“We have tried walking on our heads, but the children with behavioural problems show us that this will not work”

“We have tried walking on our heads, but the children with behavioural problems show us that this will not work”

by Dieter Sprock

One out of five children is disturbing lessons. Today even kindergarten children can be aggressive or violent – pupils with behavioural problems are pushing the school system to its limits, the “Sonntags-Zeitung” headlines from 28 April. The article alerts and raises questions. The increase in ever younger children whose behaviour thwarts teaching and learning is alarming. We are talking about four-year-olds ignoring instructions of kindergarten teachers and insulting them, provoking other children, constantly starting arguments, destroying their drawings and handicrafts and beating them. “The children”, says Ursula Zindel, President of the “Verbands Kindergarten Zürich,” “cannot accept a ‘No’, wilfully destroy things, refuse to obey the rules and pester other children, verbally and physically”. Teachers report of children “spending the day under the desk, swearing, giving cheeky answers, paralysing lessons with annoying constant noise, constantly babbling, throwing a chair through the room because of a bad mark or simply running away if something doesn’t suit them”.
According to a survey by Reto Luder, professor at the Zurich University of Teacher Education, 950 of 4,300 students in Zurich and Winterthur were rated as problematic by their teachers. For 60 per cent of the class teachers, pupils with behavioural problems were the greatest stress factor. Similar difficulties are reported from the cantons of Geneva and Basel. The number of incidents involving children with behavioural problems has risen sharply in recent years, says the President of the “Baseler Schulsynode”, confirming the Zurich findings. From teachers in Germany, Austria and other countries we are receiving similar reports. This raises questions, questions about the development of our schools, but also about education in general. We need to think honestly about causes and solutions.

Readers demand small and introductory classes

The article in the “SonntagsZeitung” has triggered a flood of letters to the editor. Most of them demand a return to a larger number of small classes, especially introductory classes, because this was the only way for the school to do justice to the behavioural problems as well as to the majority of the children. Today, due to the demand for “inclusion” in the regular classes, more and more children with behavioural problems are being individually cared for by a whole army of school psychologists, school social workers, experts in violence prevention and curative teachers, while small classes are being closed.
However, the ideologically supported abolition of the small classes did not at all lead to more integration, writes a former small class teacher and current director of a boarding school with internal and external special school places for children with “emotional and social support needs”. “On the contrary, increasingly difficult situations for the overchallenged pupils, teachers and parents have increased the need for places at special needs schools (and thus the costs).”
A now 91-year-old special class teacher and curative educator for the senior classes has been wondering for almost 40 years now, why the “care industry including its ideological undertone” already “did away” in the eighties in a short time with all the experience previously collected. He writes: “The small class concept at that time worked. The resources to look after the ‘difficult’ pupils were in balance with the challenges, and each individual young person could be accompanied. Accompaniment in the sense of promoting the strengths of a person which promise him a future.” From today’s point of view, the approach was very successful. Many of his special class B students later became entrepreneurs. He has meticulously written down his experiences with small classes for pupils with behavioural problems and would be highly interested in not seeing them lost. “It would make me very happy,” he writes, “if, at the end of my life, younger people trying to follow this path again could work with this information.” (“SonntagsZeitung” from 12 May)

And what about education?

Thinking about the causes of behavioural abnormalities and looking for solutions, we cannot avoid including education as well. This is not about assigning blame. But a child sticking out his tongue at the teacher, stating “It’s not your business to tell me what I should do!”, kicking and biting the kindergarten teacher and pestering other children, was not born a child with a conspicuous behaviour. From what they find at the beginning of their lives, children develop their own lifestyle, which in the cases described includes behavioural abnormalities as a strategy for the implementation of their own will. Explanations such as declaring such children as overchallenged are not sufficient because an overchallenged child might also just ask for help and inquire if he or she has trouble understanding. Not only in schools, but also in many families, wrong theories are leading to chaotic conditions. Today, parents and teachers are often equally forsaken.
It must give us food for thought when, despite all the wealth of knowledge and beautiful ideas – recorded in countless books and libraries – by far the majority of people today still have no idea of the development of the human psyche and the success of education is largely left to chance. How can it be explained that, a hundred years after psychology was able to establish itself as a science, fathers and mothers are still failing in education because they do not understand themselves nor their children, even though there have already been numerous attempts in the last century to make psychological knowledge of human nature usable for education and accessible to all people?
By criminally neglecting the question of education in the last thirty or forty years, we have ignored the natural sequence of life and tried to walk on our heads. Today, children with behavioural problems give us the answer. They show us that this is not how it works.    •

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