NEWS

Pupils run wild during class time, acting out their aggression against adults and other children

Takis is an exceptionally aggressive 11-year-old. After most lessons, he ends up charging round the school yard in a rage, and is thoroughly disruptive when in class. When girls try to calm him down so that they can have a lesson, he threatens them. A penknife in his back pocket is a permanent companion. One day, when a small dog entered the school yard, Takis chased off the other children who ran to pet it and began to torment the dog. A teacher told him to leave the dog alone, but Takis ignored him. When the teacher grabbed his shoulder, Takis swore at him and began to hit and kick the teacher. His case was taken to the school counselor, but nothing was done. The flat where Takis lives lies across the road from the school. An adopted child, a Romanian orphan, he has a mother of 60 who appears at school only under pressure and a father no one ever sees. «Yet he’s an enormously intelligent child,» his teachers admit. One of his teachers saw him in the road with a cut over his eyebrow. «What happened, Takis?» «Nothing. It’s just a knife cut.» Children today kick each other rather than a ball. With ever-increasing frequency, they return from recess with bruises and complaints. A growing number of schoolchildren beat up their fellow-pupils «for fun.» Children return home from school shoeless, because somebody else stole their nice new expensive shoes. They come home in tears, because some fellow-pupils snatched their pocket money. Aggression has definitely increased, and is now affecting children at ever-younger ages, and in growing numbers. Although levels of violent behavior in children and adolescents in Greece remain among the lowest in Europe, cases have increased impressively in the last 10 years. Psychology teachers Lena Pateraki and Anna Hountoumadi have researched the phenomenon of violence in children aged 8-12. In answers to 1,312 questionnaires distributed to schools in the broader Athens area, 14.7 percent of children defined themselves as victims, 6.3 percent as victimizers and 4.8 percent as both. Interestingly, 33.5 percent stated that they had been pressured to take part in attacks. Boys chose physical violence, while girls opted for verbal violence or excluding «offenders» from their group. As children grow up, they abandon physical violence for more indirect forms. Researchers noted that direct violence decreased with age and in accordance with the role of school atmosphere in inciting or damping down violent behavior. Most school buildings – with their cement-paved yards, railings and pokey classrooms – foster pupils’ aggression, researchers said. Lack of space, run-down buildings and double school shifts form a favorable breeding ground for violent behavior. «Over the last few years, children have shown an extreme hyperactivity, which often emerges as aggression,» said educational psychologist A. Mouyer. «A child with a pathological hyperactive syndrome can run around 12 hours a day, sleep for seven hours and apply itself to organized activity for the other five. Consider, then, how important a child’s ability to move around is. And they don’t have it in cities. Moreover, we keep trying to find reasons why our children are aggressive, and we don’t see that we adults are very aggressive ourselves in cities.» Member of the Greek Pedagogical Institute Anna Papastylianou found in a 2000 study that pupils that have been made victims and children that have suffered violence within the family tend to engage in violent behavior. A 1999 study (by the General Secretariat for Youth) found that 82 percent of adolescent pupils had witnessed violent incidents. But in a 1996 study (by Thanassis Gotovou of Ioannina University), the corresponding percentage was 40.2 percent. Violent incidents in cities were four times higher than in the provinces (16 percent against 5 percent in the General Secretariat for Youth study). Pupils with bad grades get mixed up in fights much more than those with good grades (22.7 percent as against 3.5 percent). Instances of violence multiply when relationships between pupils and teachers are non-existent. The development of teacher-pupil and pupil-pupil relationships greatly diminishes violence, said Pateraki, who is also the Greek representative at the European Observatory of Violence in Schools. In her report on Greece, pupils describe the educational system as unduly harsh, since it demands too much in way of homework and extra hours spent at cramming institutes. Teachers who survive the daily class battle reiterate that school must turn its attention to its educational role. Schoolchildren must learn to work in groups – as opposed to today, when competitiveness is the order of the day – and to think, as opposed to going through a syllabus in order to acquire a relative advantage in the job market.