2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Gangs in Schools: Dilemmas and Solutions

At a time when Paul Simon's controversial new pop-opera retelling a street gang murder, "The Capeman," opened on Broadway, the rough and tumble of gangs, violence, and interventions was also the topic of a TC workshop.

Curtis Branch, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Education, held the workshop, "Gangs and Violence," for TC students in Developmental and Counseling Psychology, teachers and administrators in the field, and experts from the New York City Department of Corrections and the Chicago Public Schools who have worked in gang reduction projects.

According to Professor Branch, most of the sociological literature offers theories of gangs. However, like the author Martin Jankowski, who has written extensively on the subject, Branch believes these theories relate more to delinquency and sociopathic behavior rather than to a more realistic and humane perspective of juvenile gangs.

Branch says that for many gang members, school can have a very strong "redeeming social value" and that gang membership may be only one part of a young person's life. "There's a real disconnect," Branch adds, "about how outsiders see gang members, because many of those who belong to gangs not only attend school on a regular basis but are even involved in extracurricular activities." Moreover, though it is believed that gang membership involves clear roles and an identifiable leadership structure, there is evidence that one of the most successful ways to break the group cohesion or affiliation of a gang is to help a young person to see his or her "self" as a distinct identity.

Branch also speaks of an intervention assessment plan he terms the Family Intervention Project (FIP), which builds on the model of multiple family therapy. According to the rules of FIP, three families must agree to spend eight hours together, participate as much as possible in discussions with a facilitator, and observe the rule of refraining from physical interaction with the other members of the therapy group.

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