Zero Tolerance for Abuse

May 19, 2011 at 2:11 PM Leave a comment

Revisiting the issue of abuse…

My earliest explorations into teaching occurred in the late 1990s in the Public Schools of Brookline, Massachusetts. It was a happening place for pedagogy, models of success, and attention to the whole student. There was a strong spirit of collaboration with local universities that really kept Brookline schools on the leading edge. Recent issues with cyber-abuse reminded me of an anti-abuse program from the high school that was particularly ahead of its time.

Brookline High School had a policy of zero tolerance for abuse that was defined in four categories:

  • Physical
  • Verbal
  • Emotional
  • Sexual

Physical, verbal, and sexual abuse seemed to be intuitive, but the issue of emotional abuse delved into new territory. Serving up automatic suspensions for rumors, notes, phone harassment, controlling relationships, or social ostracism or embarrassment addressed real issues that had been long overlooked. The school culture had no room for these violations of personal rights or their disruption of a safe learning environment.  To make the program more effective, the student body owned it.

Students entered into a contract with the school each year to support and comply with the anti-abuse policy. A team of student leaders worked together to endorse the policy, provide peer education on abuse, and engage in continuing evolution of their abuse prevention program. Each spring, student mentors from the high school visited all the eighth grade classes in the district to provide orientation on abuse to the upcoming freshman class. The middle schoolers were often surprised or amused by content in the presentations, but their mentors assured them that it was serious business. They also demonstrated that solid citizenship was highly valued in the more sophisticated world of high school.

Cyber-bullying has raised the ante on emotional abuse with speed and magnitude of impact. However, an effective policy that has prevented less wired forms of abuse remains relevant. This precedent-setting program continues to deserve consideration.


Entry filed under: Design Concepts. Tags: , , .

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