SCHOOLS AS A CAUSE OF BEHAVIOR DISORDERS
There are no “cure-all” programs in the schools today for children with behavior disorders. Some behavior problems may owe their very existence to the fact that there is such a thing as formal education (Cullinan, Epstein, and Lloyd, 1983). Schools are geared toward the child who is healthy, intelligent, upper-middle class, high achieving, high in self-esteem, and adroit in interpersonal skills. These children tend to evoke positive reactions from teachers and others in the school. Conversely, students who present lowered intellectual ability, undeveloped social skills and a lack of self-confidence receive unfavorable reactions from people at school (Cullinan, et al, p.263).
Classroom expectations that include “white middle class norms” are a part of curriculum that teaches “what is right for the majority is right for all.” The school environment is manipulated to mold a child in the system’s image, not to bring out his own innate uniqueness. Teachers and schools tend to mistake good behavior for good character and praise children for docility, suggestibility, doing what they are told or doing what is wanted without being told.
Children need love and respect. They want to be admired and appreciated but it is contemptible to expect them to gain such feedback only by doing what others wish. This form of approval and affection is hypocritical to human values (Holt, 1982, p.238). Should we ask him to choose between adult approval and his own self-respect?
The Hewitt Research Foundation (1984) evaluates the school’s grading system as programming children for failure. The curriculum in formal education reflects one long standardized test which decides a child should read by the end of kindergarten and if he does not, he flunks. He is not socially promoted as it would be unfair to the child. It does not matter that he may not be ready for formalized reading instruciton, a criterion arbitrarily established and evaluated through normed testing. Through competition, at the heart of testing, children are taught to reach for success, the “gold ring,” that comes through good grades, high academic achievement, and socially approved normed behavior.
The teacher defines tasks without giving consideration to the learner’s needs, interests, and abilities. The teacher decides what is to be done, when, and by whom. The irrelevant curriculum creates communication gaps and feelings of powerlessness for the student.
Focusing on narrow academic products is part of American educational history where the classroom focus is on the right answer, the pertinent fact. Outcomes are evaluated, rated, and judged.
The school must begin to teach the learner constructive ways of behaving or face the possibility of having unwittingly contributed to dangerous alternatives. “The learners’ frustration, anger and hostility at the realization that they have been victims of a negative environment trigger emotional energies which are not being dealt with constructively either outside or inside the school” (Fagan, Long, and Stevens, 1975, p.5).
A child must come to believe that he is capable of controlling his own behavior, that he can cope even though frustrated and not be victimized by unrealistic demands. A curriculum aimed at improving self-control (as described by:
Kauffman and Lewis, 1974; Long, Morse, and Newman, 1980) could reduce stress and how it is reacted to. Such a curriculum could improve school adjustment, strenghthen the emotional and cognitive capacities which children need in order to cope with school requirements, and build control skills which allow for an effective and socially acceptable choice of action (Cullinan, et al).
The most effective educational intervention is at the preventive and remedial levels; a curriculum to build competency for self control. When self control skills are mastered, the learner may be able to incorporate self-pride and respect through reflection on available alternatives. By specifying clear instructional tasks and activities to promote the development of a self controlled pupil, the curriculum hopes to prevent the occurrence of emotional and lerning handicaps. As pupils gain skill in areas of self control, negative and disruptive behaviors will decrease (Fagan, et al, p.261).
I view the self control curriculum as a start in recognizing the individuality of students, a recognition long overdue. I question, however, whether it will ever go beyond academic research into the majority of classrooms. The schools are causing and maintaining behavior disorders and without a concerted effort on the part of educators to alleviate the demands of conformity, we will continue to cause problems that we then try to cure.
Cullinan, D., M.H. Epstein, and J.W. Lloyd. 1983. Behavior disorders of children and adolescents. Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Prentice—Hall, Inc., p.51—58, 152—168, 255—269.
Fagan, S.A., N.J. Long, and D.J. Stevens. 1975. Teaching children self-control, preventing emotional and learning problems in the elementary school. Columbus, OH:
Hewitt Research Foundation. 1984. The parent educator and family report. Aug/Sept 1984, v.2, n.6.
Holt, John. 1982. How children fail. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.
Kauffman, J.M. and C.D. Lewis, eds. 1974. Teaching children with behavior disorders, personal perspectives. Columbus, OH: Merrill.
Long, N.J., W.C. Morse, and R.G. Newman. 1980. Conflict in the classroom. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.
Note on Kathy Knez: Kathy earned her A.A.S. in Human services in 1981 from College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL then the B.S.Ed. May 1985 from Northern Illinois University. She says that she “will have to find a job where I will be free to facilitate the normal development of each child.” She spent 25 years as a clerk typist, secretary, and Land Trust Administrator. Kathy is now thrilled and challenged to be working with children. Her address is: 716 N. Ellsworth, Naperville IL 60540.
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