Since 1969, when its grantmaking program was launched, the
Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation has supported more than
500 research projects on violence, aggression, and dominance.
The fields in which these studies have been made include the
biological sciences, social sciences, and humanities, as well
as law and criminology. The results have been published in
hundreds of books, articles, and monographs. Most of these
publications have been designed for the academic community
and have contributed to the gradual enhancement of understanding
of the causes and manifestations of violent behavior. Undoubtedly,
many teachers have drawn upon this wealth of knowledge to
enrich classroom instruction that bears upon violent behavior.
In relatively few instances, however, are college courses
offered that focus specifically on violence. There are several
reasons for this. A structural problem is that the study of
violence cannot be presented within the confines of a single
discipline. Courses that draw upon information from a variety
of disciplines are difficult to organize within the structure
of most colleges. Individual professors have difficulty designing
a course whose content exceeds the limits of their own specializations.
It is exceedingly demanding to read broadly enough to be able
to have access to all the most recent relevant material from
a wide variety of disciplines.
Another reason courses on violence are not offered is that
even in our extremely violent society it has not been customary
to accept the study of violence as a part of the standard
curriculum. Aspects of violence have long been taught in courses
on psychology, sociology, and criminology, but it would be
unusual in most colleges and universities to present a course
on the substantial role of violence in the history of Western
civilization or of the United States.
It is natural to highlight the positive aspects of our history,
culture, and society, as many curricula do, but it is folly
in the preparation of young people for responsible citizenship
to ignore an aspect of our society as central and persistent
as violence. Voters obviously need informed understanding
of the nature and causes of violence and the possibilities
for its reduction in order to support intelligent public policies.
In light of these and other considerations, members of our
board of directors suggested several years ago that the foundation
explore the possibility of stimulating teaching about violence
that draws upon the results of the research we have sponsored
and other studies.
First, we looked for comprehensive courses already in place,
and one of our grantees called such a course to our attention,
a team-taught course at a major American university. That
course proved to have serious shortcomings. Perhaps under
the apprehension that students would be more engaged with
personal stories than the dry findings of science and social
science, the course we examined focused too closely on the
testimony of victims, leaving students with the idea that
violence is done by bad people to good people, neglecting
to analyze what might motivate very ordinary people, not monsters,
to commit terrible acts. The course treated war, for example,
exclusively through several sessions on the Jewish victims
of the Nazi Holocaust. Yet through those readings a student
would never be introduced to the moral complexities of modern
war or learn that in that period difficult decisions had to
be made by governments and by individuals about using violence
to confront violence. The course included some inspirational
but not realistic advice about the control of violence through
the transformation of the world into a place of perfect social
and economic equality but minimized the extent to which even
well-intentioned attempts at social engineering can go wrong.
Clearly, there was a need for further thinking about the design
of a "Violence 101."
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