Education without violence: How Astrid Lindgren introduced a cultural change with a speech that would change Germany, News4teachers

FRANKFURT/MAIN. 40 years ago, on October 22, 1978, Astrid Lindgren gave an educational speech in gratitude for the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, which she herself called “Never Violence! Her demand not to beat children was so provocative at the time that Lindgren was initially asked by the organizers in all seriousness to refrain from her speech – which the Swedish children’s book author resolutely rejected (and finally prevailed). In an article for the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, the renowned criminologist Christian Pfeiffer praises the significance of this speech for the later ban on corporal punishment: Since 2000, children in Germany have the “right to a non-violent upbringing” according to section 1631 II of the German Civil Code. The effects of this cultural change are enormous.

“Couldn’t we perhaps learn to renounce violence? Couldn’t we try to become a whole new kind of person? But how should that happen, and where should we start? I think we have to start from scratch. With the children,” Lindgren explained in her speech, snubbing many conservatives for whom beatings were a natural part of education. Even into the late 90s, slaps in the face and a beating were not only socially recognized in Germany, they were also allowed by law. In fact, according to criminologist Pfeiffer, three out of four children were beaten by their parents in the 1970s – every fifth child was even beaten up.

Lindgren opposed this with her vision of a love-influenced upbringing: “In no newborn child does a seed slumber from which good or evil inevitably sprouts. Whether a child grows up to be a warm-hearted, open and trusting person with a sense of the common good or a cold, destructive, selfish person, that is decided by those who are entrusted with the child in this world, depending on whether they show him what love is or not. She further emphasized: “A child who is lovingly treated by his parents and who loves his parents thereby gains a loving relationship with his environment and preserves this basic attitude for the rest of his life”.

The writer Astrid Lindgren revolutionized education (1960 photo). Photo: Wikimedia Commons

All too often, child rearing is about breaking the child’s will by force, be it physical or psychological. “He who spares the rod spoils the boy,” says the Old Testament, and many fathers and mothers have believed in this through the centuries. They have diligently swung the rod and called it love.”

Lindgren asked: “But how was the childhood of all these really ‘corrupt boys’, of whom there are so many in the world at the moment, these dictators, tyrants and oppressors, this man-killer? One should follow this up sometime. I am convinced that with most of them we would come across a tyrannical educator who stood behind them with a rod, whether it was made of wood or humiliating, offending, exposing, scaring.” This thesis, which was considered courageous at the time, namely that violence experienced in childhood later produces aggressiveness, has now been scientifically confirmed. A violent style of parenting triggers a “complex of cascading processes” that promote contemporary behavior at the expense of future-oriented educational goals, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, who used data from a long-term study with more than 1,000 participants for their study.

The researchers found that two years later the children, who were raised very strictly and aggressively in the 7th grade, often regarded peers and friends as more important than following parental rules. This in turn leads to riskier behaviour in 11th grade, the scientists write. While girls used to be sexually active, boys showed a greater tendency to crime than moderately educated peers. This in turn influences overall school success and leads to higher drop-out rates in high school or college.

The development of juvenile delinquency in Germany can, in turn, be used to show the positive effects of an increasing renunciation of violence in education. “In 2014, our research data from repeated representative surveys of people aged 16 and over showed clear results. The parental education culture has changed considerably since the 1970s. More love, less blows, has been the motto ever since. The rate of those who have experienced a lot of parental love has almost doubled to 62 percent. On the other hand, the massive beating has fallen by three quarters, while the proportion of completely non-violent educated has risen to more than half,” reports Pfeiffer. The “right to a non-violent upbringing” has also been enshrined in the German Civil Code since 2000.

Violent crime has fallen drastically

As a result, violent crime among children and adolescents has fallen drastically, by 40 percent per capita since 2007. Similar trends can be seen in the decline in suicide or alcohol consumption, reports Pfeiffer and concludes: “Astrid Lindgren’s theses are thus impressively confirmed by empirical findings: A non-violent and loving upbringing promotes upright gait and empathy. It also conveys positive experiences of self-efficacy and protects against escape into suicide or drugs.”

In her speech, the author of “Pippi Longstocking,” “Michel in the Soup Bowl,” and “Karlsson on the Roof,” decisively opposed the popular prejudice that an education without repression was irregular. “Free and non-authoritarian education does not mean that children are left to their own devices, that they are allowed to do whatever they want. It does not mean that they should grow up without norms, which they themselves do not want. We all need norms of behaviour, children and adults, and through the example of their parents the children learn more than through any other methods”, the Swedish woman, who died in 2002, explained and stressed: “Children should certainly have respect for their parents, but parents should also have respect for their children, and they must never abuse their natural superiority. Loving respect for each other is what one would like to wish all parents and all children”. bibo / Agency for Educational Journalism

Teachers and educators are obliged by their educational mandate to take action if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that pupils in their care are subjected to abuse or neglect. Failure to do so may result in labour, civil or even criminal penalties. This is pointed out by the police crime prevention of the Länder and the federal government.

“In consultation with the school management, teachers should usually first inform the parents and, if necessary, seek expert advice. If danger is imminent or the effective protection of the child is endangered by the participation of the parents, the Youth Welfare Office must be informed immediately (§ 85 (3) and (4) SchulG). A charge with the police can, must however not be refunded , is called it. What educators must specifically do depends on their level of qualification and results from the cooperation agreement between the respective institution and the youth welfare office. First they have to assess the risk together with another specialist, then they have to approach the guardians and offer them help. If there is an acute danger for the child, for example through the participation of parents, they should directly involve the relevant authorities such as the youth welfare office, the family court, doctors or the police. Here, too, the following applies: A criminal complaint to the police can, but does not have to, be filed.

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Christina Cherry
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