Logo 1

Logo 2

Client ListContact Us

Logo 3

Logo 4

Home

Workshop

Residencies

Keynotes

Belonging

Articles

Archives

Resources

Logo 5

Logo 6

Home

Workshops

Residencies

Keynotes

Belonging

articles

Archives

Resources

Logo 7

Logo 8

Message

Logo 9

Logo 10

Background 1

Articles

Background 2

Background 3

The Bully Test
By David A. Levine

A principal at a New York City Middle School once told me "our kids are real good at taking tests but not so good at respecting each other." In my years as an educator, during this "No Child Left Untested" period, I've noticed increasingly low levels of pro-social skills and an increase in anti-social behaviors such as bullying. We might attribute this to the effects of violent video games and movies, and generally to a change in family values, but another view is to assess the truth in the adage "what gets measured gets done," and what gets done is that schools are teaching students how to take tests. I don't know the last time you took a test but I know I haven’t taken one since my days in graduate school and yet that is what has come to symbolize raising the standards in education.

I've always been a believer that behavior is a form of communication. If we were to analyze the bullying that took place recently in South Hadley, Massachusetts, where Phoebe Prince, a 15 year old who was being bullied by two separate groups, took her own life, we would see someone who was saying "When will they stop treating me this way? I just want to be left alone. I need to talk to someone." We could also see the six students who are being charged in this case as saying "life is boring. We need some excitement around here. We don't like her and she needs to stay away from our group."

I've heard people say that bullying is a rite of passage. Let me assure you, it is not. Just ask anyone who was impacted by the horrific events of Columbine High School in 1999, where two bullying victims shot and killed twelve students and one teacher before killing themselves. It is not a rite of passage to be afraid to go to school, to hide in the bathroom between periods or to cut classes to avoid the inevitable taunting and harassment. No one deserves to be treated cruelly and if it was happening to your son or daughter, you would not explain it away as something all kids go through.

In the days since the South Hadley revelations came to light, people are playing the inevitable blame game. It's the fault of the bullies' parents or the superintendent of schools and some of Phoebe's teachers, or poor Phoebe Prince herself. Rather than blame, we must see this and other similar situations as a call to dialogue about what is really going on in our schools. Bullying will not stop once a new policy is created, a new curriculum is adopted or an intervention program is implemented. The only way to alter the trajectory of this immense social issue is by teaching the communication and empathy skills necessary to make it in this world.

In February 2009, I was driving over the George Washington Bridge into New York City on my way to teach in the South Bronx at PS 114. I had the radio on, listening to a live broadcast of the International Prayer Breakfast that is held in Washington, D.C. every year. President Obama gave a speech in which he said the following:

We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to "love thy neighbor as thyself." The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." In Islam, there is a hadith that reads, "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.

As I arrived in school that day, motivated by what I had just heard, I walked into my first class, a group of 3rd grade students and we talked about the Golden Rule. We focused upon ways we could put our conversation into action, to make it more than just a bunch of words that sounded good. In the end, one boy who had been quiet the entire lesson raised his hand and said, "I wish the Golden Rule was a subject in school." Maybe we should take his wise words and create a test we could prepare our students for. The test would be how to live on this earth with dignity and respect for all.

 

Encouraging Empathy
By David A. Levine

What is empathy exactly? I have had many conversations about this topic with my students, colleagues, and friends. Empathy is not a thing but rather a skill: a heart skill. I call it a heart skill because it takes time to relearn the act of empathy and unlearn the reaction of defensiveness, hurtful humor, and belittlement. This relearning takes self-reflection, honesty and time. I recently went into a coffee shop when one of the three people who worked there spilled the coffee beans she was about to grind on the floor. One of her co-workers said “nice going, only kidding.” I’m only kidding is as common as hello, goodbye, good morning and good night, like a reflex phrase when someone has just been made fun of or put down. In this instance, the target of the joke said, “Yeah I messed up again.” Self-degradation is often the result of a pattern of negative input from someone else. Empathy on the other hand is the ability to experience someone else’s story, to be non-judgemental and understanding: to reach out in a truly caring way.

I once saw a poster by West Coast artist Laurel Birch entitled The Art of Human Being. I read it as: The art of Being Human and I do feel that it is an art to be human. Being a person is one of our greatest challenges: just to be yourself as you travel on this journey called life, and feel comfortable with that. Practicing empathy is like reading someone else’s story: being one with the characters and events and feeling the emotions of the main character. It is living life with others with a certain mindfulness: observing, listening, and understanding.

 

Music: An Emotional Language
By David A. Levine

Throughout my 26 years as a classroom teacher, workshop facilitator and visiting educator in schools throughout the country, I have discovered the lasting impact music can have on the learning experience of a child. Music is a language all its own and when a song is tied to an emotional experience that experience becomes memorable. When a person has a series of meaningful learning experiences, the content of those experiences over time becomes ingrained as a natural way of operating. Today as I continue to work with children on the issues of teasing, harassment, bullying and other low level forms of aggression, I always use songs which tap into the real life challenges they are facing. Sometimes they write songs about their lives and the expressions are fascinating.


I have always known on an intuitive level the power a song can have on learning and memory, calling this truth the “they’re playing our song” phenomenon. It is common for a person to hear a song from his or her past and immediately enter into sentimental and emotional memories. Any strong emotional experience especially for a young person becomes an imprinted moment, meaning it lives forever somewhere in the psyche of that child. It is not uncommon when I return to a school to have students come up to me remembering the songs we did and the messages involved; wanting to hear the songs again.


I sometimes ask a group of adults if anyone ever got lost when they were a child. Someone will invariably share a story of when they were shopping with their parents (or other significant adult) when they were around four or five years old and got separated from whoever they were with. The person sharing the memory can vividly describe the feelings they had, what they were wearing, where they were, who helped them, what that person was wearing and so on. Often as people describe this memory, physical sensations of the memory return through the telling of the story. This interaction demonstrates what is known as an emotionally coded event which is everlasting; one which continues to have an effect on that person for the rest of their lives whether they are conscious of it or not.