Uploaded by Maciej Piotrowski

Aggression in Polish Schools Causes and Implications

Aggression in Polish Schools: Causes and Implications
Maciej Piotrowski
Academic Writing
Aggression in Polish Schools: Causes and Implications
The problem of aggression in schools is the subject of an ongoing public debate the
aim of which is to identify its causes and find effective ways of eliminating or at least
reducing it. The issue is even more topical today, since the amount of offences among
schoolchildren seems to have increased dramatically over the past few years. Virtually every
day the public is faced with many incidents, often tragic, involving pupils. What makes the
situation even graver is the fact that the age of participants of those events appears to be
decreasing alarmingly. Acts of physical and psychological violence may take place even in
kindergarten. The recent fabulous advances in technology that put a high-tech cell phone in
the hand of every second child only aggravate the situation. Humiliating others, filming it
with a phone and uploading the video to various social networking websites has elevated
aggression to a new, disgraceful level labelled as cyber or digital violence. Any case of
aggressive behaviour at any level of
the education system provokes massive public
expressions of protest and indignation. The need to identify, prosecute and convict the guilty
of causing this situation seems to be embedded in the nature of society. However, finding the
culprit is often the effect of biased, equivocal judgement, which, in fact, turns them into
nothing more than a scapegoat. As the public responding to the acts of violence among
children consists mainly of parents, it is often driven by false presumptions. Since school is
the place where the examples of aggressive behaviour are best observed and most widely
publicised, blaming the education system for them is the easiest and most obvious outcome.
Therefore, many people fail or refuse to take any other conclusion into account, let alone one
that would hold them responsible to the same or even greater degree. Claiming that parental
negligence and mistakes, rather than the education system, are responsible for the aggressive
behaviour of children in Polish schools would be a highly controversial statement, but it may
as well be true.
However, identifying the true source of the problem is the first and most important
step towards reducing it and finally rooting it out completely. In order to tackle the problem
one must thoroughly examine all of its aspects, take a wider view of the matter and put all the
bias aside. Only then can the core of the issue be reached, analysed and solved. Aggression is
no exception.
Over the centuries scholars invented many definitions of this phenomenon and various
ways of classifying it with regard to causes, effects and purposes for which it may be used.
This amount of approaches turns aggression into a multidimensional notion. Zbigniew
Skorny, a Polish education psychologist, defines aggression as “a type of behaviour taking the
form of an attack which causes certain material or moral damage” (Skorny, 1968, 34). Elliot
Aronson, an American psychologist, defines it as “a deliberate action, the purpose of which is
to cause damage or distress, used as a goal in itself or as means of achieving something
beyond it” (Aronson, 2007, 196). Both definitions, as well as many other explanations
provided by various renowned scholars, clearly agree that aggression is an intentional verbal
or physical behaviour aimed at another person (or sometimes an object) in order to cause
physical or psychological harm. However, there is no agreement as far as defining its causes
is concerned. Generally, the two main trends divide them with regard to biological and
sociological factors. Some academics believe that these two aspects are interrelated and
cannot be researched separately, others claim that only one of the two is prevalent and the
other purely marginal (Rogge, 2007). When it comes to examining violent behaviour among
minors it is worthwhile to take the broader concept into consideration and observe it both with
regard to biological development and the social environment the child grows up in. The two
main areas concerned are home, with the major influence of parents, and school, with the
influence of teachers and the peer group. Both are pivotal in child’s development; therefore,
they can also be considered as potentially responsible for inducing aggressive behaviour.
Understanding the gravity of the problem requires an insight into some statistical data
and research which also aims at interpreting it. However, this approach has one major
imperfection: we must take it into account that some discrepancies and distortions are
unavoidable. The reasons for this are complex and derive from factors such as varying rates of
crime detection, shifting policies concerning prevention and prosecution, and the accuracy of
registration. One should also remember that most statistics rely on police records and thus are
based only on reported cases. It is estimated that nearly 1/3 of all offences and crimes is never
reported due to the lack of faith in apprehending the culprit All of these factors require
examining more than one research conducted on the matter.
One of such attempts is a comparative study by Krystyna Ostrowska, a renowned
psychologist, who analysed statistical data on juvenile crime and minor offence in 1997 and
2003 (as cited in Libiszowska – Żółtkowska, 2008, 14). The conclusions showed that while
verbal aggression remains level, there has been an unprecedented increase in the most brutal
acts of violence. The use of alcohol, drugs, medicines, and other addictive stimulants has also
become more common, mostly due to their availability and relatively low price. In nearly all
the cases examined there is evident causation and/or correlation between violence and drug or
alcohol abuse. An interesting aspect of the study was the division of offences with regard to
the sex of minors. It clearly demonstrates that the number of girls involved in violent
bahaviour has doubled in the recent years. Unsurprisingly, boys still lead in these shameful
charts. This brutalisation of school life, often taking the form of auto-aggression, is most
Another research, conducted by Beata Gruszczyńska, a psychologist at the University
of Warsaw, concentrates on the analysis of police records between 1990 and 2005 (as cited in
Libiszowska – Żółtkowska, 2008, 30). It revealed that the rates of juvenile delinquency have
been actually fluctuating during the last fifteen years rather than rising steadily. The instances
of violent behaviour among minors reached a low point in 1990 (60525 reported cases) and
peaked in 1995 (82559 reported cases). At first glance the situation may appear reassuring and
cause one to jump to hasty conclusions that the actual state of affairs has been exaggerated by
the media. However, another important aspect of the study is based on vital statistics which
show that the population of children in Poland has decreased in the recent years. The author
concludes that even though from a purely statistical point of view we are not experiencing a
dramatic rise in juvenile crime rates, there is an actual growth of violent behaviour with
relation to the overall population of minors.
Another research, conducted by Aleksandra Korwin-Szymanowska, a psychologist
and criminologist, sheds light on the situation of teachers in Polish schools (as cited in
Libiszowska – Żółtkowska, 2008, 45). The results are alarming. Over 40% of lower secondary
school teachers admitted that they feel intimidated by their students during breaks, 30% after
school, and 24% during classes. However, they also reported that they refuse to give into fear
and are determined to ensure that their learners are safe at school as well as before and after it.
Furthermore, headmasters use all the means at their disposal to deal with any manifestation of
Unfortunately, most actions taken up by school administration serve only as an
“emergency treatment” with little or no long-term effect. There are few ways of dealing with
troublemakers: lowering the mark for improper bahaviour, a conversation with parents,
reporting the offence to the police, filing a suit or expulsion from school. Further legal
proceedings may result in administering the most severe punishment in the form of a youth
custody centre. However, it is with great reluctance that the courts pass that sentence in favour
of less severe penalties due to the fact that every young offender is believed to hold a promise
of becoming a law-abiding citizen (Libiszowska – Żółtkowska, 2008). Furthermore, their
young age is believed to justify any misbehaviour. It is worth noticing that any action taken
by the police or the courts deals with the direct effects of violence rather than its causes. The
key to solving the problem of aggression is tracing it back to its origins and preventing it from
ever happening. In order to do so it is worthwhile to take a closer look at child’s development
from its very beginning.
From the very moment a person is born their surroundings serve as an immediate
source of all types of sensory input. Parents are the first and most important stimulus for the
psychological development of a young person. It is a generally acknowledged fact that the
first years in the life of every person are crucial to their emotional and intellectual growth,
future attitudes and beliefs. In biology and psychology it has been described as the Critical
Period Theory (Siegler, 2006). It is a limited amount of time during which an organism (a
human, an animal or even a plant) possesses an enhanced capability to acquire certain
knowledge, skills or psychophysical imprinting. When the critical period is over this ability
diminishes making it impossible for an organism to develop certain traits or features.
Therefore, the role that parents play in it cannot be overestimated. They serve as mediators,
guides, role models, examples to follow and look up to, providers and protectors. It is their
duty to make sure that their child uses every opportunity that the critical period may provide
in the best way possible. This theory and its implications are very popular among the first
language acquisition theoreticians, as linguistics relies heavily on this concept, but it is also
applicable in the holistic approach to psychological growth (Siegler, 2006). The mistakes that
parents make when raising their children play an important role in the formation of various
disturbing anomalies in their offspring’s behaviour.
Neglecting one’s own child is the worst of mistakes that can be made in parenting.
Psychologists and educationalists point to it as one of the most serious problems in the
upbringing of a child. It encompasses a wide variety of smaller issues, all of which, if
accumulated and not dealt with, may eventually result in aggression. Being a parent means
more than just “breeding” a child, it requires active participation in the child’s life. Many
people fall into the trap of being “passive parents”, who are preoccupied with their daily
routines and duties (Steede, 1998). They fail to realise that in order to provide their offspring
with happy, fruitful childhood they should not treat parenting as a “part-time job” but as the
most important challenge in their lives. One who does not understand it cannot call
themselves a good parent. Devoting one’s attention to the child only in the time free from
work or other duties is among the most serious mistakes an adult can make. The modern way
of life, which favours the pursuit of money, encourages limitless consumption and emphasises
career, leaves little space for family life. Some people hurl themselves into work selfishly,
having only their own good in mind, others believe it is the only means of providing their
children with everything they may require. Ironically, they deprive them of the most essential
part of their childhood: the time spent with parents. Perceptive and insightful adults who are
committed to their roles as parents are often able to notice any problems that manifest
themselves in their children’s actions (Beil, 2000). They are far more likely to help them with
difficulties at school and can notice disturbing changes in their behaviour. They are also more
familiar with the circle of friends the child belongs to and can recognise whether they are
taking any stimulants. It is crucial to stress that such parents are not supposed to be acting as
warders or spies, but rather achieve their goals through keeping good rapport with their
Additionally, all children feel great need to attract the attention of their parents. They
want to be praised and noticed, and one of the things they fear the most is being ignored
(Steede, 1998). This is why they even prefer to be berated to being slighted. The easiest and
most effective way of attracting the attention of parents is through improper behaviour.
Frustration and anger are vented on objects and other people (e.g. siblings, other
schoolchildren) in the form of aggression or disobedience. Only then do parents begin to pay
attention to what is happening with their offspring. Many people forget or never even bother
to commend their children for achieving success or actually not causing trouble at all. If the
problem persists, and the only form of dealing with the situation that parents can think of is
through various kinds of punishment, it may worsen the family relations even further. As the
feeling of rejection develops the child may potentially seek understanding with social groups
whose members have similar experiences. Such new “friendships” in most cases lead to
breaking the law, brutalisation of behaviour and addictions (Rogge, 2007).
At a certain stage parents receive additional help in raising their offspring, other than
that of grandparents, aunts or uncles. As the child grows older, a time comes when they must
take the first steps on the long path of compulsory education. It is a certain moment of
transition into a whole new world governed by different sets of rules and standards. At this
stage most children immediately broaden their surroundings, they are taken away from the
daylong parental care and are put under the watchful eye of teachers and educators. They
provide the young minds with a completely new set of stimuli in the form of new views,
routines and patterns of behaviour (Gordon, 1995). Although it may be compared to the
experience of the first, formative years of a child, the amount of input that a learner receives is
incomparably lower.
Children in Poland are required to go to school at the age of six. This is the time when
they become a part of the education system, which divides compulsory education into three
levels: primary school, lower secondary school, and upper secondary school. Compulsory
schooling is preceded by kindergarten (age 3-6), and followed by higher education (18+),
both of which are optional. However early the parents decide for their children to go to
school, they usually send there a young person who has basic understanding of the world and
fundamental rules that govern it. The linguistic and pragmatic competence of a child at that
age is already formed. With time it will expand and be “upgraded” of course, but all the
elemental pieces in the child’s brain are already set. Therefore, the role that school has in
child’s mental development, although extremely important, will always be secondary.
However, its main addition to it is the introduction of an ever-present peer group with which
the child will have to learn to coexist for several years to come. The social aspect of schooling
is as important as the knowledge and skills that it is supposed to pass to the learners.
The main idea behind grouping schoolchildren into classes, apart from the obvious
practical and economical reasons, is putting a person in a social context other than the
influence of parents or siblings (Gordon, 1995). Undoubtedly, a child may have interacted
with people outside the family unit, but it is unlikely that these experiences were as intense
and regular. The importance of such interactions can often be underestimated, but they are
crucial in building a prosperous society. Since the life of every person involves other
individuals functioning as different social groups, interactions of varied frequency and
magnitude are unavoidable. This is also the time, when many friendships, often lasting for
many years, are formed. Prolonged isolation is often accompanied by distortions of character
and psychophysical disorders. Hardly anyone enjoys leading a life of a hermit. Voluntary
isolation or exclusion from society is often one of the symptoms which may indicate that
something wrong is happening with a person. In the case of schoolchildren it may be one of
the effects of school failures, bullying, feeling of being misunderstood, ignored or
heartbroken. All of these factors have the potential of contributing to aggressive behaviour,
also in the form of auto aggression. Both parents and teachers are responsible for noticing any
such change and aiding the child. However, on average, a Polish teacher has to take care of
classes of 20+ pupils, usually from morning to early afternoon. In these circumstances
observing any negative changes as they form is extremely hard. Most of the times it happens
when they have already developed into serious issues and manifest themselves in various
forms of verbal or physical aggression. Parents, on the other hand, know their offspring better
than anyone else and they should be able to recognise any disturbing changes. Sometimes, in
spite of noticing the odd behaviour they fail to understand that their “perfect” child has
problems. The refusal to accept this stems from the deeply rooted conviction that they never
made any mistakes as parents and they attribute everything to the “rebellious age” or raging
hormones (Libiszowska – Żółtkowska, 2008).
New environment, new experiences and new friendships often also involve new
dangers. Schoolchildren are determined to be successful and accepted by others. At first, they
look up to the teacher as a role model and seek their acceptance. However, as their social
skills develop they turn their attention to the peer group. The easiest way to achieve
acceptance among classmates is by impressing them. Some children are so desperate to gain
recognition or respect that they will go as far as to break the rules, and often resort to violence
to achieve their goals. Humiliating or beating others is the means of elevating one’s status in
the group. Young tormentors often fail or refuse to understand the impact their actions have
on their victims, who tend to suffer from depression and emotional trauma. It is not
uncommon for them to commit suicide as they can no longer bear the oppression and have no
prospects of improving their situation. However, apart from the bullies, the peer group is also
responsible for the situation. Applauding aggressive behaviour and social callousness
encourage even more brutal acts of violence. The misunderstood idea of loyalty to the class
may bear fruit in the conspiracy of silence.
Since the school reform of 1999 many psychologists and educationalists have argued
that it contributed to the increase in violent bahaviour of schoolchildren (Libiszowska –
Żółtkowska, 2008). They pointed to lower secondary school as the main source of educational
problems. The rationale behind this claim was that the transition points between certain levels
of education were miscalculated. All children potentially prone to violent behaviour at the so
called “difficult age” (13-16) were put together. In the old system children went to primary
school at the least troublesome age (5/6). They stayed there until the age of 13/14 and any
disturbing behaviour could be noticed and remedied with the help of teachers who had known
them for many years. The fact that pupils had known their teachers for such a long time
granted a greater degree of mutual respect. Having finished primary school, the learners went
to secondary school where they coexisted with older, more mature people (16-18), who
unknowingly and unintentionally curbed the endeavours of any potential troublemakers. Now,
when the delicate balance that kept a tight rein on the “tumultuous” age was shaken,
controlling it has become most challenging. Newcomers to lower secondary schools are often
disobedient and disrespectful towards teachers or any sort of authority. This is reflected in the
aforementioned study by Aleksandra Korwin-Szymanowska on the situation of teachers in
Polish schools. However strong these arguments are, they are only one of the many
contributory explanations of the problem. Furthermore, this approach does not provide us
with a convincing solution, other than the unrealistic idea of reversing the reform.
Additionally, it acknowledges that the young have always been prone to aggression, and now
they were simply “unleashed” upon the unaware and unprepared society.
Aggression among children is an elusive phenomenon. Its causes are complex and we
cannot limit defining them by simply laying the blame on anybody around us. Parents, as the
most important people in the upbringing of a child, are responsible for inculcating them with
the basic patterns of bahaviour and concepts of right and wrong. Additionally, they should
create favourable conditions for mental and biological development. On the other hand, the
years that a child spends as a part of the education system are crucial in their intellectual and
social evolution. School becomes their second home; however, its role in child’s upbringing is
always secondary. One of the many aims of schooling is helping parents raise decent young
people. At school learners should have the comfort of feeling safe from harm. Any kind of
pathologic behaviour that goes unnoticed or unpunished will surely encourage further
offences and result in escalation. Therefore, both parents and schools are responsible for
aggressive behaviour of children in Polish schools. The main difference lies in its degree and
magnitude. Parents are responsible for their child as an individual unit, whereas the education
system for the child in a social context. Furthermore, as the available methods of preventing
violence differ from one another significantly, the main point of focus in the struggle against
violence among the youth should be formulating a common solution. One that would involve
both parents and the school system in a combined effort that would one day make children’s
lives before, after, and during school safer.
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