We who have been entrusted with the education and care of children are obligated to go above and beyond when it comes to looking out for their welfare. Educators and administrators have no recourse but to look beyond the surface, investigate if necessary, and protect the children to whom we have made ourselves responsible.
Dave Pelzer, who is currently an advocate for abused children, has written a compelling three book series detailing his own life as an abused child and the aftereffects of his abuse. His case was the third worst case of child abuse on record in the state of California. (Pelzer, 1995, 168) Pelzers mother was an alcoholic who was both physically and emotionally abusive to him. What made this a terrible situation more unique was that the mother did not abuse her other four children. Only Dave was the target of her hatred. Pelzers father, also an alcoholic, who ignored his wifes abusive tendencies, even though he secretly indicated to his son that he did not condone it, compounded the abusive behavior. The fathers silence served to validate the mothers actions. Pelzers teachers and administrators also maintained silence, thus compounding his feeling of isolation. These events occurred during the 1960s and early 1970s, so the behavior of both Pelzers father and his educators was not unusual. Physical discipline was more accepted during that time than it is now.
Pelzer was rescued from his mothers cruelty in 1973 by a school nurse and counselor, after dealing with her extreme abuse for almost ten years. His teachers and administrators had for years seen him attend school in rags, unwashed, often with bruises and abrasions, but as stated earlier, these were different times. When the school nurse determined she could no longer stand by and accept this abusive behavior, she saw to it that county services was contacted. Pelzer goes on to relate how his emotional damage contributed to his moving often between foster homes. He never felt adequate, and these feelings of inadequacy compounded Pelzers problems and anxieties that children in foster homes normally feel. Pelzer speaks of his first marriage ending in failure, due mostly to his lack of ability to trust and effectively communicate with his wife. His adult life has been built around raising his son in as healthy and environment as possible. He speaks repeatedly of wanting to ensure the cycle of abuse does not continue through him. His second marriage has been a close-knit partnership, with trust and open lines of communication.
The purpose in recounting so much information in Pelzers books is to remind us that we, as educators, must take our responsibilities as caretakers of children with the highest degree of importance. Even though child abuse is abhorrent, it can be stopped and, as in the case of Dave Pelzer, through discipline and hard work, the cycle of abuse can be broken. Although these abusive types of parents are thankfully in the minority, they do exist. It is therefore imperative that we maintain awareness of any unusual circumstances we may notice concerning our children. Reclusive behavior, unexplained bruises or other marks, unattended physical hygiene, or violent outbursts should be cause for concern. (Gestwicki, 435) This is not to say that we should become paranoid and report every child with a bruise as a victim of abuse. We should, however, be aware of unusual mannerisms or circumstances and act when we feel we have a right to be concerned. Documenting any suspicions and findings is essential. This can uncover any trends or patterns that may exist. Keep in mind that children will often cover up for and attempt to protect abusive parents. This is also a huge load for a child to bear; the responsibility of taking care of a parent who is abusive is an excessive burden. (Somers, 62) Valerie Bivens, a social worker in California, stresses that most of us are unaware of the extent of child abuse. Often instances of abuse go unreported, and the child may turn their anger against themselves or others, continuing the cycle of abuse. (Pelzer, 1995, 171) Over three million cases of child abuse were reported in 1996, and nearly one third of that number