The Impact of School Upon Children

" delivering policy street-level bureaucrats make decisions about people that affect their life chances. To designate or treat someone as a welfare recipient, a juvenile delinquent, or a high achiever affects the relationship of others to that person and also affects the person's self evaluation. Thus begins (or continues) the social process that we infer accounts for so many self-fulfilling prophecies. The child judged to be a juvenile delinquent develops such a self-image and is grouped with other "delinquents," increasing the chances that he or she will adopt the behavior thought to have been incipient in the first place. Children thought by their teacher to be richly endowed in learning ability learn more than peers of equal intelligence who were not thought to be superior" (Michael Lipsky, Street Level Bureaucrats).

Education affects a child's self-concept and who he or she become as an individual.

Processes involved in impacting the self-concepts and life experiences of children and parents include:

A child’s experience in school shapes how that child sees him or her self. Children form their self-concept through relationships school teachers and staff. Teachers and staff are agents of socialization and these school employees play a significant role in determining the type of school experience a child receives.
Some children are categorized as "good students" and rewarded with praise, positive attention and often given special helper roles within the day-to-day operations of the school. Others children are labeled “difficult” and reprimanded often, in front of other students. Agents of socialization identify and label difficult students and causes others in the school to expect problems with the labeled student and treat the student as a potential problem. The process of labeling teaches the child to see him or herself as "difficult" and helps the child develop a negative self-concept.
A negative self-concept is something that parents can help prevent with advocacy!
Protecting a child’s self-concept is one of the main goals of ACE advocacy.
Categorizing or labeling a child occurs through a process of comparison.
A child's academic performance and behavior is compared with school standards, norms and with other children. In other words, there are basic academic levels each student must achieve in each grade in order to move up to the next grade. Compliant behavior is required for a child to follow along in class and learn the information presented by the teacher. Compliant behavior is also required for all school activities. A child's performance is judged by his/her test scores, ability to follow directions, homework quality, and in class responsiveness to directions. Typical grading involves comparing test scores and other work with the correct answers and measuring levels of compliant behavior.
When a child’s grades drop, here are some important questions to ask in considering why and what can be done to help a child:
  • Is the child learning what is being taught?
    Passing grades indicate that yes, the child is learning what is taught in the classroom. Non-passing grades means the child is not learning what is being taught in the classroom or is unable to provide evidence that learning has occurred. 
    Some children have difficulty taking tests. There are many reasons why humans struggle with testing in schools. However, sometimes poor test scores have more to do with test taking anxiety, poor approaches to taking tests such as spending too much time on hard questions without ever getting to the easy questions or some people get distracted during tests by noise in the typical classroom. Not all failing grades are explained by learning disabilities or other cognitive disabilities. Nevertheless, it is prudent to examine why a child is experience difficulty earning passing grades.  
    Failing grades can be an indication that a child is not learning what is being taught in the classroom. Parents need to ask why a child is failing.  Parents and/or guardians need to address the problem of failing grades with school teachers and/or administrative staff in order to create a plan for helping a child learn the curriculum and earn passing grades.  
    Some types of learning problems include the pace at which a student learns. An important question parents can ask is: 
  • Is the child learning at the same pace as the other children or falling behind and not learning everything he/she needs to learn in a particular time period?

    First, a child may learn slower than most of the other children in the classroom. A slower learner may be a child who has to spend several hours a night on homework and several hours of study for each test just to get a barely passing grade. There is nothing wrong with being a slower learner but when the amount of work the family has to do in order to help the child barely pass begins to take over the entire family experience, then it’s time for the parent to request an evaluation for special education and ask for accommodations to help the child. 

    There are accommodations available in schools that allow children to have extended time on test taking, allowing students to take tests in a quiet room away from other students and other distractions and modifications that limit the amount of time a student has to spend doing homework every night. Special education can help accommodate slower learners to make the school experience something that doesn’t take over the entire family and every waking human moment for the child.

    Second, a child may be learning slowly because the child has unaddressed reading problems. The child may not be able to read text books or what is written on the board. Some students are unable to remember what they read but are able to remember everything they hear. Some children read only the first few letters of a word and guess what the rest of the word is without actually reading the entire word. Some children do not actually see the words on the page as they are written and whole sentences can appear to the child's mind as one big word. If a parent suspects reading problems may explain failing grades, parents can submit a written request to the school that their child receive a special education evaluation to look for reading disabilities. The school is responsible for remediating reading disabilities under both special education laws (IDEA) and No Child Left Behind laws. Reading disabilities can slow the pace at which a child learns. The school is responsible for remediating the disability through either remediation of the skill (repetition of the specific skill) or remediation of the deficit (remediation of the deficit within the mental process of reading).

    Third, a child may be learning slowly because of speech and language deficits. A child may have trouble with receptive language. In other words, a child may not process everything the teacher says. In this case, the school should evaluate the child for a speech and language disability. Speech and language remediation is available at the school to help the child understand the teacher and in some cases, the child may need a class where the information is presented at a slower pace.

    Finally, there are many other types of disabilities that can impact the pace of learning and each child needs to be looked at for his or her unique traits and performance areas.

Is the child learning at all or not learning what he/she needs to know based upon the classroom standards?

Typically, the school will identify students who are not learning at all in Kindergarten. However, there are some cases when a child is not passing at grade level but school teachers and administrators are passing the child to the next grade and ignoring the failing grades. In this case, the child needs a special education evaluation and the parents need to contact an advocate because the school has failed in its obligation to identify students with special needs and provide services so each child can make meaningful educational progress each year. Again, schools are required, by law, to identify children not learning the curriculum presented and assesses these students for special needs. School administrators and teachers who fail to identify and assess for special needs are violating the law!

If the child is not performing according to standards, the question of WHY must be asked and answered. 

Two modes for answering the question WHY?
1. Does the child have a learning disability?
The aforementioned processes account for helping children with suspected learning disabilities get needed help in school. 
2. Does the child have behavior problems impacting his/her learning?

Again, A child's performance and behavior is compared with school standards and norms. A child can be labeled "difficult" for behavior that is outside of the school norm.  There are education laws (education code) that determine what normal and appropriate behaviors are for school children. If a child does not manifest behavior according to school norms, the school has to determine what each deviant behavior is and determine why the behavior occurred. A child who is not disabled and refuses to comply with school rules is labeled delinquent and responded to with punitive methods such as: loss of privileges in school, detention, suspension, expulsion and involvement with law enforcement. The delinquent label eventually criminalizes a child.

On the other hand, the child’s noncompliant behavior may be caused by a disability. A child labeled disabled must be treated as that child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) states the child must be treated. Many disabled children with behavioral disorders have Behavior Support Plans as part of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and all problem behaviors must be responded to as described in the Behavior Support Plan (BSP) or the Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). If the school staff does not follow the BSP or BIP, the school is not complying with the law and parents need to contact the state Procedural Safeguards Hotline in order to file a complaint against the school for not implementing the child’s IEP because, in this case, it’s the school’s behavior that is non-compliant in response to the child's non-compliant behavior. 

If a child has behavioral problems but has no BSP or BIP, then the parents must write a letter to the school requesting a Behavioral Support Plan (BSP). If the BSP was implemented and the problem behaviors persist, parents can request a Functional Behavioral Analysis (FBA) in order to produce a research based Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). The FBA will examine what types of circumstances and situations trigger the problem behaviors, describe the problem behaviors and the frequency and duration of those problem behaviors as well as create a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to help stop the problem behaviors. Sometimes the Behavior Intervention Plan is too intensive for the neighborhood school to implement and parents need to question if there is an alternative school setting that would be more appropriate for implementation of the BIP. In some cases, non-public schools designed to specifically address children with behavior problems may be the most appropriate location for the child because extremely frequent behavior intervention is typical for school procedures. 

Sometimes it is also necessary to request an educationally related mental health evaluation to evaluate for a suspected mental health disabilities causing the problem behaviors. The school is required to evaluate in all areas of suspected disability and many behavioral problems are caused by mental health disabilties. Therefore, when the school has not conducted an educationally relevant mental health evaluation, the school may be unable to identify the cause of behavioral problems and effectively extinguish behaviors through just a Behavior Support Plan because the child's mental health disability is not identified nor addressed in the IEP. 

Answering the question of why a child’s behavior occurred is important for schools in determining disciplinary action and assigning a label of delinquent or disabled to a child. The label a child receives impacts how the child will be treated in school and impacts the child’s self-concept and eventual life chances.

The following questions illustrate how a child is determined to be either delinquent or deviant or in need of special help related to a handicapping condition (from ADD/ADHD to mental health syndromes).

  • Has the child been seen by a doctor for behavioral problems?
  • Does the child have a mental or emotional disturbance, a diagnosis?
  • Is the child's behavior the result of a mental or physical health problem?

Labeling a student "difficult" or "delinquent" also impacts the family. School officials can use parents as instruments for enforcing school norms that both tax family time and create emotional stress for the entire family unit. Furthermore, schools have historically excluded (prior to 1974) special needs children from the public education system, which spawned national parental advocacy and federal civil rights for special needs children within public schools. Schools do not have a history of support for disabled human beings. Therefore, parent involvement in labeling a child’s behavior is critical for the child’s best interests.

Local schools have a range of responses to children whose behavior deviates from normal academic standards and behavioral norms.

School Responses Usually Begin with Teachers

Academic deviation from standards can lead to:

  • The teacher may ask parents to help with homework more often
  • The teacher may ask parents to seek help at learning centers within the community to help the child catch up with the rest of the class
  • Caution: the school is responsible for providing remediation services to help children who are studying and working hard in school to pass at grade level. If a child is studying and working hard but still failing in school, parents need to write a letter to the school requesting an evaluation for learning disabilities. The school must assess the child for learning disabilities if the parent requests an assessment and the child is not passing at grade level. If the child has learning disabilities, the school is responsible for providing a range of services and accommodations to help the child pass at grade level and make meaningful yearly progress in school.
  • The teacher may start asking if the child has been diagnosed with ADD or AHDH
  • The teacher may recommend an ADD/ADHD assessment by a medical doctor and talk about other children who succeed academically because they take Ritalin.
  • Caution: When or if the teacher recommends Ritalin by referencing other student success stories, the teacher is taking the place of a doctor. Only a doctor is qualified to recommend medications and to diagnose disabilities. Teachers are overstepping their qualifications by recommending parents seek behavioral modification drugs just because teachers have noticed that behavioral modification drugs have calmed other students. There are scientific debates about the effects of behavioral control drugs upon children throughout human development. In fact, the makers of Risperdal, a behavioral control drug, are being sued because this drug has caused the growth of breasts in a percentage of boys who took this drug while children. Furthermore, doctors like Peter Breggin M.D. argue that evidence shows long term use of psychostimulants by children shrinks the size of the brain by the time the child becomes an adult. Research psychostimulant medication carefully and consult a doctor about these drugs. Do not consider public school teacher recommendations about drugs like Ritalin valid because teachers are not trained nor qualified to be a valid source of information regarding mind and behavior altering drugs.

Behavioral Deviation from Norms can lead to:

  • Chastisement. The teacher may verbally warn the student not to misbehave.
  • Shaming: The teacher may scold the child in front of the class for misbehavior.
  • Holding back rewards: The teacher may not reward the student for other achievements, not related to behavior, because of misbehavior.

Children have the right to positive behavioral interventions and positive behavioral support. Shamming is not a positive behavioral support and parents should document any shaming done by a teacher or school staff member and address this in writing to the school and ask for positive behavioral support.

The Principal's Responses to Deviation at the Elementary School Level

  • More often than not, the principal gets directly involved when behavior is an issue.
  • Principal's begin responding deviance with methods that cost the school the least amount of money and time and can often cost the parents the most (both in terms of money and time)
  • The principal can blame parents for child misbehavior and make a private call to Child Protective Services and have the parent investigated for child abuse.
  • The principal can send the child home without formal suspension. This is exclusion from school. Parents should document every time a child is informally sent home and make sure the parent signs the child out of school in the office and writes down the reason is that the child is being sent home for bad behavior. Children with an IEP cannot miss more than 10 days of school per year (this includes suspensions and informal send homes). If a child misses more than 10 days of school, that child is being excluded from school for a disability and the school is violating the backbone of special education law – the right to be in school.
  • The principal can suspend children for behavior reasons.
  • The principal can get the school psychologist involved. The psychologist may recommend a doctor evaluation for special mental or emotional problems. Parents can also request the school provide an educationally relevant mental health evaluation in order to get the child mental health support in school. 
  • In extreme cases, when psychologists perceive other options are not appropriate, they can recommend a child receive special education evaluation and services and treat the child appropriately as a disabled student.

Protecting a Child’s Self-Concept

Does the child, after being in school for a while, like himself more or less than he/she used to before the school experience?
If a child started school like a typical happy child but after a year or two of school starts to hate him or her self and makes self-deprecating statements like “I’m so stupid” or “I hate myself,” then that child’s school experience needs to be addressed. Parents should ask questions about learning and behavior and seek solutions to whatever the problems are in order to protect the child’s self-concept.
How is the child reacting to the parent's experience with the school?
If the child is sad because the parent/parents are at the school too often for school conferences, to pick up the child early for informal send homes, then the child may feel guilty for causing parents problems. The child should not feel guilty and many of the parent’s problems with the school may be caused by the school not following identification protocol for assessing any child suspected of having a disability and or the school not following special education procedural laws regarding students already identified with disabilities. Parents need to learn their rights and ensure schools are following procedural law.

Healthy Boundaries: Schooling at school and family at home

The family may be placed under extreme pressure to keep a student's behavior within the normal range or the family may be named as the solely responsible unit for ensuring the child passes at grade level. The school can put so much pressure upon the family that the family functionally becomes an extension of the school. Teachers often expect parents to enforce punishments for behavior within the school that may be behavior caused by a disability. Making the home an extension of the school day erodes the boundaries between the family and the school and can be detrimental for family relationships and interpersonal bonds.

Questions to ask:
  • Is the family impacted by the schools reaction to the child and how?
  • Is the mother/father relationship impacted by the school's reaction? How?
  • Is the parent's work affected by the schools reaction to the child?
  • If the parent is unable to work or the work of the parent is affected by the school's reaction to the child, the parent has an immediate right to file a state level investigation of the principal's actions and the school district's actions (because the school district supports the principal). In some cases, parents may qualify for immediate state intervention through the Procedural Safeguards Hotline.
  • Each parent must decide what healthy boundaries are between the school and family. Learning a child’s special education rights and advocating for children help maintain healthy boundaries. 

It is important to note that if a child needs help succeeding in school or behaving within the normal range, getting help as early as possible can produce the most positive effects upon who that child becomes and what happens to the family in terms of support and strain.

  © BrendaRogers2014