What Can We Do That Is Scientifically Proven to Reduce Shootings Like Columbine, Newtown, and Parkland?
March 10, 2018
March 10, 2018
Morning Zen Guest Blog Post ~ Dennis D. Embry, PhD ~
Yes, it’s true that Americans are particularly good a killing each other. So put America in a convention of the advanced countries in Europe (minus Poland), plus Canada, Australia, Zealand, Japan, China and even India. We can shout about being number one for killing each other: “USA, USA, USA!” And yes it’s true that Columbia, South Africa, and other poor places are worse.
So let’s put aside the discussion of the enormous cache of guns just for the moment, to think about some data that we might be able to use quickly. Let’s talk about the science of preventing human violence in America. As you can see, it’s not mental illness per se predicting the probability of violence in America. The entire discussion of late is about guns versus mental illness.
During the 1990’s, my colleagues and I created the largest youth violence prevention project in schools in the United States , funded by the CDC, the Department of Education, and substantial money and resources from local government, local businesses, and the media (both print and broadcast). The strategy worked, tested via a randomized trial embedded in the community-wide effort. The CDC found the strategy reduced violent injuries in schools, by sending an EPI Team to investigate an “outbreak of peace and health” in schools . The lead scientist on that publication is a leader at World Health Organization.[*] The success of this project was even reported in People Magazine (April 5, 1999). Subsequently, we reported sociological and other quite behavioral outcomes in Developmental Psychology for the research sites elementary schools that were picked because of their neighborhoods having the highest rates of violent crime . A year later, we reported the effects on the children who had the highest levels of risk, with the finding that they changed the most .
Concurrently, another study was going on at Johns Hopkins—but I didn’t know anything about what it involved—until after the Columbine shootings in 1999. On that day, I was in San Luis Obispo, CA, doing teacher trainings using our procedures. Leaving the school, I turned on the radio and heard about Columbine. I knew I would get a call very soon, and I did. The Surgeon General, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Education invited me, and two-dozen other experts, to DC to discuss what to do about kids killing kids. I got to present our results, and fellow colleagues from Johns Hopkins presented their results [5-11].
Both his project and our project had deep roots in applied behavior analysis involving differential reinforcement—mostly by peers for positive behavior and not for engaging in problematic behavior. Peer reinforcement among students for aggressive or deviant behavior (called the Matching Law or Deviancy Training) was well documented at the time of Columbine by my colleagues at the University of Oregon to cause both criminal violence and addictions in adolescence and adulthood [12-18]. Dr. Kellam, Dr. Ialongo, and I knew that science. So did scientists on the Fast Track Project studying conduct disorders beginning with elementary students in Durham, Nashville, rural Pennsylvania, and Seattle [19, 20].
Here are the amazingly simple things we can do now: teach students in preschool all the way up through high school to reinforce prosocial behaviors in each other rather than reinforcing “deviant” or antisocial or bullying behaviors in each other. And what are those prosocial behaviors? My colleagues and I can measure them, and you can see these behaviors in real time at home, school and in the community:
Now, how do we teach children to do this? Well, it’s not terribly difficult. You provide paper notes, make time for students to write the notes, give them the language of prosocial behaviors, space to post and share the notes, create mechanisms to share with the notes at school, at home, the community and even the media. Then, we watch children become happier, healthier, safer, and more engaged in positive future with a lot less aggression, drug use, mental illness, suicide, and violent crime—including using guns [9, 21-23]. And yes, our grandmothers were right to insist we write, “thank-you notes.” Now, there is world-class science to proven grandmothers’ wisdom.
Here is an example of what elementary school students write that have such powerful lifetime benefits.
[*] Dr Etienne Krug is Director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Department for Management of Non-communicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention.
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Dennis Embry, President/Senior Scientist at PAXIS Institute – Dennis D. Embry is a prominent prevention scientist in the United States and Canada, trained as clinician and developmental and child psychologist. He is president/senior scientist at PAXIS Institute in Tucson, Arizona. Dennis Embry serves on the scientific advisory board for the Children’s Mental Health Network and the U.S. Center for Mental Health Services Advisory Council.