the Child Behavior Checklist (parent report form) and the Achenbach Teachers Report Form revealed significant reductions in student disciplinary problems in school. These improvements were independent of age, gender, diagnosis, number of treatment sessions, and ethnicity. Grenelle concluded that the three-principle grounded strategy surpassed other interventions in both results and its underlying philosophy of equality across cultures.
In 2000, the Health Realization Institute (HRI, 2002) initiated a five-year, multi-million dollar community revitalization project in San Francisco. The Vistalion Valley Community Resiliency Project involved teaching these principles to community residents, public school students and teachers, an array of community agencies, and city mental health and public health departments. External evaluators conducted surveys which showed that 85-90 percent of residents and students who participated in the project were more involved in their community, less depressed and anxious, more in control of their emotions and behavior, had higher Self Esteem and more positive attitudes. Furthermore, resident-led action planning retreats resulted in additional principle-based programs that substantially improved school climate and student attitudes, and reduced both school suspensions and discipline referrals.
As part of this project numerous middle school students participated in principle-based Self Esteem classes. After completing nine classes, post testing of these students revealed that 92% had reported improved Self Esteem, 100% reported improved relationships with friends and
family, 92% felt more responsible for their choices and actions, 86% expressed more concern about how their actions affected others, and 90% felt more respected at school. When interviewed following treatment several students mentioned that they learned to not be as bothered by negative thinking and how to better control their thinking (Harder & Co., 2000).
The results of these and numerous other educational programs grounded in this principle-based psychology have revealed that when youth grasp the three simple, yet profound principles behind this paradigm, they are empowered to regain their natural well-being, common sense and intrinsic motivation. Some of the most alienated and dysfunctional students in schools located in the most criminogenic urban neighborhoods in America have been reached through this principle-based understanding of the inside-out nature of human psychological functioning. School personnel who have realized these principles typically find it much easier to keep their own bearings with high-risk students, to see how to bring out the best in these students, to facilitate learning, positive classroom behavior and minimize school violence.
Two nationally prominent teachers and school violence prevention researchers, Dr. Jack Pransky and Bonnie Bernard, have conducted extensive site visits and completed detailed analyses of the school-based applications of this principle-based psychology. In a review article, Bernard (1996: 8) concluded, “The three-principle psychology is the most powerful school violence prevention model I’ve witnessed… the capacity for mental health, resilience, wisdom, intelligence, common sense, and positive motivation—no matter what language one chooses to use—is in everyone, despite their risk factors. (It) is potentially available at all times, and can be realized without working through the past and without direct teaching of life skills.” Pransky (1998: 7), in his book, “Modello: A Story of Hope for the Inner City and Beyond,” asserted, “This ‘new’ approach… will move the field of school violence prevention to a higher plane of efficacy. It is an approach that gets at the very heart of ‘internal resilience.’ It provides prevention’s missing link; an understanding of how the human mind works to change feelings and behavior.”
Hopefully, violence prevention researchers and school personnel at all levels will take time to reflect on the logic of this unique psychology and come to realize, for themselves, that its three simple, yet profound principles can provide a unifying foundation for a long overdue science of positive youth development leading to substantial reductions in school violence and other forms of youthful health damaging behavior.
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