Food For Thought

School Fighting

by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
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 vacation.

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?

I 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

What’s Your View?

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:, 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 class.

Teacher Honor Roll

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.

Nominator: Andrew L. Farrar
Teacher’s Name:
Lewis Marshall
School System: Mecklenburg County Public Schools
Primary Subject: Health & Physical Education

Although retired, Lewis Marshall provides outstanding leadership in providing $3,000 annually for the past 5 years for the West End High School Alumni Association.


Nominator: Bridget Trail
Teacher’s Name:
Mrs. Funnell
School System: Mamaroneck High School, NY
Primary Subject: Math

I 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.


Nominator: Carolyn Brown
Teacher’s Name:
Mr. Tommy Rafferty
School System: Patrick Henry High School
Primary Subject: Math

He 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.



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