A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Combating Sexual Abuse

Walk down the halls of any American high school and you can observe to a reasonable degree of certainty the boys who will grow into abusers of women. Over the years I taught, I took dozens of girls aside to let them know that the publically physical behavior of the boys they were attached to was not only not indicative of real affection but was also an ominous sign of a pattern of behavior that tends to grow worse over time. I would try to get girls to understand that physical abuse is not an appropriate price to pay for male attention and the social status that tends to accrue to high school girls who have it.

While our nation is focused on the sexual misbehavior of some of the powerful males in our society, it’s appropriate to think seriously about what we do in our schools to acculturate boys to constrain their impulses and respect the right of girls to be free from undesired, sexually aggressive male behavior. While the misbehavior of the famous and powerful is deeply troubling, it can tend to mask the broad prevalence of violence against women in our society and our failure to as yet come up with an approach to stem it. Surely, if we can observe the budding of this behavior in the boys in our public schools, we are ethically obliged to think through a program to combat it.

I know that some of my readers are fuming at my suggestion of adding one more job to the teaching day. That’s not what I’m about. I’m well aware that the expectations for what teachers are to accomplish in a workday far exceed what time will allow. Rather that suggesting an extra job, I believe the socialization of children central to the mission of public schools. Surely part of that socialization process needs to be the inculcation of appropriate norms of male/female interactions.

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Teaching Adults to Talk to Each Other

One on the loudest laments I hear from elementary teachers concerning the ever increasing academic burden we have been placing on young children is the lack of time to do many of the activities that were once very consciously aimed at socializing our children. Teachers are deeply concerned that in the test centered would in which they work, children are missing opportunities to hone the social skills that come from activities requiring interaction with other students and adults, not the least important of which is play. In a world in which their time after school is increasingly spent being engaging digital media, where is it that we expect children to learn the skills that lubricate the interactions between people.

This subject has been on my mind since I hear an NPR piece last week about a police training program in Spokane Washington aimed at millennial officers who are seen by their superiors to generally lacking important social skills necessary to engage strangers. In a era in which community policing is the favored approach to public safety (except, of course for Donald Trump), Spokane is undertaking training of its young officers in how to talk to and read the citizens they are expected to police.

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Let’s Use our Public Schools to Address Domestic Violence

If you walk through the halls of an American high school with a focused eye, it won’t be long before you come upon a boy treating a girl in an abusive manner, physically, verbally or both. If fact, I have the distinct sense after thirty-five years of teaching high school students, that one can to a reasonable degree of certainty spot the boys who will grow up to be serious abusers of women. I can’t count the number of girls I have counseled about getting out of abusive relationships with boys who treat them like possessions rather than people for whom they have affection. Yet, while most health education classes raise the issue, I don’t know of any schools that have a coherent, coordinated k-12 program to raise the consciousness of young people to the insidiousness of domestic violence in our country.

The grim domestic violence statistics suggest that such programs should be in order. A recent article in Huffington Post summarizes our national shame. Each day, three women are murdered by a current or former male partner. 38,028000 women report having experienced violence by an intimate partner. One in four women in the United States will experience violence at the hand of an intimate male partner. We read statistics like this, we see professional male athletes suspended for domestic violence, but it doesn’t seem to dawn on us that our public schools may be the place to begin to work with children on avoiding these behaviors. If not in our public schools, where are we going to work with children to rid ourselves of this scourge? That little boy pushing kindergarten girls around may well be acting out a behavior he has already learned from his father. We could begin to help him understand his behavior and change it.

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