By Patricia Evans
It would appear that the frequency of verbal abuse in our society is on the rise. This is evident in our schools where our culture is reflected in microcosm. Without doubt, most teachers, students and administrators have witnessed instances of verbal abuse on campus.
Why is verbal abuse commonly seen in schools? I think it is not only because verbal abuse is endemic in our culture, but also because in schools a great many different people must interact–people from different cultures, with different values, religious beliefs, expectations and levels of maturity. Few have taken a course in interpersonal communications or learned effective communications by example in childhood.
Teachers and students, alike, have had to cope with the “fallout” that results when students routinely accept verbal abuse as a way of life. Blame for verbal abuse has been placed on everything from music, videos and movies to insensitive parenting. But, I believe, ignorance is a primary cause. Consequently, I believe that students can learn that it is not an acceptable way of life. It is instead a manifestation of ignorance.
Most of us wouldn’t be surprised to hear an angry three year old toddler say, “You’re a poo poo,” because mom says, “No more candy.” The child is ignorant of the silliness of name calling. But when a thirteen year old says, “You’re a bitch,” we must wonder why the teen is ignorant of the silliness of name calling. Since verbal abuse frequently precedes physical fighting, I believe that sensitizing students to this problem and educating them will not only make our hallways and classrooms more pleasant, but will also increase everyone’s sense of safety and well being.
It is possible that many people of all ages perpetuate or tolerate a pattern of abusive behaviors simply because they do not realize that verbal abuse has different underlying dynamics than healthy processes of conflict resolution and problem solving. While strong emotions often surface during healthy conflict resolution, the underlying intent of both parties in non-abusive situations is to solve the problem while maintaining the dignity of both parties. On the other hand, in verbally-abusive situations, the intent of one party may be to solve the problem, while the intent of the other is to dominate and control. I believe that educating faculty and students on the underlying dynamics of verbal abuse will be a first step in reducing its frequency, first on our campuses, then, hopefully, in our community’s homes. To find out about training programs for your school see Trainings: Teachers and Students. If you have a story to tell of the devastating impact of verbal abuse in a school, please pass it on by email. Contact me.