I’ve probably interviewed more than a thousand people in the last seven years. A handful of those conversations, details and faces have stuck with me, as others have faded away. A long conversation I had this month with a group of fifth-grade boys about bullying and gangs, I’m very sure, will be one of those.
When I asked these boys what they learned in their gang-prevention program for a story published today, they responded with statements like: “that gangs are bad,” and “gangs can get you killed.”
But you must have known that already, I said. What did you learn?
They looked at each other, then at me. But they hadn’t known that, they said. They said they had thought the opposite was true — that they’d gain protection and freedom from harrassment and bullying (which they, themselves, had inflicted on others in the past). That they’d no longer get jumped on their way home from school.
The boys said they weren’t in gangs, and that they wouldn’t join because of what they had learned in the GREAT program. But they said that a handful of their classmates, some of those who graduated from the gang prevention program, seemed to be involved already. They also said they expected bullying to intensify once they reach middle school in the fall.
When I asked when they thought gang prevention should start in schools, they responded in unison: “kindergarten.”