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    Why are children trashing their school environement? Some reasons...

    Every single one of the classroom doors on one of the primary schools in one of the areas I work in are broken off. I am not even sure how it was done. With force certainly. To close the door one must stick ones finger in one of the holes (avoiding sharp metal pieces) and then as hard as possible pull the door towards you. Then if the lock is still working you can lock it.

    I notice that there are rosters for cleaning the classrooms. The children seem to have to do it. Or in any case they have to sweep the floor. I also notice that the brooms are almost always broken or if they are not yet broken I know that the next week they will be.

    I am not against children taking some responsibility for their environments. But I do think that they cannot be the only ones taking that responsibility! Or any way the ones being forced to take the lions share of what is perceived as sufficient cleaning in a school. (Not my own idea though!)

    Primary school children are still very much CHILDREN. Keeping their classroom attractive and clean lies with the teachers and cleaners – or should do, I think.

    That said when I asked a teacher ‘why’ the children broke the handles I got a shrug and ‘they are naughty’. I asked one of my new ECD practitioners who had witnessed the interchange what she thought. She also shrugged and said ‘these children are naughty’. I said ‘No, nothing is just because of ‘naughtiness’ – all behaviour has a reason. And this afternoon I will be challenging some of my students with this question.

    It has been bubbling in my mind since then. (I had always assumed that the broken doors were because of criminal activity). Why would children break off handles, break brooms, their chairs and tables and make only the most inadequate swipe at cleaning their classroom? And scatter lots of litter all over their school grounds?

    Could it be their anger at being given too much of the responsibility for their environment? Or their anger against adults in general or adults in power who have perhaps too often over-used their power? Or their anger at what they know to be inferior education to that other more fortunate children receive? Or an anger that comes from inadequate or uncaring homes? Or anger against school work that seems too hard to learn? I am pretty sure it is anger – only a furious anger would be so destructive.

    And desperation perhaps? An attempt to show the adults their distress? Because the anger they have inside must have very painful distress at its base? A way of calling adults attention to the wrongness of what is going on around them?

    It seems a very definite acting out of strong, uncontrollable (by them) feelings. I suppose that that is actually healthy. D W Winnicott (who did much to shape how we see children today) always maintained that a child who acted out rather than in was more healthy – they still had hope.

    I wish we could hold onto that hope and use that hope to find out what is distressing the children – and allow a more positive way of coping with those feelings to arise.
    I feel we need to take so much more notice of children’s pleas for help. And notice that they are acting out around things like rubbish, dirt, and access to places.

    Do they feel like rubbish? Do they feel that that is how they are seen by the adults around them? Do they feel imprisoned by school? Or denied something they wish to deny others of? I can imagine that the nuances of their feelings are great – although probably not acknowledged by themselves.

    After all they need adults to mediate these feelings for them...take them into themselves, think about them and give them back in a way that they as children can make sense of.
    Shrugging of shoulders won’t help, nor will the label ‘naughty’.

    We need to do things at schools that engender in children a feeling of security; that makes them feel respected and worthwhile. That gives them child appropriate power over their environment and selves.

    My ideas would be: Teachers that help children to clean, cleaners who clean classrooms so that they smell nice, are dust free and with windows that are reasonably shiny. With desks that are smooth and not covered with dirt, with cobweb free corners and cupboards that are unbroken and orderly. With posters that have not been there for years and years and are torn and faded. Then perhaps the children will at least feel that their learning and their selves and are being taken seriously. That they deserve a pleasant environment...

    It won’t solve all the problems – not at all – but it will give them one respectful environment to be in. One place that is safe and pleasant. Where the adults care enough to make their environment a good place. They spend a lot of time in school. This is a comparatively small thing to do with what I believe will be huge positive outcomes.

    And maybe, just maybe, if teachers get in touch with the fact that they need to provide a nurturing and pleasant environment for the children in their care they will be able to see the children’s other needs more clearly and without doing anything simply give that amazing gift of understanding that children (and we all) crave so much.

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