by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University
John E. Bonfadini
My mother always told me not to fight. Sound advice
if you want your child to become the punching bag for every bully or any
other classmate who needs to demonstrate bravado. I was constantly picked
on during my elementary school years. My only reprieve from the shoving
and name-calling occurred during yearly summer visits to my aunt’s house
in Youngstown, Ohio. The summer environment allowed me to reverse the
tables. Nobody messed with the “hillbilly” from Pennsylvania, but I
still had to face the same home situation when I returned from my
During my freshman year a major change occurred. I
was challenged by a much larger classmate to settle a dispute that
occurred during a basketball game in gym class. Maybe it was the change in
hormones, but this time I accepted the challenge. During lunchtime we met
in the wooded area behind the school along with several other students who
had also come to see the event. The years of frustration were unleashed on
my classmate John. After several minutes of fighting he had several
visible marks, including a nice shiner. Those outward signs of the
skirmish let the rest of my classmates know that the days of picking on
John B. were over.
We both returned for afternoon classes and were
quickly summoned to the office. The outward signs were also visible to our
teachers. It was against the rules to fight on school grounds and we both
were to be punished. I gladly accepted the lecture and detention because
it felt great to get the monkey off my back. John and I remained friends
through high school and both of us were on the football team.
What Advice to
Give Your Kids?
certainly never discouraged my kids from fighting. I didn’t want them to
be bullies, but I also wanted them to stand up for themselves, even if the
situation warranted resolution by physical force. It goes without saying
that I believed there were certain Queensbury rules that applied to all
fighting. That may not be the case in today’s environment. Instances of
fighting have evolved into more violent acts of aggression, which have
included the use of weapons. In the past I would have joked about throwing
the first punch in a fight. I would say, “If someone asks, ‘Do you
want to fight?’ punch them, since most fights are only one punch long.
If he’s stronger than you, you’re going to get a whipping anyway, and
you’ll have delivered at least one good punch.” The older I got the
more appealing my mother’s “don’t fight” words became, but I would
still have a difficult time telling my children not to fight. I’d
probably spend more time demonstrating how to avoid contentious
circumstances and behavior that leads to unnecessary altercations.
In many cases we encourage more aggressive behavior
by promoting increased competition in sports and academics at the earliest
possible age. Bill Gates said, “Your school may have done away with
winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools they have abolished
failing grades; they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the
right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in
real life.” Mr. Gates may want to rethink his position based on the rash
of scandalous behavior in the business community. Real life certainly
could stand some improvement. We now have to pass laws to help society
control its aggressive behavior, especially on the highways.
The Role of the Teacher
Obviously, there are
at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to
provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send
e-mail to: email@example.com, or send written
responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.
Most fights start or occur on school grounds. This
fact means that a teacher is more likely to be involved in deciding how to
handle the actual acts of aggression than any parent. The National
Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers provide a
booklet for teachers suggesting techniques for breaking up student fights.
I’ve had to stop many fights on school grounds, including several that
involved the use of a weapon. During a fight, the teacher must quickly
survey the situation and decide on the best course of action. I’ve never
hesitated in taking what I thought was appropriate action. Today teachers
are more cautious about their involvement because of potential violence or
litigation. Teachers are told not to intervene if physical harm could
result. Certainly, teachers should be cautious about putting themselves in
harm’s way, but they do have a responsibility to protect all children.
Most teachers receive little training in how to
intervene in a school fight. Reading a booklet may be an initial step, but
teachers need far more preparation. There also is a need to legally
protect the teacher from unnecessary litigation every time they touch a
student. Students need to know that teachers are the school’s police. We
can’t hire enough school security personnel to replace them.
Parents may have a different view on school fighting,
but I believe all of us would agree that we don’t want our children to
face any serious physical harm. The best way to accomplish this is to
follow my mother’s advice and not fight. Few children will ever go
through school without some minor skirmish, so let’s establish a system
that makes sure that’s all that occurs. Competition occurs in all walks
of life. It would be nice if everyone could accomplish their life goals
without fighting, cheating, wars, terrorism, lying, and other aggressive
acts. I’m sorry to say I believe Bill Gates is probably right about real
life. So to be on the safe side, enroll your children in the next karate
In our January issue we asked our readers to
nominate their best teachers for our teacher honor roll, and the
mail came pouring in! We will publish a few each month until we
have acknowledged all of our fine educators.
Andrew L. Farrar
Lewis Marshall School System:
Mecklenburg County Public Schools
Primary Subject: Health & Physical Education
retired, Lewis Marshall provides outstanding
leadership in providing $3,000 annually for the
past 5 years for the West End High School Alumni
Teacher’s Name: Mrs.
Funnell School System:
Mamaroneck High School, NY
Primary Subject: Math
would like to enroll and honor Mrs. Funnell
because she taught me lessons about life that
would fill a book and filled my young heart. She
was good, kind, meek, patient, gentle, joyful,
peaceful, faithful, loving, courageous, and
suffered long teaching us from a wheelchair; a
“conqueror” of polio.
Teacher’s Name: Mr.
Tommy Rafferty School System:
Patrick Henry High School
Primary Subject: Math
was a great teacher. Math was my hardest subject,
but he gave me his time and interest to teach me
what I needed to know. Thanks, Mr. Rafferty.