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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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"Just Because": A Random Act of Unkindness

Mark Nichol

Editor / Writer

A friend of mine was bicycling through a quiet neighborhood one day last fall when, like a good citizen, she slowed to a halt at a stop sign. When my friend started pedaling again, a teenage girl who, flanked by a group of friends, was standing in the street near the corner as if she were going to cross, suddenly slugged my friend in the arm, knocking her off her bike and onto the ground.

As the gaggle of teens behind her broke out laughing, the girl looked impassively at my friend, who staggered to her feet, and said, unprompted, "Just because." After making a few insensitive comments, the youngsters headed away as my friend -- shaken, bruised, and bloodied by her impact on the pavement -- walked her bike along her intended route until she had recovered sufficiently to mount it and continue along her way.

The bruise on her arm where the girl had struck her remained visible for a couple of weeks. For just as long, she could barely use the arm she had landed on, and months later, it still ached at the point of impact. But the most acute -- and most chronic -- damage was to her soul. The thought that a group of adolescents could so callously inflict senseless pain and display such insensitivity toward another human being was a heavier blow to her than the physical impact.

This incident is minor on the continuum of inhumane acts, but its very banality is disturbing. It got me to thinking about some of the tenets The George Lucas Educational Foundation stands for: social and emotional learning, emotional intelligence, character education. It's easy to be cynical, to decide that it doesn't matter how many classroom meetings and cooperative-learning activities and affirmations and validations children experience at school if a family -- a community, a world -- can produce a child who commits an act like that, so petty yet so reprehensible.

But we, as educators, cannot surrender; a primary function of our profession is to help children, regardless of the mitigating forces in society, attain a full measure of humanity. Edutopia.org articles such as "How To: Teach Character in the Classroom" and "'We're Here to Raise Kids': Character Development Is Key" attest to the drive we have to accomplish this formidable task. (See our Emotional Intelligence page for more features on the topic.)

What do you think about this issue? Does character education in schools have a significant effect on children's emotional growth? Is it worth the effort, considering how many contradictory stimuli, including influential accounts and footage of celebrity belligerence and other antisocial behavior, exist in the world? Is it sensible to believe that the girl who said "Just because" might have pulled her punch -- or might never have considered striking my friend in the first place -- if she'd learned better behavior in school, regardless of external influences? I'd be interested to read your thoughts.

Comments (52)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Tara Peters's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Tara Peters and I am a Walden University Graduate Student. Attitudes of children and parents are changing daily. When my younger brother was still in school, he was riding the bus home and another child came up behind him and choked him. The bus driver did nothing to stop the attack on my brother. The only thing that saved my brother was that his stop to get off the bus arrived and he was able to pry himself away from the other student. This incident has caused my parents to not trust the bus in our hometown. My nephew now attends the same school and rides the same bus and my parents refuse to let him ride the bus because they are afraid the same thing will happen to my nephew. What is going on with kids, and the parents who don't seem to do anything to stop their abusive children?

K. Chris Black's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think the current climate of parent permissiveness also has a negative impact on children. I observe parents who are too worried about being their child's 'friend' than being the adult/authority figure their child needs. When I conference with parents of an out-of-control child, I invariably hear parents say, "I just can't make them do anything I ask!" Unfortunately, by the time the child is 9 or 10, that's pretty hard to change when the pattern was set back at 2 or 3. The next time you're in the grocery store, pay attention to the young children who are begging their parents for candy, gum, toys, etc. In listening to the interaction, I would bet that most parents end up giving in rather than staying strong. Sometimes in observing parents and children together, I wonder who is the adult and who is the child.

I'm not sure where the tide turned or why, but I know there is a growing number of children who will not accept authority. These are the same children who 'choke' kids on the bus. I believe it is not just an educational issue, but a societal one. Instead of always asking, "What is the school doing about problem kids?" maybe we should ask society what they're doing.

Jennifer Chapman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is sad to read that we are shocked but not surprised by such behavior. We should be appalled. I absolutely believe we should teach character education in schools. I do not think that character education should come entirely from a series of workbooks, however. If parents are not teaching their children at home, we may be their only examples of good character. We need to model, practice, and live it in and out of our classrooms. I try to use every opportunity possible to teach character and manners. My classroom may be the only place they in which they are exposed to either one.

Beverly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Beverly Worlinsky and I am also a student at Walden University. I must say that I believe children are a products of their environment. I have worked in many different settings. Right now I am working in a Head Start where we try to get involved with the families as much as we can. I have seen many different behaviors and at first questioned them. Usually once I met the parents and learned about their situation, I could understand why and sometimes where the behaviors came from. This is not true in all cases, but in many that I have seen.

Heather's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In the 8 years I have worked in education I have seen children do many cruel, dishonest, and rude things. In most instances I believe that these children are simply following the example ( or lack of example) that has been set for them. My personal definition for educator is someone who's job is preparing students for the future. I feel strongly that we should teach students character lessons and social skills. These are essential traits that individuals need to be their most successful. If we don't teach them who will?

brittany's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Before I started teaching in the fall of 2005, I have to admit that I had been "sheltered" in a sense. I was raised in a home where I was taught responsibility and respect. I knew that my parents were a little more strict than others, but everyone at least had some rules...right?! I found out the answer to this very quickly in my first few weeks and months of teaching. I was amazed at how much the parents enabled their children, and how little rules they had. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6 It is my belief that if children are consistently taught right from wrong at an early age, it will stay with them for the rest of their life. In the above mentioned situation, this child has clearly not been "trained up". While I believe this is largely the responsibility of the parents and family, we as educators also play a role in this. While I am in favor of character education in our schools, I feel that an even bigger challenge we have is educating by our example. How we deal with students on a personal level, how we deal with discipline issues and with issues between the students themselves can have a huge impact on what the student comes to perceive as "acceptable". For example, the child in the above mentioned situation is probably a "bully", it is my guess that these actions are not dealt with severely at her school. Obviously, parental and family influence plays a huge role, but the school, while not fully responsible, also plays a part. Also a factor is surroundings, or the group of friends that the child chooses to be with. I am sure that a big reason that the child hit the lady on the bike was to impress her friends. Would she have done this if she was alone? My guess is no.

So, I feel like I have been rambling, but this is a major concern that I have with our future generations. As I read other posts, I can see that we all have the same idea about this situation. It is evident that there will be some children who will have no positive influences on their life, and for them, we as educators are their only saving grace.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This kind of incident concerns me because of the lack of remorse. Why are we raising children without respect or conscientious? This we can not blame on diet, money, media etc...I am spending more and more time creating an atmosphere of respect in my classroom, than I did even ten years ago. These children are going to grow up to be our neighbors and caregivers. It is more than parent permissiveness,(although that is a huge contributor) It seem to be lack of some bonding element in early years. Why don't kids have empathy?

Shannon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Beverly, I am also a student at Walden University. I work in Orange, New Jersey. About two months ago there was an incident at our high school. One of the young ladies there beat up a teacher. I don't know what provoked it, but no child should have that much disrespect for someone who is trying to help them get where they need to be. Before I became a teacher I use to sub throughout our district yes, even the high school. When I was a sub I noticed in the higher grades there was a total transformation in the children. The same little "sweet Sara" is now the young lady who comes to class late, talks back, and doesn't do homework. I decided that a foundation must be created in the child's life when they are still eager to learn and willing to try. I found most children in the grades 6 and under are where we need to start making changes.I am not saying that older children aren't striving for something better, but it is easier to shape and mold a "fresh" mind.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been a teacher now for ten years. Over the course of that time, I have become increasingly aware of the fact that parents have an ultimate responsibility in character education. A 15 minute lesson once a week is not going to give students the foundation of caring and respect we are looking to see demonstrated in their lives. Unfortunately, I'm not even sure that seeing us model it is enough either. Caring and respect has to also be valued in their homes, lives, and communities as well. If anything other than basic human respect is valued more by our students, I don't think any character education we can do will stop them from making poor choices that inflate them in front of their friends.

K. Chris Black's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In my earlier post, I spoke about parent permissiveness. I agree that this isn't the only reason current children don't have empathy. But I also think it has much to do with parenting. So many students are raised in a household that are too child-centered. The only cares/concerns are for the child/children. I think because these children are raised believing they don't have to be responsible for anyone else's feelings, they have no ability for empathy as they get older. Children need structure and boundaries to feel safe. They also need responsibilities and tasks in the home; to be made to feel as though they are part of a larger group (the family, the community). They also need to be made to understand they are not the only one in the family and that other family members' needs/feelings must be considered when decisions are being made. Maybe it's not all about permissive parenting, maybe it's also about irresponsible parenting.

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