No Child Left Maligned
by Sandra Mickens - April 19, 2003
This commentary highlights the need for stakeholders to understand the pain some children face while attending school. Unfortunately, children are maligned, ridiculed and made fun of all too often. To overcome this problem it is imperative that compassion and character education be introduced into the curriculum to reduce school violence and enhance the academic environment. In the context of the No Child Left Behind Act, efforts must be made to understand and respond to the emotional needs of children who face violence on a daily basis. A child who is regularly maligned is a child who will indeed “be left behind”
On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The Act is the most sweeping reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since ESEA was enacted in 1965. It redefines the federal role in K-12 education and will help close the achievement gap between disadvantaged and minority students and their peers. It is based on four basic principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work. (U.S. Department of Education, 2002a)
Lack of compassion could knock the passion out of the No Child Left Behind initiative if school safety issues are not effectively addressed. As the new education plan suggests, all students must be included in the education process. Hence, the goals of No Child Left Behind cannot be realized until we are certain that No Child is Left Maligned. Under No Child Left Behind, schools are required to enhance efforts to protect children by initially identifying a "persistently dangerous school" and by providing families with an alternative when students are in danger of being trapped in an unsafe and threatening environment (U.S. Department of Education, 2002b).
Unfortunately, school violence is an equal opportunity phenomenon. It reflects what is going on in society. Violence, including school violence, has no restrictions. We know that school violence is not limited to urban, suburban, rural, rich, poor, black, white or one school versus another. It is an insidious disease that continues to redirect our children's focus away from their educational pursuits. School violence, like most diseases, impacts all segments of the school population. School violence seizes students' instructional goals and replaces them with a tunnel vision that focuses upon the quest for survival, thereby undermining the education process.
If children are to succeed and reach their academic goals, it is imperative that they believe they are in a caring, nurturing, and validating place. Currently, with the increased level of bullying, harassment and the lack of regard for peers, many victims find themselves in an awkward dilemma. Bullying is an old and widespread problem (Sudermann, Jaffe, & Schieck, 1996.) Too many students are hurt by harassment. In one survey, 68% of girls and 39% of boys, grades 8-11, reported sexual harassment. Another study indicated that 20% to 25% of students had been victimized in racial or ethnic incidents in the course of a school year (Office for Civil Rights, 1999). Unfortunately, we live in a society where if a person is different (be it race, language, dress, intellectual ability, socioeconomic status, religion, etc.), it is at times more acceptable for one to criticize, categorize, and isolate. The melting pot is simply an illusion. Children are missing the opportunity to embrace and enhance another perspective. Regrettably, different is deadly in the world of a minor.
More and more, there seems to be a trend in demonstrating insensitivity. Too often children appear to be comfortable with teasing and belittling. "There seems to be an epidemic of mean-acting kids these days" (Borba, 2001). Showing compassion is thought to be a sign of weakness. Consequently, members of the "in-crowd" reject this display at all cost for fear they will be the next victim on the receiving side of the harassment. This compassion-avoidance is a symptom of the school violence problem. This phenomenon is not only limited to the school environment; it is also contaminating society as a whole. If not swiftly and effectively addressed, it will derail the education agenda, leaving most students behind, in contrast to the goals of No Child Left Behind.
As stakeholders in the learning process, we must create schools where every child has a feeling of safety and security. We must begin to demonstrate an atmosphere of cohesiveness by modeling and demanding behavior that all individuals are to be treated with respect and dignity. Diversity must be appreciated and valued. Schools must exhibit a culture of mutual respect. All children must understand that it is okay to be different. Children should be encouraged to color outside of the lines, and on occasion they must be challenged to step outside of the box. At a minimum, children should be taught to value those individuals who have the courage to reveal and capitalize on their uniqueness.
According to James Comer (2001), "the purpose of education is to prepare students to become successful workers, family members, and citizens in a democratic society." As the stakes become higher, education is a more valuable commodity in the twenty-first century. We currently live in an era where a proper education is no longer just a privilege, but a requirement. If one intends to enter the mainstream of middle class existence, a quality-laden high school diploma is the beginning of his/her journey to that experience. Consequently, more is invested in the need for an appropriate learning environment. Stakeholders must prepare a school that is free from factors that can interfere with learning and development. School violence must be properly understood, diagnosed, and swiftly dealt with if we are to avert undermining the American educational system.
There is an increasing epidemic in American schools, and its name is VIOLENCE. Columbine, 9/11, and Iraq are all indicators of a society filled with aggression and intolerance of differences. These societal issues have an impact upon our children and their approach to handling difference in values, religion, appearances, and/or cultures. Generally, it begins with put-downs, teasing, or just constantly being maligned. Children are subjected to bullying and harrying. Bullying in school is a worldwide problem that can have negative effects on the general school climate and on the rights of students to learn in a safe environment without fear. Peer relationships affect a student's intellectual and social development.
"School violence is conceptualized as a multifaceted construct that involves both criminal acts and aggression in schools, which inhibit development and learning, as well as harm the school's climate" (Furlong & Morrison, 2000.) School violence mirrors the plight of its population. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (1993) states that several social ills contribute to school violence. Societal problems, such as "racism, drug abuse, access to weapons, child neglect and abuse, inadequate parenting, unemployment, and exposure to violence in the media among others, all add to the problem" (Mitchell, 2000). Economic and social injustice continues the cycle of fear and frustration.
Children who are neglected, unwanted, and physically abused outside of school contribute to the climate of school violence. Although schools have little influence regarding these societal ills, they can play a greater role in assisting children by addressing their feelings in a more appropriate manner.
Victims of school violence are consumed with anxiety and a constant feeling of inadequacy. Many of them never report the abuse they are subjected to and simply accept the verbal attacks. Others, however, internalize the dreadful feeling, allowing the rage to reach a boiling point; hence, we have Columbine, Colorado; Springfield, Oregon; Fayetteville, Tennessee; and Edinboro, Pennsylvania.
Students have enormous peer pressures placed upon them at school, which many find impossible to deal with. In addition, many students have not been given the tools to address properly their feelings of inadequacies resulting from being rejected. Students, at one time or another, encounter rejection in some form. Rejection is a key factor in school violence. "Rejection can dramatically reduce a person's IQ and their ability to reason analytically, while increasing their aggression, according to new research" (Young, 2002).
This rejection interferes with the learning process. Too often adolescents and teenagers are expected to maximize their full potential and close the achievement gap while many who are considered outcasts are being terrorized in the classroom and in the halls of our learning institutions. "Continual emotional distress can create deficits in a child's intellectual abilities, crippling the capacity to learn" (Goleman, 1995, p.27). What starts out to be incorrectly perceived by some administrators, teachers and even parents as "harmless" teasing, insults, put-downs, "ribbing" and an overall lack of compassion, or compassion-avoidance, in reality is the silent distracter from a student's achievement.
If not effectively and swiftly dealt with, compassion-avoidance, which has a direct link to school violence, will derail the initiatives of No Child Left Behind. Compassion is the vital ingredient necessary for creating a safe and successful school. In order to be successful, schools must be charged with creating conditions that promote an understanding of diversity and high level student development and learning.
To avert this cycle of inadequacy, rejection, aggression, acting out and creating a learning deficit, students must learn to embrace a mélange approach to life. It is important that they accept those who may not always share their views on clothing, culture, music, etc. Children must learn that there is a learning opportunity when confronted with differences. According to the APA Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (2001), "Valuing diversity is what institutions and members of a community do to acknowledge the benefits of their differences and similarities. A community that values diversity ensures that institutions provide equal treatment and access to resources and decisions for all community members regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and physical disability."
Partnering with parents is the key to combating school violence and incorporating character education into the curriculum and expecting these values to be translated into daily living. Schools should and must be places where children are nurtured and not overwhelmed with feelings of insecurity. They must be involved with adults who promote positive self-esteem and intellectually challenging activities that will assist them in making choices. Of all the prominent educational reformers, only James Comer (2001) talks about healthy child development as the keystone to academic achievement and life success.
To change the culture of violence, educators must engage in activities that will create caring and secure schools. The shift from the culture of peer adversity to a culture of peer cooperation must be encouraged. Schools must incorporate a culture similar to that of the Hopi Indians, which is based on humility, cooperation, respect, and earth stewardship.
We must teach our children that they must find a common ground to avoid conflict. We must build a community of respect and trust. Stakeholders must advocate the importance of teaching children to understand that unlimited consideration and social responsibility is the hallmark of a caring, safe, and effective school system. Adults must stay connected to children via mentor programs and the like.
When the doors of education are open to violence, due to ridicule, blame, and intolerance of cultural, racial, and religious differences, the doors to knowledge are shut tight. In order to combat school violence, we must create caring and nurturing schools. We must accept the fact that teaching values and respect for self and others is imperative to the sanctity of the school environment. Students must learn the importance of accepting others and showing compassion for those who are struggling.
To accomplish the education goals of No Child Left Behind, we must work to ensure that No Child is Left Maligned.
APA Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest. (2001). The Valuing Diversity Project. Available online at http://www.apa.org/pi/valuingdiversity/
Young, E. (15 March, 2002). Rejection massively reduces IQ. New Scientist. Available online at http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99992051
Borba, M. (2001). Bully-proofing our kids. MyPrimetime.com Available online at
Comer, J. (23 April, 2001). Schools that develop children. The American Prospect, 12 (7). Available online at:
Furlong, M. & Morrison, G. (2000). The school in school violence. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 8, (2), 71-83.
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam.
Mitchell, K. (2000). How safe is my child's school. The ERIC Review. Available online at
National Association for the Education of Young Children (1993). NAEYC position statement on violence in the lives of children." Young Children, 48, (6), 80-84.
Office for Civil Rights (1999) Protecting students from harassment and hate crime: A guide for schools. Available online at http://www.ed.gov/pubs/Harassment/harass_intro.html
Sudermann, M., Jaffe, P.G., & Schieck, E. (1996). Bullying: information for parents and teachers. Available online at
U.S. Department of Education. (2002a). No Child Left Behind Act of 2001: Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Legislation and Policies Website. Available online at: http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/esea/
U.S. Department of Education. (2002b). No Child Left Behind: A Desktop Reference. Unsafe School Choice Option (IX-E-2-9532). Available online at: http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/reference/9e29532.html