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Teaching Civility Early in School May Help Reduce Bullying Later

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Courses on civility in elementary school could help reduce bullying.  That's the advice of a long time researcher who's studied youth civility.

New Hampshire Professor Malcolm Smith says he's been examining changes in kids' behavior for three decades.  He says his work has centered on issues of meanness, bullying, and incivility. Smith led a day long workshop at Eastern State Hospital in Lexington.  He says young people can be taught how to be nice.  "You can teach empathy in nine weeks, one hour a week, and significantly improve a child's empathy,” Smith says. “Just like you can teach science or math, we ought to make it part of every school's curriculum."  

Smith says Kentucky has higher rates of bullying than the national average.  He says a Centers for Disease Control report shows nearly 40 percent of Kentucky middle school girls have been bullied over the last year.

The New England professor says one of America's founding fathers can teach people today about reducing bullying among children.  Smith says the importance of getting along was noted by leaders in the 1700's.  "Benjamin Franklin taught at the first public high school and the first opening of the first school,” says Smith. “Franklin said, ‘the purpose of the high school shall be to teach civility, because without civility democracy will fail.’"

Smith says some children may not recognize their behavior as meanness.  He says self-centeredness is a problem among some young people, though children may not see it.  "Kids who spent enormous amounts of time with technology are not able, we're finding, to read body language,” explained Smith. “So, they don't really know what other kids are feeling.  They're not able to read the signs and there's just sort of a perfect storm going on."  

Smith argues for structured courses in early grades on teaching civility.  He says the problem of bullying in Kentucky goes beyond the national average.?

Stu Johnson is a reporter/producer at WEKU in Lexington, Kentucky.
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