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  • Sandra Ericson

The Fix for Terrorism Risk

A recent National Institute of Justice report analyzed the personal risk factors for terrorism into CoVE, Convergent Violent Extremism Model, to identify what prompts an individual to commit violent acts. It turns out that it is not only extreme political, religious, or social beliefs but a combination of those beliefs and something else, “personal grievances.” Personal grievances are the slights of daily life.

The unaddressed question in the Report is: Do extreme beliefs, and the propensity toward them, evolve from those personal grievances? It divided the grievance risk factors into four categories:

  • mental health issues, 

  • individuals’ employment or educational prospects, 

  • positive relationships with non-extremist and non-delinquent peers,

  • the formation of terrorist beliefs, often related to being a member of a marginalized group. 

The Report emphasized that the more personal problems in a person’s life, the more impactful prevention efforts will be; a reason to take heart — makes sense. Let’s look at what prevents. Of those four areas of risk for violence, Human Ecology education, K-14, directly addresses the first three and relates closely to the last risk. In addition to other professional and natural environments, Human Ecology teaches how to achieve a healthy home environment, including life management and child development skills. It builds self-determination and empowerment; it imparts both practical and social skills and also professionalism for career success; and it cultivates cultural intelligence for the acceptance and respect of all people. If preventive attributes can be acquired while still in school, revenge, terrorist beliefs, or personal grievances are greatly lessened. The Report also identified specific demographic factors that present risk, such as peer activity, neighborhood, being male, poor, having been abused, having no family, being unemployed, living alone, and having military experience — all reasons to establish healthy agency early through education.

Think about this as both cause and correlation. Congress passed the Morrill Act in 1862, which made teaching Home Economics mandatory for all female students, pointedly not men. The assumption at the time was all men would be married and therefore have their basic needs met by women. This is no longer reality or practical on any level. As schools stopped teaching Home Economics in the 1970s and 80s, women carried on with the cultural tradition of household and child responsibilities. Men forged careers. However, as society became more complex, this unequal burden overwhelmed women while men became even less capable of independent living. Families broke up. More marriages failed, more single mothers had to work, and more children became alienated loners. Meanwhile society was becoming more urbanized, complex, and confusing; there was increased corporate and tech predation, more gun ownership, and a wider income gap between poor and rich. The U.S. had set the scene, no education about human life and social skills in school or at home (Mom needs help too), therefore, more loner men, and more social volatility — a perfect storm for the anger and violence we are now experiencing.


For both women and men, the lack of personal education on how to meet personal human needs, preventing grievances, has led to the decline of human mental and physical well-being, financial failure, obesity, shorter life spans, lack of child care, and more crime. The sum effect has led to many forms of protest forty years later, mass resignations, strikes, and individual and group violence we see now; it only took a generation. 

Why is this happening in the most advanced country in the world? Because humans are complicated. No matter how developed a country is, it still takes a lot of formal or informal learning to manage one very complex human life. It can no longer be expected to come from homes; Mom missed the lessons too. Therefore, more must happen in schools. Simple. That means formal Human Ecology education programs, K-14, voted on by school boards, required to graduate, which enable successful transition to adulthood. Witness the growing number of states requiring by law the teaching of climate change in all subjects. Legislators are doing this because it bypasses the local tribes forcing their own political ideas of education on teachers and school boards, and because it is necessary for ALL students to have the knowledge if there is to be universal climate saving; only educating some, or making it voluntary, will not achieve the scale needed.

By viewing the whole of the human ecosystem in classes, Human Ecology education prevents singling out groups and the negative, destructive “beliefs and attitudes” identified in the Report that can translate into feelings of hate, frustration, victimhood, personal failure, and dehumanization — all mentioned as common to perpetrators of violence and extremist views. Verdict: Unless a person can learn how to achieve health, safety, financial security, social camaraderie, and look forward to a productive future, vulnerability to negative influences and behaviors rises exponentially. 

Teaching practical and social human life skills, the third leg of the educational stool, is missing; it is not enough for schools to concentrate on jobs and civic participation. Building human capital comes first before learning to compete professionally and being a good citizen. A person fully informed about being human is the definition of an informed voter. Our education system needs to take a hard look and prevent the social fallout from building egos and wealth at the expense of building an understanding of life itself. To do that, as early childhood people have told us, it must start early and continue, as students mature, for all the years education is mandated and then for two years longer. What’s the point of two more years of Human Ecology after high school? It’s a brain thing; the human brain is not done developing until age 22-24. Plus, those two extra years are the socially dangerous ones, when a young man is no longer a minor, when peer influence is strong, emotional control is low, and when confrontations with unfamiliar and complex social systems often result in anger and frustration for the age group that is struggling with personal control. If a country wants better people, it must have better education, one that educates the whole person about human needs, being human, and living in our human ecosystem.

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