Elementary school students regularly hear and use negative comments such as “retard” or “you’re so gay” in their schools, posing additional challenges to administrators who are increasingly trying to combat name-calling and bullying, even in the youngest grades.
"Elementary principals are painfully aware of the impact that name-calling, bullying and bias have not only on an individual student's development, but also in disrupting a positive school culture that nurtures the whole child," said Gail Connelly, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
A report, “Playground and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States,” released Wednesday, detailed the prevelance of biased remarks and name-calling in elementary schools, based on a national sample of 1,065 students in third to sixth grade and an online survey of 1,099 teachers of kindergarten to sixth grade.
The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, comes as school districts across the country grapple with how to deal with anti-gay bullying and harassment.
The issue has gotten the most attention among the middle- and high-school grades, in part because of a spate of teen suicides linked to anti-gay harassment.
In October 2010, the suicide death of two teen boys prompted U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to issue a call for action.
Their deaths followed at least three other suicides that year linked to “the trauma of being bullied and harassed for their actual or perceived sexual orientation was too much to bear,” Duncan said at the time.
“This is a moment where every one of us -- parents, teachers, students, elected officials, and all people of conscience -- needs to stand up and speak out against intolerance in all its forms,” he said.
But the study released Wednesday appears to show that the problems of bullying start early, with three out of four elementary students reporting name-calling and bullying with at least some regularity. At the same time, nearly half of the elementary school teachers said they believed that bullying, name-calling or harassment is a “very serious or somewhat serious problem at their school.”
Among those surveyed, two-thirds of the students (67 percent) attributed the bullying and name-calling that they witness at school to students’ appearance or body size. Students are next most likely to attribute the bullying and name-calling to not being good at sports (37 percent), how well they do at schoolwork (26 percent) and being a boy who acts or looks “too much like a girl” or a girl who acts or looks “too much like a boy” (23 percent).
"Our latest research on bias-based remarks and bullying in America' s elementary schools provides new understanding of the experiences facing our youngest students," said Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.
To help counter negative language and behaviors, Byard’s organization has partnered with the National Association of Elementary School Principals to develop new lesson plans to increase awareness of bias, family diversity and gender roles. The goal is to give teachers the tools to deal with those issues in the classroom, said Andy Marra, a spokeswoman for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.
“It’s about building understanding,” she said.
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