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Shadow Children: Understanding Educationís #1 Problem

reviewed by Crystal England - April 02, 2007

coverTitle: Shadow Children: Understanding Educationís #1 Problem
Author(s): Anthony Dallmann-Jones
Publisher: RLD Publications, Lancaster
ISBN: 0978761006 , Pages: 206, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com

In his newest book, Shadow Children: Understanding Education’s #1 Problem, Dr. Anthony Dallmann-Jones uses the words, “We must develop an unbridled, unstoppable, impassioned, intelligent, and persistent effort” (p. 46) on behalf of students who are labeled “at-risk” in their educational environments. Throughout the book, Dallmann-Jones seeks to establish and maintain a passionate esprit de corps on behalf of disenfranchised students. He uses a blend of startling statistics, hard core case studies, and constructive, readily applicable formulas for success to chide and encourage educators to not let any youth, but particularly at-risk youth, slip into the shadows. His philosophy of “pay now or pay more later” is a recurrent theme in the book, backed by factual evidence and unwavering conviction.

Within the first few pages of the book, Dallmann-Jones discusses the creation of shadow children. The term “shadow child” refers to a student who is “at-risk”; the definition of “at-risk” itself is subject to considerable discourse in the book. Dallmann-Jones asserts that the traditional criterion-based way of viewing “risk” is not expansive enough to include those students who are at-risk because of being raised in unfavorable circumstances, and what’s more, it alleviates the school from the shared responsibility of mitigating risk factors for students. In a sentiment akin to the African proverb of, “Until the lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter,” Dallmann-Jones advocates for equal opportunity of attainment, beginning with giving a voice to the great need of America’s at-risk youth.

While consistently passionate, Shadow Children does, at times, leave the reader wanting for more. For example, while Dallmann-Jones gives a nod to the debate about whether youth should actually bear the label of at-risk, there is no real conclusion to the quandary, save for the reliance on the National At-Risk Education Network’s (NAREN’s) two-pronged determination of risk. NAREN’s definition maintains that to be considered at-risk, students must be 1) at-risk of dropping out of high school and/or, 2) at-risk of not succeeding in life because of being raised in unfavorable circumstances. It is both a strength and a drawback that Dallmann-Jones fits 18 chapters into 188 pages—a strength because the information in the book is succinct and useable and paced according to the needs of busy educators, but a drawback because at times Dallmann-Jones’ critical message seems to be cut short.

Section I of the book, “Shadow Children Type 1 – The School Dropout,” is dedicated to evoking a response in the reader—and not just any response, but a call to action. Dallmann-Jones cites case studies and statistics which demonstrate that success and gender and poverty continue to have an unsettlingly direct relationship to one another. He also gives a full accounting of the cost of schools allowing the production of criminals instead of responsible citizens. Finally, a solid problem definition leads readers directly to Section II, which focuses on understanding how abuse affects children. Section II, “Shadow Children Also Develop from a Bad Start,” provides a concentrated focus on the effects of abuse within and around the victim. The concern is not with blame, but instead with dynamics of abuse and neglect, their aftereffects, and how once started, these dynamics develop an identity of their own.

Dallmann-Jones does a fine job of illuminating the continuum of functional to dysfunctional and its counterpart, intolerance to affirmation. He stresses that functional families are selfless in their nurturing because their belief system is based upon affirmation, or the unconditional approval of someone exactly as they are. He states, “At conception, we intrinsically possess all the things we need to achieve our full potential as wonderfully enlightened and fully developed beings. Our environmental requirement for these abilities to materialize is to be fully cherished” (p. 67). Students at risk do not have this environmental requirement and may, in fact, have a daunting history of articulated non-acceptance. Dallmann-Jones urges readers to recognize that early and persistent displays of intolerance cause “Shadow Child Syndrome.” The first ingrained messages that we receive about a topic, any topic, are the most powerful, whether or not they are healthy and productive. Dallmann-Jones goes on to elaborate on human sensitivity, intelligence, and adaptability, as they are affected by cycles of addiction. He asserts that the major addiction in the world is the addiction to abuse itself and that alcoholism, drug addiction, and codependence are just vehicles for abusing the self and others.

Section III of the book is dedicated to fully examining Shadow Child Syndrome (SCS). In the broadest sense, this syndrome is a direct result of having been raised by anyone other than nurturing caregivers. Dallmann-Jones expands upon the diagnosis, citing eight accompanying personality characteristics that shadow children are likely to possess. While there are no real surprises on the list, the reader may find himself nodding, attaching “symptoms” to students in his class. Visually seeing the symptoms of Shadow Child Syndrome as a disorder immediately casts a different light on behavior as a function versus behavior as means. Interestingly, while the eight traits are diverse (not all shadow children have all eight traits), they are tied together by the fact that they are all underliers of a distorted system of external and internal limits and boundaries.

Dallmann-Jones must realize that teachers who encounter the symptoms associated with Shadow Child Syndrome will be having moments of illumination on behalf of specific students in their classrooms, for he goes on immediately to address the topic of the implications of having shadow children in educational environments. Schools, he asserts, are “mostly about control” and shadow children, who already feel environmentally powerless, are mostly about keeping whatever shreds of control that they perceive they have. It is a battle of wills that manifests itself as overt misbehavior, absolute withdrawal, or a chaotic combination of both within classrooms each day. It is not just behavior, however, that evidences SCS, but emotional aloofness, inability to grieve, guilt, crisis addiction, and low self esteem. Dallmann-Jones dedicates text to each one of these critical components and then points to the prescription when he states, “A healthy educational environment, by definition, must establish a confrontive (truth telling) attitude toward self-destructive behaviors, and, if it has the resources, provide support for recovery from such behaviors” (p. 95).

As the director of the National At-Risk Education Network (NAREN), Dallmann-Jones has done extensive research on the most effective components of at-risk instruction. He touches on these “NAREN Nine Facets of Quality At-Risk Education ” near the end of Section III, providing readers with a taste of the elements necessary to assist at-risk students with experiencing success. He provides a list of the 4 critical “Rs” for any classroom (Resourceful, Responsible, Respectful, Reflective) gives insight into the direct programmatic considerations that must be made on behalf of disenfranchised youth, and presents a tongue-in-cheek laundry list of what NOT to do, too. Dallmann-Jones also cites the work of Richard Catalano (2002), clearly defining for his readers the fifteen characteristics associated with Positive Youth Development.

In the final section of Shadow Children, Dallmann-Jones addresses the need for prevention and intervention in America’s schools. Offering eight tenets of intervention, he concludes with the notion of persistence. The idea of persistence is definitely central to Dallmann-Jones’ writing, and he states,

Persistence always wins and half-hearted efforts rarely do when it comes to intervention. All stakeholders must be in for the long haul and not excited if it takes years to see results, but pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t. It can take as long to solve a problem as it did to create it. Educational leadership dedicated to a role of constant and long term support will play a large part in any formula for success. (p. 121)

Readers will be delighted with the immediately useable intervention checklists and list of intervention-based resources that Dallmann-Jones provides, as well as with the appendices that offer tools for the classification of abuse and information on “36 Organizations That Are Doing Something!” The bibliography section of the book provides a wealth of continued reading opportunities for those interested in at-risk education.

Shadow Children: Understanding Education’s #1 Problem provides an inspirational message, to be sure, but it is about more than simply “preaching to the choir.” While the choir may be affirmed, they are also educated—there is new insight in this book for those who choose to seek it. Perhaps most importantly though, Shadow Children provides a concise, easy-to-read (yet fully prescriptive and informative) tool for those individuals that the choir is looking to convert. Dallmann-Jones succeeds in sharing his passion, summarizing his beliefs in two calls to action. He purports that each of us must, “Wake up our empathetic feelings to experience what it must feel like to have two strikes against you and then go into a school that sighs and/or sneers at you as if you were a lower caste member” (p. 142), and then we must “Wake up our intellects and learn enough to care” (p. 141).


Catalano, R., Berglund, M., Ryan, J., Lonczak, H., & Hawkins, J. (2002). Defining and evaluating positive youth development. Prevention & Treatment, 5(15). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 02, 2007
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14050, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 7:06:55 PM

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About the Author
  • Crystal England
    Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization
    E-mail Author
    CRYSTAL ENGLAND, MSE, is a special education administrator in Palatine, IL. She is the author of three books, Divided We Fail: Issues of Equity in American Schools, Uphill Both Ways: Helping Students Who Struggle in School, and None of Our Business: Why Business Models Don't Work in Schools.
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