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Problem Children

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Considering the age group, stories about violent middle- and high-schoolers are to be expected. But the news that schools are dealing with an increasing number of violent elementary-schoolers is tough to swallow. These kids aren’t disabled; they just don’t have the coping skills to deal with frustration and disappointment. In the New Britain, Connecticut, district, for example, suspensions given to 1st through 5th graders rose from 254 to 346 in one year. Among the offenses: hitting classmates without provocation; physically attacking teachers and principals; and removing clothes in class. Most schools put these kids in separate classrooms, where they can continue learning as counselors help modify their behavior. “These children are either looking for attention or acting out extreme frustration or anger, and confronting them is not the most positive way to address that,” explains Jon Walek, New Britain’s director of pupil services. School officials say the causes for such behavior range from violence-saturated media to parents who can’t say no. But, to some degree, standardized testing—preparation for which reduces time for phys ed and free play—is to blame. “That kind of time,” says one official, “just isn’t there anymore, and I think it’s really frustrating for our younger children.”

7 Comments

I will probably get beat up all over the place for suggesting this, but might we take a step back and ask a few key questions before rounding up the usual suspects (parents, No Child Left Behind and testing)?

Question #1 Is there an increasing number of violent elementary school children? Time and again the facts in the face of tsk-tsking over increasing high school dangers have revealed that the opposite is true. The article referred to one elementary school, with comparative suspension data for two years. Suspensions increased dramatically. My first question would be, what is going on in that school? When they talk about individual behavior escalating, what in the environment is that child interacting with that results in escalation? Are there truly "unprovoked" attacks? My experience with kids is that the first account is always that the other one started it and "I wasn't doing anything," and it takes some relationship, conversation and time, to get down to a story that can be mediated.

Question #2 What kind of credentials does the head of pupil services have that allows him to make the kind of mass diagnosis that he makes of needing attention or acting out extreme anger or frustration? Just asking.

Question #3 Is is possible that the number of suspensions is increasing because suspension is not a very effective means of teaching behavioral norms at the elementary level?

I think Margo is right (no beating up here :)) How about some discipline, both at home and in school, that would let students know that these behaviors are not acceptable. Sometimes you get the behavior(s) you allow.

I just completed 38 years of teaching, some of it in Junior High where the kids were MUCH more likely to chase each other, be "physical" with each other and exhibit some of the behaviors in the article. Almost all of them outgrew these behaviors when they entered high school.

And I find it hard to believe that testing requirements limit anything. We had test expectations a long time ago, and our teachers managed to get everything done --- in very large classes.

Perhaps we are looking for a solution in the wrong direction.

Perhaps the children (3 to 5yrs) are just not ready for a classroom were they do not recieve the nurturing that is still needed. It is hard to give this one on one in a class of 20. Any kind of attention even negative is welcomed by these children. This age group is not mandated to school prehaps they should be allowed to find a less stessful place for their education. This would require the ADM to be released to a private source.

Children are a reflection of their society and the environments we create around them. If we simply look hard at the barrage of unnatural noises and images that our young children are surrounded by on a daily basis we will find the reasons behind their behaviors - as well as the solutions.
Only then can the adult world, that these children depend on, begin to make the necessary changes for our children.

As an educator myself, I strongly believe that the sanctity of the 'family' is certainly not around. These kids are more or less raising themselves because Mom and Dad are too busy working two and three jobs just to pay the mortgage. I was lucky in that I had dinner with BOTH my parents every night, many kids today are lucky if they eat one meal a week with their families. Also, I believe kids do in fact 'mock' what they see, hence the Bozo the clown experiment in which children mocked adults hitting and kicking a inflatable clown with much more force than the adults did. I continue to be fascinated with that particular study, and believe we should teach kids an appropriate way of dealing with anger through writing it out and through music. We took art and music out of most schools so how do these kids ventilate? Bring back music and art so kids can at least be given an alternative when they cannot get their feelings out any other way.

I do think there is an increasing number of violent kids in the elementary schools. When my daughter entered 4-year-old kindergarten six years ago her school never had the police come to deal with violent children. During this past year the police have been to our school numerous times with at least two arrests made (the children arrested were 11 years old).

You cannot blame the schools for what these children are doing. In my children's school's case, we "inherited" children who are classified as emotionally disabled. As I watch the teacher and the school do the best they can to try to deal with these children with a severe lack of resources my heart just breaks. There is no way that these children are getting what they need emotionally, never mind academically. Until we as a nation take mental illness seriously there will be an increase in violent behavior in the schools all across the board.

I see the problem as schools dealing with bad behavior in a reactive manner. We must be proactive by incorporating social, emotional and problem solving skills in our curriculum beginning with kindergarten and continue to middle school. Some schools have already done this by incorporated a program called Second Step - A Violence Prevention Curriculum. This curriculum is sponsored by the Committe for Children in Seattle, Washington.

www.cfchildren.org

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