Opinion
School Climate & Safety Opinion

To Reduce Family Violence, Schools Have a Role

By Francesca Sternfeld — June 02, 2015 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Who teaches children about human relationships? The answer is everyone they have contact with, be they young or old, male or female, loving or cruel. Children learn about relationships through social osmosis. They see the patterns around them and internalize those behaviors as the blueprints for what to expect from their own lives. If it is our sincere goal to reduce the sheer magnitude of family violence in America, we have to begin with the environment we have already entrusted with the responsibility of shaping children’s lives outside the home. We have to start with schools.

At the end of every school day, millions of American children return to violent households. To make life endurable, they integrate that violence into their understanding of reality. They learn that both carrying out violence and suffering it are part of life. Without sufficient models of an alternative, they have no choice but to cope in whatever ways they discover on their own. While some children may in fact have healthy coping mechanisms, too many will withdraw into their pain or act out against others. Whenever one child is wounded, he or she brings that anguish into the classroom, regardless of how conscious of that his classmates and teachers are.

Domestic violence is only beginning to emerge from the cloud of taboo that surrounds it in our culture. Although it is a stubbornly entrenched feature of our society, with one in three women and one in four men experiencing violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, open discussion is rare. From time to time, the topic bursts into headlines with the scandal of a public figure, but all too soon it fades from view. The national discourse moves on.

BRIC ARCHIVE

For children who live in a violent home, however, the horror doesn’t fade. It is a daily reality, with daily costs. Exposure to family violence affects children’s cognitive, social, emotional, and academic development. It hurts their ability to have trust in the world and robs them of the notion that adulthood is a desirable state to reach.

To avoid this trajectory, we need caring adults in the school environment to take the lead on two fronts. First, children already exposed to family violence need to be equipped with the language and encouragement to name and receive support for what’s going on. Second, all children need to hear content from teachers that promotes the self-worth, respect for others, and knowledge of the psychological roots of violent behavior that can prevent them from becoming either abusers or victims.

In the last generation, social-science research has moved toward a consensus that dynamics of power and control lie at the root of family violence. Abusers seek to assert and maintain control and power over the people in their lives at the cost of the well-being, wholeness, and independence of their victims.

To name it in a classroom is to bring it into the light, where children and adults can examine it together in a supportive climate.”

This is a reality that can and should be talked about with children. Doing so in classrooms communicates that this is not something that happens to some imagined community different from our own. Craving power and acting cruelly to hold on to it is something we are all capable of. To name it in a classroom is to bring it into the light, where children and adults can examine it together in a supportive climate.

Models for this work do exist, and they should be expanded. In New York City, one standout is the Healthy Relationships Academy, a peer-led series of workshops that teaches students about the roots of abuse and ways to prevent it, and connects them to social services should they disclose that violence is already a feature of their lives.

Yet this program serves only schools that acknowledge their need and are ready to be proactive in addressing the problem. The sad reality is that every school has pupils in its care who are impacted by domestic violence. To move toward a day when preventive, health-augmenting discourse reaches all our children, we need policy change. We need content that addresses how power and control affect human relationships and behaviors as standard curricula throughout a child’s journey in school. In the words of Elizabeth Falcone, the director of the Healthy Relationship Academy: “We teach everything in school and think that people will just figure out how to be in a relationship.” To stem the tide of family violence, we need to close that gap. It’s high time to openly teach our children the art of healthy relationships.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the June 03, 2015 edition of Education Week as Necessary Lessons Schools’ Critical Role in Reducing Family Violence

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety 'Swatting' Calls and Lockdowns: Tips for Schools to Ease the Anxiety and Disruption
How school administrators can prepare for lockdowns and restore calm.
4 min read
A male police officer in a dark blue uniform walks between two white police SUVs parked in front of a three-story, red brick school building.
A police officer patrolled Glennwood Elementary School in Decatur, Ga., while the school was on lockdown in 2018.
John Amis/AP
School Climate & Safety 'Swatting' Hoaxes Disrupt Schools Across the Country. What Educators Need to Know
School lockdowns can cause stress to students, teachers, and families, even if threats don't materialize.
8 min read
A bald man and a woman with long brown hair tearfully hug a teen girl who is wearing a pale beighe backpack. Three women look on with concerned expressions.
A family shares a tearful reunion after Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, Texas, went into lockdown because of a false report of a shooting.
Kin Man Hui/The San Antonio Express-News via AP
School Climate & Safety How to Spend $1 Billion in School Safety Funds: Here's What the Feds Recommend
A "Dear Colleague" letter from the Education Department puts a priority on creating inclusive, equitable school environments.
4 min read
The U.S. Department of Education urged schools to use federal funds to support the social, emotional, mental, and physical health needs of students in a "dear colleague" letter sent Sept. 15.
Third grader Alexis Kelliher points to her feelings while visiting a sensory room at Williams Elementary School in Topeka, Kan.
Charlie Riedel/AP