According to one 14-year-old, young people ought to acquire for themselves a reputation for violence, as "everyone will respect them because of fear".
Another, aged 15, said that fights between rival gangs occurred because "they all want to be more respected than one another".
The pupils' opinions, which emerged as part of research into young people's expectations of citizenship education in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, illustrate some of the challenges facing the new subject.
Carolyn Gaskell of Queen Mary college, London, interviewed 270 11 to 15-year-olds at three Tower Hamlets comprehensives this spring. Her findings left her believing that government approaches to the subject, which became a compulsory part of the national curriculum a year ago, should change radically.
The youngsters were presented with a questionnaire to assess what they wanted to gain from citizenship lessons. Three answers dominated: more information about personal safety, respect, and drugs.
In class discussions around respect, some emphasised the importance of respect for their elders and for other people. But the prevailing view saw the word in terms of "the code of the street".
Ministers, however, believed that respect, as viewed through the citizenship curriculum, was embodied in acts of civic selflessness, including volunteering and other community work, said Ms Gaskell, who was presenting her findings to the Royal Geographical Society today.
Research from the charity Community Service Volunteers reveals that less than 8 per cent of teachers have been trained to teach citizenship, even though it should be a cross-curricular subject.