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The emotional abuse of our children: Teachers, schools, and the sanctioned violence of our modern

So, if you are following along with me now you are probably thinking that this form of bald faced abuse of power and authority is something that we, as a civilized modern society, should be able to do without. There’s lots of way to motivate people without resorting to either physical or emotional abuse. In fact, as anybody with a clue will tell you, physical and emotional abuse are horrible motivators leading to far more problems than they solve. So imagine now that we take this box thing and do it to children in school. Imagine you have a twelve year old daughter and imagine the teacher has threatened that child that if they don’t behave and live up to expectations, they are going to have to sit on the floor for a week. You remember what school is like, and how horrible children can be to each other. I imagine that a psychologically and emotionally defenseless child would be TERRORIZED by even the thought of that sort of public display and humiliation. You can imagine the damage done should the child actually be forced, by the teacher, to submit to the public humiliation. Self esteem would take a hit, their social network would probably crumble, and the effects would no doubt trickle out into the schoolyard in ways to innumerable to enumerate in this short article. Schools have a hard enough time dealing with bullying to begin with without teachers painting a target on a child’s back in this fashion.

[amazon_enhanced asin="0787943630" ccprice="All" background_color="FFFFFF" link_color="000000" text_color="0000FF" /]Now I know what you are saying, no school would ever do something like this. I mean, we now know that emotional abuse is bad, and we know that isolation, rejection, and public shaming is emotionally abusive, and we would never allow our teachers to engage in it. Shockingly however, emotional abuse is a problem in school. As a parent I have had to go to bat for my kids several times. For example, my son’s teacher put his name on a board and publicly humiliated him for not doing his work properly. When I told her that her public humiliation was making him feel bad, all she could say was that if he wanted to avoid the bad feelings, he’d have to perform to her expectations. I was shocked that she seemed so unconcerned about his feelings, and when I pointed this out to the principle, and when I said that as an adult post-secondary teacher it was against the law for me to even post student numbers in a public space because I was not allowed to violate their right to privacy and safety (in Alberta FOIP laws protect adults from this sort of public exposure, so why not children??), he said that the classroom was hardly a public space. Of course, it is a public space. Not only does everybody in the school get to see how my son is doing, but parents of the kids that go to the school can have a look as well, so I don’t know where he got his “not a public space” comment, ’cause clearly it is. And that’s not even the worst of it you know. Last week my daughter came home and said that her teacher told her that if she didn’t perform as  expected, she might lose her desk “privileges” and have to sit on the floor for a week.

I’m not kidding.

If my twelve year old daughter can’t “make the rent” in her classroom, her teacher is going to identify, isolate, ridicule, and publicly humiliate her by taking away her desk and forcing her to sit on the floor in the midst of thirty of her school age peers. And while her teacher says that it probably won’t be a problem for my daughter, I am horrified nonetheless that even the threat has been issued. I mean, this same teacher, and this school principle, would never ever in a million years think they could pull a stunt like this with adults (can you imagine how upset the teaching staff of the school would be if I put their names and pictures here, put them in a box in public, and held them up for public shaming and ridicule? Furious they’ll be. I’m sure it will be bad enough that I’ve just pointed at them in this fashion), so why are the feelings of our children so irrelevant that they do not even register on their radar? Frankly I feel sorry for the three kids she’s done it to in the past. I mean, I’ve read the research, I am counselor by trade, I am aware of how profoundly damaging something like this can be, and frankly I am shocked that professional teachers seem unaware of basic psychological research. I hate being such a boisterous critic but this is important. The research shows this kind of thing undermines creativity, damages productivity, and causes social problems. As a society we’re always looking for ways to save money so if these practices undermine our global competitiveness and cost us in terms of damaged creativity, lower productivity, and the cash dollars it takes to deal with social problems, then on those grounds alone we should be up in arms over this kind of nonsense. If you ask me though, protecting our kids from emotional harm is reason enough.

Bottom line?

If our education system is turning out teachers and administrators who don’t think twice about emotionally abusing our children, and if as parents we can’t see that abuse, and don’t stand up to stop it, then we as a society, got a problem.

Sources and References

Brendgen, Mara, Wanner, Brigitte, & Vitaro, Frank (2006). Verbal Abuse by the Teacher and Child Adjustment from Kindergarten Through Grad e6. Pediatrics, 117: 5.

Hyman, Irwin & Snook, Pamela (1999). [amazon_link id="0787943630" target="_blank" cc]Dangerous Schools. What we can do about the physical and emotional abuse of our children[/amazon_link].

Krugmen, Richard D. & Krugman, Mary K (1984). Emotional Abuse in the Classroom: The Pediatrician’s Role in Diagnosis and Treatment. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 128: 284-286.

Moeller, James R. (2002). The Combined Effects of Physical, Sexual, and Emotional Abuse During Childhood: Long-term Health Consequences for Women. Child Abuse and Neglect, 17(5): 623-40.

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