© 2000 Michele Toomey, PhD
Book Title: Preventing Hostility and Violence by Teaching Accountability and Fairness
The purpose of this book is to fill a gap in the educational preparation of teachers. How students communicate with each other; how they express their fears, disappointments, hurt and anger is of growing significance to educators. It is unfortunate that it took school violence to make us pay attention to the powerful effect interpersonal relationships have on students. The recent killings, reported hazings, and incidences of verbal and physical abuse in schools have finally caught our attention. Teachers themselves are scared. Already the push is on to teach "character", "good behavior", and "resolving conflict". Educators are moving toward including some approach to self-expression and interpersonal communication in their curriculum.
This fall, many teachers with little or no background or training, will be asked to teach some form of "appropriate" speech and behavior to their students. The recognized need to teach children how to deal with their feelings and how to express those feelings, especially if they are strong and linked to anger, prompts me to write this book. If we are not careful, we will waste this opportunity and the imminence of the timing, by allowing the countless array of approaches to the problem to just slip into the curriculum. Without a strong psychological base and a unified theme, as well as some formal training, many good outcomes will no doubt occur, but I don't think that's the way we want to affect change in this very major shift in American education. I think teaching our children how to express their feelings and how to deal with them in a fair and accountable way, will be a landmark of the dawning of the 21st century. This book is on the cutting edge.
As someone who has been working with both teachers and students in addressing these very issues for over 20 years, I feel uniquely qualified to write this text. My approach is rooted in the communication system within the self and the way processing information affects the responses and reactions we have to it. My success has been profound, not the least reason being that I also include teaching the practical applications and the tools that go with keeping our verbal exchanges accountable and fair. The key to non-violent communication and behavior is fairness. Perhaps commonly agreed upon as a critical factor, but how to achieve it in complicated, hot situations, is not commonly known.
Teachers often just expect fairness to be the norm. When it isn't, some ignore it, if possible, hoping the bullying, ridiculing, sarcasm, or exclusion of one child, or group of children, by another, will go away. Others call parents, who are often at a loss. Some report the situation to the principal, who may or may not address it effectively, relying on suspension or expulsion to resolve it. Often, children don't tell anyone what is happening to them until it's too late. Sometimes they tell and are given the advice to walk away, ignore it, stop being a tattle tale or a baby. Deal with it themselves. It's part of growing up.
In this book I intend to challenge teachers to look at the way they learned to express themselves when strong, negative feelings were aroused in them. If they are to be expected to teach fair and accountable self-expression, they must be able to do it themselves. This could be an exciting time for them. When I have worked in schools and taught this to both teachers and students, teachers were grateful and said it helped them deal better with their families. The push is on to get better qualified teachers, but that should not be limited to mean only better educated in their field. It must also mean being better able to teach and role model self-expression with accountability.
I will put forth the basic principles of the self's communication network that govern good communication within the self and between the self and others. Emphasis will be placed on the ways fair and accountable speech lead to discovery, understanding, and often intimacy, which is in the opposite direction of hostile and attacking speech that leads to alienation, and often to abuse and violence. Student teachers will be asked to ponder, discuss, explore and role play what is being presented. They will have the opportunity to experience what they are learning and what they will be expected to teach. Confrontation and accountability prevents the very climate that breeds hostility in conflict that can lead to abuse and violence.
Just as teachers who teach health and nutrition need to know the relevant biology and physiology before they teach about healthy diets and menu planning, so teachers need to know some relevant psychology regarding the self's communication system before they teach students how to express their feelings, especially anger. It is not enough to teach good behavior. We must understand what interferes with good behavior. For years now we have been shifting our emphasis away from memorization of facts to teaching critical thinking. So, too, should we begin to teach accountability and fairness, instead of conformity. Conformity will not herald real change. Understanding and informed choice will.
Practical applications that teach and illustrate the different levels of communication that must be dealt with will be included as helpful and necessary aids in becoming sophisticated enough to teach more than conformity. Teachers themselves must become accountable and fair in their speech as they teach their students to be the same. Each student teacher taking this course will be expected to design a project on teaching confrontation, accountability and fairness and preventing hostility and violence, for the grade level they expect to teach. Kindergarten through high school students all need to learn accountable, fair speech. I have taught it to children as young as five years old, and they, of course, want all the turns, but definitely understand fairness very well and know that it is what they should be.
This book would probably be best taught in the junior or senior year, when developmental psychology has been taken and a commitment to teaching has been made. The book could be used for a semester or a full year. Depending on the depth of involvement of the professor and the student teachers, there is more than enough material for a years course. In fact, a year would be preferred. The second semester could be run as a group with in-depth discussions of personal experiences, and confrontations of each other, as well as numerous projects designed for classroom use. Self-expression with confrontation and accountability needs to be lived and role modeled, not just taught in the abstract.
There will be chapter summaries, discussion questions, activities and role plays. There will also be a glossary. As for how this book will compare with major competitors, it is on the cutting edge, presenting a new dimension to "educating the whole child" that has been sorely lacking. To my knowledge there is no other college text out there yet that addresses these issues. By right, every student in an education program preparing to become a teacher should take this course. Teachers already teaching should be offered this course as an in-service. The potential market is very broad.