“Children Need Advocacy and Support, not Ignorance and Punishment” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Not a day goes by that I am amazed and disappointed by the lack of insight and support that many people have regarding children.  Even in regard to people who one might believe are trained in child development and education may be completely oblivious to realizing that their words and behaviors are unsupportive of, and in many cases, detrimental toward children.  What children in our world need – especially those who may have special considerations, including disabilities – is advocacy, understanding, and support rather than ignorance, misunderstanding, and punishment.

When people in child development, education, and other fields are rigid and unbelieving about the needs of children – and who, in fact, do not have an understanding of children that is in the child’s best interests – children suffer in many ways and can be placed at great risk in many cases.  In medical and healthcare fields, individuals are supposed to do their best to ‘do no harm’ and adhere to the Hippocratic Oath.  While the medical field, however, often practices from a perspective of illness, the counseling field strives to recognize people from a view of wellness.  An illness or disease is not the person; but rather, it is the person who must be supported in a view of wellness in order to improve or recover from illness.

Educators, child care specialists, and others – including parents – need to have a wider view of what is best for children.  In cases of highly contentious and adversarial divorces, for example, psychological evaluations and/or assessments of the parties involved, may be ordered by a judge.  In such cases, by today’s standards, these reports, typically made by an unbiased psychologist, provide judges and attorneys with a more clear perspective of family relationships and parenting.  Thus, people in the legal field recognize that they may not have the training needed to make such unbiased evaluations.  They rely on psychologists to ethically and professionally perform them so that the best interests of the child are maintained.

Unfortunately, and to the detriment of children, not everyone recognizes that they do not have the insight or training needed to work in and make decisions that are in the best interests of children.  From my knowledge and experiences regarding many schools, particularly those in the South, individuals in education are quick to punish, including for minor issues, and may not realize that they do not have the insight necessary to best support children and do what is best for children.  Exercise as punishment (such as being made to walk or run laps outside, including in high temperatures) and lengthy detentions (including 30-60 minute lunch/recess detentions), particularly for insignificant issues, and issued toward children, do not resolve, but compound issues, making children potentially distrustful, disrespecting of, and hopeless about school officials.  (I know of at least four schools in my immediate area where these are practices.) 

These situations are compounded and worsened regarding children who have special needs.  Sometimes, it appears to be the children and/or parents who are blamed in situations in which school officials promise support and accommodation to such children, however they may just be going through the motions and not adequately or effectively be meeting such needs.  And, punishments toward children have been shown in research to be ineffective; truly, they may only serve to increase distrust and resentment in children toward adults who are supposed to have their best interests in mind, but who, in fact, do not.

In some situations, an array of psychological evaluations and assessments may be provided to educators that address children’s special needs – and parents may inform school teachers and leaders about what is best for their child – however, for whatever reasons, school teachers and officials may simply be ignorant about such needs, may not follow the suggestions of professional evaluations or parent recommendations, and may completely misjudge the situations.  Doing this places some children with special needs in greater danger and at higher risk for worse outcomes and situations at school.  Through the school officials’ own lack of insight – and in some cases – lack of compassion and motivation to learn, grow, and develop – children are, in fact, harmed by their ignorance and lack of support, and in some cases, are blamed and punished due to it – the pitfall of blaming the victim.

When children with special needs are not sufficiently, nor positively accommodated in schools, great risk and danger may be imposed upon them due to others’ ignorance.  To some people, what is clear and obvious in certain situations goes completely unrecognized – and therefore, not at all addressed – in others.  What is worse in these situations is when people who are ignorant about these situations categorically deny that they have occurred and escalate already tense situations that may involve high emotions.  Such lack of insight and understanding reflects not only their ignorance, but their rigidity, inflexibility, and absolute refusal toward even having an interest at gaining any increased understanding about the issues or situations.  

Even those most highly-trained in supporting children may sometimes miss critical pieces of information, however this should be an indication to others that as much training and information is needed to enlighten themselves to children’s needs and what is in children’s best interests.  Additionally, because there is often the tendency in people to desire to perceive issues and situations in an optimistic manner, there should be an awareness of this so that critical issues about others are not missed and do not turn potentially tragic. 

In short, particularly when it comes to educating children, it is not acceptable to be clueless about and not practice what is in their best interests.  And, situations that are detrimental and potentially tragic to children that occur out of the ignorance of educators and school officials should not be escalated – but diffused – in the best interests of children. 

In my book, perhaps schools in which ignorance and a lack of support prevails toward children may be performing okay with some students, but they may also be harming those students who are most at risk.  Such characteristics, policies, and/or the lack of policies of schools become dangerous to children when people in education do not even realize that what is occurring is creating a potentially harmful or tragic situation for children.  Parents must be acutely aware of and insightful about such circumstances in order to advocate for and protect their children as much as possible, particularly in schools where everyone may not be on the same page about what is best for children.

“The Many Ways in Which School Children are Bullied by School Employees” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Bullying and retaliation are issues that have come to the forefront of our society in recent years.  There is bullying in schools.  There is bullying in the workplace.  There is bullying in social organizations.  There is bullying that occurs in society, in general.  Bullies, themselves, feel good and empowered when they bully others.  They get to throw their weight around, intimidating, degrading, ridiculing, humiliating others.  Bullying in schools definitely creates a downward spiral in the morale of the school.  When students must protect themselves from their bullyish peers as well as adults who are bullies, a stressful and hostile atmosphere is present at schools for these children.

Many victims of bullying keep it to themselves, thinking they can handle it, and they often end up being more taunted, more bullied, and then, the bullying escalates.  Some victims of bullying are pushed over the edge, believe they are worthless, are convinced that they are nothing, and kill themselves.  Other victims of bullying try to stand up for themselves – some are successful in defeating and overcoming their bullies, while others are disbelieved and/or do not receive the support they need from adults to whom they go for help.

In schools, sometimes students get a double whammy with bullying.  Not only are they bullied by certain peers, but they are also bullied by particular adults who are school employees of the school.  What is worse is when the very leaders of the school practice bullying through policies that lack sensitivity, flexibility, and understanding.  Policies in which minor mistakes and insignificant misbehaviors of children such as talking without permission, for example, are enforced by requiring students to run several laps, serve a lengthy detention, or in some schools, be paddled, are excessive, unnecessary, and reflect an authoritarian, punitive, unforgiving, and bullying atmosphere in the school. 

In one school with which I am familiar, a parent survey was issued to students’ families within the past one year that asked many questions about various factors related to the quality of the school.  Regarding bullying, 26% of respondents reported that bullying is a problem at the school.  What is truly sad is that bullying is more of an issue regarding adults bullying students than with students bullying students.  And, of course, when students see adults bullying their peers, they believe it is acceptable, and bully their peers, as well.  What is even more sad is that the adults who are bullies and whose policies are bullyish do not recognize it, they do not care, and the situation worsens, becoming more institutionalized.

There are many ways in which school children are bullied by school employees in schools.  Some of those ways include: 1) issuing excessive disciplinary consequences and punishments for minor misbehaviors; 2) requiring students to run laps as punishment and/or discipline; 3) not providing, denying, ignoring, and/or overlooking needed services to the student; 4) not contacting the parents or guardians when the student has been severely injured at school; 5) denying a sick child the opportunity to see the school nurse or clinician and to go home; 6) denying and/or preventing the student from receiving guidance counseling or other counseling services when requested; 7) not reporting actual abuse or neglect of students to the proper authorities; and 8) issuing unspoken punishments to students that are not identified in the school and/or student handbook.

Additional ways that school employees bully school children include: 9) issuing punishments and/or disciplinary consequences that are more excessive than what is identified in the school and/or student handbook; 10) blaming the child for misbehavior that the adult could have improved by providing the child with greater care and understanding; 12) not recognizing and/or praising the student for outstanding academics or accomplishments; 13) outright lying about and/or misconstruing the truth about situations involving the child; 14) not keeping confidences about the child; and 15) different school employees throughout the school stating that the child needs various evaluations, assessments, therapies, counseling, remediations, etc. when these are not and/or may not necessary.  The latter factor also occurs when school employees make these determinations when they are unqualified to do so; for example, they are not physicians, psychologists, or other qualified and unbiased healthcare professionals.  

There are also many other ways children are bullied in schools by school employees, and those ways are not limited to those that I have identified here.  Some more of those ways include: 16) school employees, including particular school administrators and/or teachers maintaining and carrying out a personal vendetta out of anger toward the child; 17) having nothing good to say or share about the child to parents or others; 18) calling the child’s parents in for meetings and/or conferences about the child and/or the parent, simply as a way to attempt to intimidate, harass, or otherwise bully; 19) basically behaving in an unprofessional manner, such as saying one thing, but doing the opposite toward the child or regarding a particular situation; and 20) school administrators also requiring other school employees throughout the school to also perform any of these identified unprofessional actions without question toward the child or the child’s parents, and if they do not do so, they (and/or their own children if their children are students at the school) experience various negative consequences.

Additionally and to compound the situation of school employees bullying school children, any multitute of the above-identified situations can be occurring toward the child at any given time.  For example, five of the particular situations may be occurring toward the child during one week.  In these instances, school employees are working with each other – and against the child – essentially using the child as their whipping post.  This is not only extremely detrimental to the child, but it is bad for the school’s reputation.

When these types of bullying actions toward school children occur by the very adults who have been entrusted with their care, well-being, and safety, it leaves the children on their own, to fend for themselves.  If a teacher and/or administrator simply does not like a particular child or that child’s parent, in my experience, I have found that punishments and/or disciplinary consequences toward that child are much more severe and unfair than they are toward other students.

When families pay extra monies for their children to attend private or parochial schools, the expectation is that those schools are of a higher standard than public schools, in every area – education, discipline, safety, fairness, faith foundation, services, etc.  Certainly, families have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of particular schools and/or school systems, and find the best complement for their child. 

Sometimes, despite all good intentions and communications with authority figures within the school regarding what can be improved or changed to help benefit the students and the school, including school retention when better practices and policies are exercised, things do not change, and in fact, worsen.  Sometimes policies become even more excessive and increasingly punitive.  Sometimes there is a change in the leadership, and the new leaders are more authoritarian and believe in doling out harsh consequences.  This does not mean that such policies are acceptable or ethical.  Perhaps many students’ families simply tolerate the policies because other educational alternatives to that particular school may be even worse.  One does not want to jump out the frying pan, into the fire, so to speak.

Therefore, I am a person who believes in, suggests, and encourages compassion, understanding, and sensitivity toward children and school students.  Harsh and excessive disciplinary policies effected on young school children for minor misbehaviors teach children that the world comes crashing down on them and they are condemned by school employees if they are not perfect all of the time.  It also teaches that adults in authority at school who are punitive are also unforgiving toward them for minor misbehaviors or mistakes.  Such authority figures are not serving as positive role models or guides for the children, but teachers of severe and unnecessary consequences for rather insignificant issues. 

This is how a bullyish atmosphere is created and maintained within a school by the adults within the school.  This is how bullying becomes a problem within schools – when adults bully children, and children, in turn, bully their peers.  Schools and school leaders can sugar coat and ignore the issue all they want, but things will not change for the better or improve unless they, themselves, recognize their own bullyish policies and change them to being more compassionate and understanding.  That is where true leadership lies – in providing positive guidance and in being positive role models for students, rather than in being excessively and unnecessarily punitive and unforgiving.  The teachings of Jesus also follow that philosophy.  

Therefore, schools must not only be progressive rather than regressive in their policies, but school leaders must actively exercise those positive and progressive policies.  School leaders must implement policies that are beneficial, positive, protective, and guiding for students.  School leaders and educators must also reflect on and enact ways of improving themselves and their own philosophies and perspectives.  In this way, everyone will benefit – the students, students’ families, school employees, and the school system.  This is what is necessary in every school and in every school system, and it is a basic expectation of all students and parents.  Let’s keep working to improve our schools and the policies that are practiced within them for the benefit of everyone, most particularly the children who are the youngest and most impressionable of all.