Violence Workbook'S Success Depends On Teachers

August 12, 1997

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Although numerous programs try to help children recognize and deal with verbal and physical aggression, one Cornell University program has been shown to significantly reduce children's aggressive behavior.

In a recent evaluation of Let's Talk About Living in a World With Violence, a 1993 workbook developed by James Garbarino, an internationally recognized expert on violence and children and the director of the Family Life Development Center at Cornell, researchers found that children who used the workbook became significantly less aggressive when teachers were comfortable with the curriculum and integrated the material into other subjects.

"Interestingly, however, children with teachers who were uncomfortable with the curriculum -- which includes discussions about violence in the streets, movies and at home -- were significantly more aggressive than before the intervention," Garbarino said. He will report these findings to the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Chicago on Aug. 16.

"Similarly, when the material was not integrated into other subjects, children in the program showed no significant differences in aggression than the control group. However, children whose teachers integrated the subject matter with other subjects were rated as far less aggressive than they were before the program, than the control group, and than children whose teachers did not integrate the material," said Garbarino, Cornell professor of human development.

Unlike most other violence prevention efforts, Let's Talk About Living in a World With Violence was developed with the most current research in mind and was extensively field tested, Garbarino said. More than 1,000 children, ages 4 to 16, from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds in 54 sites in 25 cities across the country, used the workbook, published by the Erikson Institute for Advanced Study in Child Development, which Garbarino headed until 1994. Since 1993, more than 15,000 children have used the workbook nationwide.

The 46-activity book, with illustrations that resemble a coloring book, also is available in Spanish and includes anecdotes, questions and sections for a child to write down his or her aggression- or violence-related experiences.

With Garbarino's voice and point of view running throughout, the book is intended to serve as the basis of a classroom curriculum for stimulating child-adult and child-child discussions on the meaning, rationale, effects of and alternatives to violence in all domains of life, including the family.

"Whereas most other violence prevention programs are geared for teens, this curriculum is intended for children ages 8 to 12, because research shows that by age 8 patterns of aggression have already become sufficiently stable so as to be predictive of adult violence and aggression -- that is, if intervention does not occur," Garbarino said.

To assess the impact of the violence prevention program on aggressive behavior, 367 children -- 90 percent third-graders and 10 percent sixth-graders -- from Ithaca, N.Y., participated in the evaluation study. Their teachers first received six hours of training in using the workbook. About half the children participated initially in the program and the other half served as a waiting list control group, which received the intervention five weeks later.

The study, conducted by Garbarino, Kerry Bolger, Cyleste Collins and Jamie Darcy, all in the Family Life Development Center at Cornell, is being replicated with urban children in Chicago.

Garbarino suspects that his findings on the conditions under which the program is most effective may be relevant for other prevention programs.

"We know, for example, that peer programs for drug or violence projects can actually make problems worse if the teachers are not positive about the material," Garbarino said. "We also know that when teachers integrate material into several subjects, children tend to learn the material better. That structure seems to work for attitudes and beliefs as well."

To ensure that future users of the curriculum are as comfortable with the material as possible and make optimal use of the curriculum, a 30-minute video with the same title, Let's Talk About Living in a World With Violence, will be available by October.

The evaluation of the workbook was supported by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the New York State College of Human Ecology at Cornell.

EDITORS: To receive a review copy of the workbook, contact Kathleen Kostelny at the Erikson Institute at (312) 755-2244 or fax at (312) 755-2255. To view the video after Oct. 1, contact Penny Evans at the Cornell Resource Center, telephone (607) 255-2080, fax (607) 255-9946 or e-mail

Cornell University

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