Violence is a very serious and prominent issue plaguing the youth of today. It is a national crisis. In Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun Geoffrey Canada talks about his childhood growing up in the Bronx in New York and the constant presence of violent confrontations. Canada states that violence is a learned behavior but it serves as a coping mechanism. From a very young age, kids in dangerous neighborhoods all over America learn to depend on fights and guns to gain status and respect and ultimately to survive in a harsh, violent world.
To get a sense of the dire situation, one need just look at the violence surrounding the New York public school system – where security has increased drastically since 1991 transforming the school space into a prison-like area. This security culture has since brought upon several consequences such as issues of representation, liability, and changes in behavior by the teachers and the students. What has happened is a sort of school lockdown where the freedom of movement and ability to be social has been stripped away from every student. During this time, the teachers changed. They were no longer interested in teaching the whole student, but became solely focused on the mind – the cognitive faculties. In order to not get involved in fights, teachers started depending on security guards and police to deal with the physical, aggressive side of things. This disconcern for the body and for the physical development created a big void in youth education.
Transformative projects are attempts at bringing back the magic into these kids’ lives, to fill the vacuum left by the inadequacy of the educational system. Since nothing is actually happening in the schools, kids need other spaces for learning – which can be found in youth media projects, arts, sports, music, most anything really. Education needs to become holistic once again and treat the child as a whole being – body, mind and spirit.
Geoffrey Canada realized that one need not completely dismiss the aggressive, physical reactions that surface in fighting but rather to use those instincts in a more productive way. He began to teach martial arts to kids as a way of defense and discipline. His goal was to steer these youth away from the danger of weapons and guns and to instil in them a sense of confidence and pride. Martial arts has been used all over the world to promote social change – like this collaboration between the UK and Brazil in their initiative Fight for Peace / Luta pela Paz. It has been argued that one of the reasons why violence has grown exponentially is due to the loss of neighborhood mentors, of positive role models on the streets. Which is why coaches and mentors can become influential individuals in the lives of young boys and girls. Canada ends his book by saying that “If we are to save our children then we must become people they will look up to. Children need heroes now more than ever because the poor children of this nation live with monsters every day” (178).
Anyone can be a hero in a child’s eyes – athletes, coaches or teachers – they just have to be there and show they care.