I sat quietly with my head down, as silence fell over the classroom. I dared not look up at the teacher glaring at me, breathing loudly after having yelled at me and calling me jaahil*. My notebook lay at my feet, she had thrown it across the room. It was a well rehearsed dance at this point, honestly- break rules, get in trouble, keep your head down, let them yell, don’t talk for the rest of the class and it will blow over.
The picture of the rampant culture of aggression and violence in schools is far worse than the experiences that I had. Even though there is legislation in place to protect children, and even though adults (especially teachers) have an inherent voice telling them that it is not right to physically, psychologically or emotionally harm children — it still happens. But, why?
For starters, its the only thing we know how to do.
The current generation of teachers is imparting knowledge in the same manner that it was presented to them. As part of my work at Saving 9, I train educators in modules of empathetic teaching practices in an endeavor to move away from corporal punishment and harsh disciplining strategies. There have been so many instances where a teacher comes to realize that their most oft used punishments are actually the ones they were punished for themselves as children. They were taught that in order to learn, they had to be beaten. And so, they believe that in order to teach, they must beat in return.
This repetitive cycle of aggressive teaching can be understood better with Albert Banduras experiments in observational learning: Children witnessed adults behave in non-aggressive, aggressive and neutral mannerisms in an experiment. At the end of the series of experiments it was noted that children who observed aggressive behavior imitated these aggressive responses far more than the non-aggressive and neutral behaviors. It concluded that children have the capacity to learn aggression just by witnessing it. Which further brings the question, how much aggression have we internalized in our childhood through our schools and how much aggression and anger is the current generation witnessing?
What can we do about this?
Let’s start small: Practice mindfulness.
Introspection about our teaching methodologies and willingness to learn and become better is key. We need to redefine and relearn how to teach and how to interact with children. This comes from practice and patience. The key here is to tap into your inner child, and ask:
“When I was a child, and this happened to me, how would I feel?”
“What would I have wanted to happen instead?”
And that can be your starting point. The change that you can bring in your classroom and in the lives of your students. An end to the violent cycle of education.
The beginning of hope.