Tony Gibson’s Theory of School Violence

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Hamilton Bertie “Tony” Gibson (1914-2001) was a British anarchist, conscientious objector (for which he was imprisoned) and psychologist. Gibson wrote Youth for Freedom (1951), a provocative pamphlet. From this work, we may extract a theory that explains school violence, which is a worldwide phenomenon and not uniquely American. Being worldwide, youth violence cannot be explained by the means of violence used, be they guns, clubs, knives, rocks, spears, fire, or whatever.

The theory can be partly stated as follows. Children have certain behaviors that come naturally to them, instinctively one might say. If they are allowed to have a childhood that lets them vent and live through these instincts, they will develop into adults who are not unusually aggressive. But if adults make the child live in ways that go too much against these natural instincts, then the child retains its asocial and ferocious instincts into adult life, rather than living through them as a childhood stage of development. Adults then look adult and act adult but retain child instincts and behavior. As he says “The nice young men who lightheartedly fly bombers and devastate towns are simply neurotic beings who have had to wait until their twenties to give proper expression to the instincts of infancy.” Later he writes “The children who grow up with a satisfactory gratification of their instinctual life in the various phases of their development are more likely to have sound adult instincts at a comparatively early age and therefore resist the fantastic demands of the State in the matter of military service.”

The more that a culture (mainly through public schools) anywhere in the world attempts to suppress mildly aggressive or simply physical behaviors that are peculiar to children and make them behave in adult ways that restrict them too greatly, the more likely we are to observe extremes of aggression breaking out and the more that aggressive instincts will be nurtured in adults. Giving drugs to children to suppress their activities and tendencies will tend to produce a greater tendency toward excessive violence, not simply or only by the physical aspects of the drugs but also by psychological reactions to the behavior control. The same outcome will come about by preventing boys from being boys, over-controlling rough and tumble play, overly suppressing taunts, fights, shoves, pushes, and rough sports. Children need the freedom to play with other children, to shout, to roughneck, and to play all kinds of games. They need the freedom to roam around on their own. They shouldn’t be prevented from learning how to shoot rifles or bows and arrows, if this appeals to them. Vicarious video game experiences may or may not provide adequate substitutes for play; I suspect that they do not in general do so.

The basis of this theory is Gibson’s observation that children are weaker than adults, and that to survive as weak beings under the thumbs of adults, they have behaviors peculiar to being children. “The child is a gregarious but not a truly social animal; when in mental and physical health, it is aggressive to the point of ferocity and capable of a ruthlessness which normal adults do not possess. It is entirely self-centered, and its love for other persons is of an essentially different nature from the affection which an adult may feel for another person.”

Aggression in adults and therefore approval of the State’s aggressions is, according to this theory, fostered by social systems and adults that overly control children. Since public schools exercise such control, they produce more adults who support the State, not simply or only by indoctrination or false history but by psychological means that make people comfortable with violent aggression and immorality.

“The well-meaning social moralists who bring up children according to an idealized adult code of behavior have to bear their full share of the blame for the supreme immorality of adult behavior.”

“The State in its drive towards totalitarian dominion assumes more and more the aspect of a hypocritical and repressive adult controlling a lot of children. In all the aspects of State interference with individual liberty we see the nasty schoolmarm, the pompous father.”

Guns do not explain youth and school violence because it is worldwide and doesn’t always involve guns. There are other theories than Gibson’s that attempt to explain school violence. There are theories that directly challenge Gibson, arguing that childhood aggression is not a playful thing that children grow out of. They argue that aggression is learned and therefore must be countered or suppressed in one way or another by adults. But if this is true, why are Americans and others experiencing even greater school violence as the attempts to suppress it are heightened?

I think Gibson’s theory has merit. If we are observing greater school violence, it is at the same time that we observe society constricting the schools, enforcing more and more rules, attempting to feminize boys, and going to extremes to suppress even mildly aggressive, even verbal, behavior. We see greater amounts of drugs being administered to children to dampen them down. This is tending to prevent normal childhood development. In the vain quest of reducing person-on-person violence, it is enhancing it. Not only that, it is producing adults who are comfortable with high amounts of State-inflicted violence and aggression.

11:09 am on June 11, 2014