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And Words Can Hurt Forever    by James Garbarino & Ellen deLara order for
And Words Can Hurt Forever
by James Garbarino
Order:  USA  Can
Free Press, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

And Words Can Hurt Forever addresses 'emotional violence' in schools, based on research with adolescents undertaken from Cornell's College of Human Ecology. We are informed that 'adults are often oblivious' to the fact that many kids feel threatened in supposedly safe school environments, and that school cultures can enable an emotionally toxic environment for students. The authors talk about the impact on bystanders ('learned helplessness') as well as on the kids directly involved. Teacher ridicule is covered as well as peer bullying, and the point made that adult intimidation can 'amplify the effect of peer bullies'.

Emotional violence can impact in many ways, including academic sucess, involvement in sports and social activities, even use of a school library. An early section discusses the 'secret school life' of kids and why it's often hard for parents to find out about it, since even normal kids have somewhat different personalities at home and at school. The authors talk about 'unowned spaces' in schools, unsupervized areas (like hallways, cafetaria, washrooms and school buses) where children can be particularly vulnerable and often 'run the gauntlet' daily. Though sensitive kids are particularly prone to the effects of emotional violence, we are reminded that they are not 'alone in their suffering' but only feel it more intensely.

Myths about school violence are enlightening, especially one on the percentage of kids affected ... 'The true snapshot of school violence must account for the millions of kids who experience diminished learning and peace of mind every day at school.' Research shows that non-teacher adults lack credibility as supervisors, and that though kids do go to adults for help, there are mixed results - often follow-up is missing from the picture. Sexual harrassment and no-PDA (public displays of affection) rules are discussed, as is sports hazing, teen suicide, drug use, and various system warning signs, mainly in perceptions of powerlessness.

What helps? Peer predictability, familiarity, cooperative structures in schools, smaller schools, service learning projects, promotion of social integration across groups, teachers monitoring hallways and washrooms, respectful and caring teachers, increased supervision and intervention, student participation in school safety issues ... there are many specific suggestions in the book. Its authors make the very important point that adults in the system are responsible and that it should not be up to the children 'to be the signal-bearers to the adults'. We are reminded that adults have legal protection from bullying, sexual harrassment and emotional violence in their workplaces; why should it be different for kids in theirs?

I highly recommend And Words Can Hurt Forever as an important resource for school administrators, teachers, and parents concerned to provide emotionally safe schools for children. As its authors emphasize, 'When it comes to bullying, sexual harrassment, and emotional violence at school, the buck stops with adults.'

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