Academic journal article Education

The Role of Teachers and the Schools in Assisting Children Who Live with Violence

Academic journal article Education

The Role of Teachers and the Schools in Assisting Children Who Live with Violence

Article excerpt

In the United States, violence is romanticized in our culture (Lantieri, 1995; Sautter, 1995) and especially in our cities. Each day, we see and hear on television, radio, in newspapers and real life, images of dehumanizing violence. Children and juveniles are often the unfortunate victims of the violence that surrounds us. The number of violent crimes perpetrated against juveniles between the ages of 12 and 17 rose by 24% between 1988 and 1992. The US Department of Justice estimates that about one in 13 youngsters is victimized; a figure supported by records of reports of child abuse and neglect received by community agencies (Wallach, 1994). Many children are not safe in their own homes and are regularly harmed by the adults entrusted to care for them (Violence and Youth: Psychology's Response, 1993).

In 1994, for the first time ever, the category "fighting, violence, and gangs" emerged as the biggest problem confronting local schools in the Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa annual survey of the public's attitude toward the public schools (lack of discipline traditionally held the top spot; it tied with violence for first) (Elam, Rose, & Gallup, 1994). Some of this conflict is caused by ethnic and racial intolerance, as the public schools reflect the country's growing unrest regarding immigration and immigrant groups. Voters in California who passed Proposition 187 (still being contested in the courts) barring illegal aliens from attending public primary and secondary schools, openly expressed resentment about the economic impact of immigration on California. A recent California study of school violence asked 60 focus groups "What do you think caused the school violence you experienced or witnessed?" The most frequently mentioned cause was "ethnic and cultural ignorance" (Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 1995). Lickona (1993) described the rising youth violence and resurgence of bigotry on school campuses (preschool through college) as "troubling trends in youth character" (p. 7). Cities with increasing numbers of students from historically under represented groups in the public schools are most visibly reeling under the pressure, but discrimination problems extend to public schools in the suburbs and towns.

Violence at every turn can exact a high toll from youngsters. They may exhibit violent behavior themselves, or they may demonstrate their hurt in less physical ways. Although statistics are difficult to fix precisely, there does not seem to be an increase in the overall incidence of youth violence. However, the seriousness of the crimes and violence committed by youngsters has increased (Crime Report: Youths who kill hit record high numbers, 1993; Wood, Zolud, & Hoag, 1996). When children's energies are drained because they are defending themselves against outside dangers or warding off their own fears, they have difficulty learning in school (Craig, 1992). When the violence continues month after month, their schoolwork suffers and the children become academically discouraged and more likely to fail in school. Children who live with violence may repress feelings, their way of establishing a defense to what is happening around them (Wallach, 1994). This pattern of repressing feelings can interfere with their ability to relate to others and even to feel empathy for others.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss survival; how young people can survive despite the violence at home and at school and how teachers and schools can assist them. The paper will present 1) an illustrative case study of a young woman who survived family and school violence and 2) a discussion of strategies for teachers and schools to assist the children who live with violence.

Almost incredibly, many children and youth do succeed despite severe situations in their homes and communities. What are the characteristics of these young people who seem to succeed in spite of living in an environment that batters them at every turn? …

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