Building a Gentler School Marie Cincotta

By Vicky Schreiber Dilland and November 12, 2001

Martin Haberman

Educational Leadership (Volume 52, Feb. 1995)


Children growing up in poverty and violent neighborhoods often learn aggression and belligerence as an accepted way of life, resulting in students who end up being suspended from schools in detention halls or juvenile facilities. The authors of this article feel schools can expose these students to a more constructive way of relating. Rising school violence is a problem in inner city schools. Exposure of students to violence in their communities is a reality many students face. Gangs are an accepted part of life. Peer groups have tremendous influence over children. Schools can help students move from violence to a "gentler way to live." Schools can introduce students to non-violent options by teaching social skills and decision-making. The teacher is a positive role model when it comes to counteracting the culture of violence in school. Teachers need to demonstrate behavior that fosters non-violent environments. A teacher needs to avoid an authoritarian approach and provide opportunities in the classroom for pro-social behavior. The authors feel teachers need to respond with empathy and moral reasoning to disruptive students, something they probably do not experience in their homes or neighborhoods. The authors also point out that while students, cannot be allowed to hurt one another, expulsion and suspension will not benefit the student. Schools can and need to provide students with an option to violent behavior, if students are going to succeed and function in society.

Reflecting on the article, I do not think school violence is a problem that is only limited to inner cities or low-income areas. I believe it is an issue that touches everyone. A major factor in the problem of youth violence is the impact of exposure to violence. All children are exposed to graphic violence in the news and entertainment media. However, I do feel children in poorer neighborhoods also see violence in their communities and some in their own homes. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, (1991) violence is an everyday experience in their neighborhood for the 20 % of all children and adolescents who live below the poverty line. If students witness verbal and physical aggression in their neighborhoods and homes, this is what they will model as solutions to their problems. Some youth grow up in an environment where they have to fight to survive. It is going to take more than just "gentle teachers" to address school violence. To be successful in society, one has to have the ability to think critically and solve problems peacefully. Social and problem solving skills need to be part of the school curriculum. Often students are punished for misbehaving instead of showing them alternatives to their behavior. Labeling a student as "bad" could lead to academic failure. Teachers are a powerful role model and hopefully can make a difference in the lives of their students. In addition to the way a teacher responds to her students, I think lessons addressing social skills need to be integrated with other content areas.

Two essential aspects of social skill instruction are cooperative learning and conflict resolution. Many schools are using cooperative learning and integrating conflict resolution programs into their curriculum. Traditional behavior management techniques teach students conflicts need adults for resolutions. The teacher is viewed as an authoritarian figure; something the article feels is not good. Today however, schools are moving away from traditional behavior management technique. When they implement conflict resolution in their curriculum, schools are teaching students to respond to conflict through communication.

At our school, we use Getting Along Together, a conflict resolution curriculum that is part of the Success for All reading program to teach social skills to the students.

I think skills taught in a conflict resolution help children establish caring relationships and enable them to function effectively in today’s culture where many diversities blend.

I also agree with the article that suspension does not help the students. In-school suspension is a better option but definitely more counseling is needed in the schools.

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