Research on EIPTSD [Educator-Induced Posttraumatic Stress Disorder]
Excerpt from Reading, Writing and the Hickory Stick, (1990) pp. 97-101.

Two series of studies conducted by NCSCPAS [National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment and Alternatives in the Schools] researchers sought to understand EIPTSD. The first examined the extent of physical and psychological abuse that teachers had experienced when they were students. That research found that between 40 percent and 60 percent of teachers from different samples had developed stress symptoms as a result of being abused by their teachers in elementary or high school. The study helps us to understand that many educators are modeling the abusive teaching techniques of their own teachers.

The second study surveyed students in a high school in suburban Philadelphia (Lambert et al. 1988). The school has students from predominantly middle-class with some lower-middle-class families. We developed a questionnaire that asked students to check as many aspects of their worst school experience as they wished and to check the single worst thing an educator had ever done. Of the 372 teenagers in the sample, 60 percent replied. A summary of the results follows. (The questionnaire is reprinted as appendix C.)

Ridicule. Thirty-four percent of the students reported that they were ridiculed by educators to such an extent that they developed some stress symptoms. The types of ridicule (I) "put you down for not doing well," (2) "made fun of you," and (3) "made you feel that you were not as good as everyone else."

Overly Punitive Sanctions. Twenty-one percent of the students said that their worst school experience resulted from overly punitive sanctions--those that they felt were grossly unfair and/or undeserved. They were: (1) "gave you detention for no reason," (2) "suspended you for no reason," (3) "expelled you from school for no reason," (4) "wouldn't let you go to the bathroom as punishment," (5) "threw things at you like a book, eraser, or something else," and (6) "lied about you so that you got in trouble."

Verbal Assaults. Twenty-one percent of the students said they were severely verbally assaulted. Offenses were (1) "yelled at you" and (2) "said they would do something bad to you (made a threat)."

Physical Assault. Thirteen percent said they were physically assaulted. The assaults included (1) "pinched or squeezed you so that it hurt," (2) "slapped or punched you," (3) "pushed you," (4) "grabbed you hard," (5) "shook you hard," (6) "pulled your ears or hair," and (7) "hit you with a ruler, paddle, or something else."

Isolation/Rejection. Eight percent said they were isolated or rejected. This included (1) "didn't let you be a part of special subjects or activities, such as music, sports, trips, or art," (2) "ignored you," (3) "would not pay attention to you," and (4) "made you stay alone, away from everybody."

Verbal Discrimination. Two percent said that educators (1) "called you names because of what you looked like" and/or (2) "put you down because of your religion or race (color)."

Peer Humiliation. Two percent were humiliated by peers with teacher assent. Teachers (1) "let other children tease you" and/ or (2) "let other children hit, slap, or push you."

Corruption. Sexual comments or advances by educators caused stress symptoms for 2 percent of the students. This included (1) "made sexual comments that you did not like," (2) "touched you sexually but did not force you," (3) "touched you sexually and forced you to let it happen," and/or (4) "forced you to have sex.

The major purpose of this study was to determine the extent of symptoms that children may develop as a result of their worst school experiences. Most of the students said they recovered from the experiences and were not seriously damaged. But the experiences reported in this and other studies have later effects on attitudes toward educators, schooling, and schools. (Perhaps with such large numbers remembering negative experiences, this might account for Americans' generally low regard for schools.) We were interested in the frequency (how many times), duration (how long), and intensity (how much of a problem it caused) of traumatic stress symptoms. We found that almost 10 percent of the students experienced symptoms of such frequency, duration, and intensity that they suffered. My colleagues and I collapsed the responses into twelve categories, and students could indicate as many individual symptoms as they felt. (Because students could list symptoms in more than one category, the total percentages do not equal 100 percent.)

Problems in School. Sixty-nine percent of the students said they had school-related stress symptoms after they were maltreated at some level. The symptoms included hatred, worry, and crying about school grades and attendance. Students skipped school, cut classes, stopped doing homework, and got lower grades.

Aggressive Behavior. Sixty-four percent of the students developed aggressive responses. These included rapid loss of temper, loss of control, desire for revenge, and disrespect to teachers. Some students acted out their angry feelings by picking on others and fighting.

Avoidance Behaviors. Avoidance is one of the most common symptoms of PTSD. Fifty-eight percent of the students developed some type of avoidance responses such as staying away from their abusers and the place where they were humiliated. They also tried not to think about or talk about what happened.

Changes in Personality. One of the most dramatic events in PTSD is sudden or even gradual behavioral changes that do not seem to be related to any recent events known by the parents. Even in EIPTSD, when the parents know what happened, they find it hard to believe that one cruel experience in school could make such a difference. Fifty-five percent of the students said that they experienced changes in the way they felt or acted. These included feelings of depression, hopelessness, guilt, anxiety, self-deprecation, and loss of trust in adults.

Reexperiencing the trauma. Our early studies showed that children do not reexperience the traumatic event as adults do. Adults, for example, often have vivid flashbacks. But by using statements about a variety of ways that children might reexperience the traumatic events in school, we found that 49 percent of the students said that they had some reexperiencing; pictures of the event popped into their minds, they had unwanted recollections of the event, and they talked obsessively about the event.

Fearful Reactions. Hyperalertness--a condition in which the person is always on the lookout for a similar bad experience--affected 27 percent of the students. Responses included fearful anticipation of further harm by the abuser, other adults, and even peers. Some reported becoming jumpy.

Somatic Complaints. Twenty percent of the students developed somatic complaints: headaches, stomachaches, tiredness, loss of appetite, body aches, nausea when thinking about school, enuresis, and daytime urinary accidents.

Withdrawal. Nineteen percent of the students began to withdraw, a common indicator of depression. They withdrew from friends, family, people who were present at the time of the trauma, and previously enjoyed activities. They spent more time alone and lost enthusiasm and motivation that they had previously.

Memory and Concentration Problems. Thirteen percent of the students reported memory and concentration problems as a result of worry over their treatment by educators. These problems were mostly focused on their ability to function in school or to do homework.

Dependency and Regression. Ten percent of the students said that at some time they had acted immaturely after the abuse. This regression takes many forms, such as a desire to be younger, a fear of going to bed, and clinging to parents.

Habit Disorders. Ten percent of the students suffered twitches, thumb sucking, nail biting, and stuttering.

Sleep Disturbances. Sleep disturbances occur in almost all cases of PTSD. While only 10 percent of the responding students reported them, they were among the students with the most severe symptoms. These included nightmares and/or trouble falling or staying asleep.

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