A Plan to End Bullying and Make Schools Kinder and Gentler

A plan that would virtually end school bullying and make school discipline kinder, gentler and more meaningful is being proposed for schools throughout the country.

The man behind this revolutionary concept is Dr. Robert Goldman, a Long Island psychologist/lawyer. He is intent on changing the culture of schools based on lessons found in his book, No Room for Vengeance, and his work with the Suffolk County Probation Department.

Goldman’s book, co-authored with Victoria Ruvolo, tells the true story of an incident that took place on the Long Island Expressway in November 2004. A teenager tossed a 20-pound frozen turkey out the rear window of the car he was riding in and it broke the windshield of an oncoming car, hitting and nearly killing Ruvolo, its driver. But instead of going to prison for up to 25 years, the offender, Ryan Cushing, 18, was allowed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree assault at the insistence of Ms. Ruvolo.

As a result of Ruvolo’s compassion, Goldman developed a program of repentance for juveniles, one believed to be the first in the country.

After Cushing entered his plea and was leaving the courtroom — knowing he would be sentenced to only six months in jail, five years probation and one year of community service — he stopped in front of Ruvolo who was standing at the end of a row and hugged her. The two cried openly.

“I’m so thankful that you are doing well,” he whispered to Ruvolo, whose face had to be rebuilt using metal plates and screws in a 10-hour operation.

“You’re such a wonderful person,” he continued, sobbing uncontrollably as others in the courtroom choked back tears. “Never did I intend to hurt anyone, especially someone as special as you. I prayed for you every night; I never meant this to happen.”

“It’s OK, it’s OK,” Ruvolo told him. “I am going to be watching over you now. Just do good with your life.”

Inspired by her compassion and challenge to create a venue where Ryan could do something good with his life, Goldman developed a program called TASTE, an acronym that stands for Thinking errors, Anger management, Social skills and Talking Empathy.

The program in Suffolk County’s juvenile justice program offers young people a chance to apologize to their victim in writing or in person. Goldman, who is now the supervising psychologist in the Probation Department, said that Ryan’s community service required him to address youngsters in the TASTE program. It is for youngsters 12 to 15-years-old who have pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes (including shoplifting, criminal trespass, assault, graffiti and aggravated harassment) and have been sentenced to probation or had their cases adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. Goldman noted that Ryan continued speaking to groups with Ruvolo well after his one-year of community service ended.

The hour-long probation programs — which can range from four to 16 sessions, depending on the needs of each youngster — also involve the participation of the youth’s parents. Goldman and his colleagues at the Probation Department run TASTE, which focuses on teaching the juveniles about self-control.

The key to the program is to have youngsters stop and think of the long-term consequences of their actions before they act.

Now Dr. Goldman wants to bring this program to schools as an alternative to suspension.

“Rather than throwing them out of school, thereby rewarding them for their behavior, I would hold them accountable by putting them through this program and having them make peace with their victim — especially in the case of bullying,” Goldman explained.

This is an intriguing program and one certainly worth considering. As the Hearing Officer in Superintendent’s Disciplinary Hearings for more than a decade, I often felt hamstrung in meting out consequences. New York State law allows only for suspension as a punishment. Counseling, alternative behavior modification programs, and creative solutions can only be recommended, not mandated.

Goldman also wants to give principals more authority — rather than automatically requesting a Superintendent’s Hearing — to impose more than a five-day suspension. He notes that implementing TASTE in schools would give kids — particularly those involved with drugs and similar offenses — along with their parents and school personnel the opportunity to explore why the offense occurred, how the school was impacted, what such behavior does to the community.

“Let the children hear the consequences of their behavior on the school so they can understand,” Dr. Goldman said. “Let them become part of the program, part of the solution. Let them mentor others on the dangers of drugs.”

In addition, Goldman is currently developing a curriculum, based on the TASTE principles that he hopes to implement throughout the country, starting with New York. He says it fulfills the requirements of The Dignity for All Students Act, which will take effect in New York State in July. It was enacted to protect students in public schools from discrimination and harassment. New York joins 11 states, which have already passed similar legislation, including California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

The Dignity Act protects against all forms of harassment, especially those based on race, color, weight, national origin, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex. What’s notable about this legislation is that it amends state education law to require schools to incorporate diversity and discrimination awareness and sensitivity training into lessons on civility, citizenship, and character education. Additionally, schools are also required to develop effective responses to harassment and bullying, and to implement strategies to prevent these behaviors.



MLK Day: Beyond the Anniversary

We’re well into the 21st century but two recent news items should make us wonder how far we’ve actually come in this, the 83rd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth and the 58th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. 

The first is an article by Katherine Schulten in The New York Times that notes that on last year’s National Assessment of Education Progress exam, only 2 percent of U.S. high school seniors were familiar with the civil rights struggle of the 1950s.  Students could not identify the wording from Brown v. Board of Education, the US Supreme Court decision that knocked down the “separate but equal” doctrine in public schools. 

Ms. Schulten reported also that after a comprehensive review, the Southern Poverty Law Center concluded that civil rights history is often avoided in schools. 

Much more disturbing, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that parents in one Georgia school district were enraged by math worksheets that contained questions about slavery. Among them: “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?” Another: “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?” 

Parents are demanding an apology as well as diversity training for teachers and administrators.

Parents should be demanding a lot more than that! They should ask about the teacher(s) who gave the test. Where was the sensitivity to the African-American students? They should know the context of the math test. Was this an integration of math and history? If so, were these the best examples that could have been used? They should ask if this was an ad hoc blooper or a carefully crafted piece of the curriculum. Finally, who is responsible for supervising the teachers and the curriculum in the school and district – and where were they? 

Both parents and teachers need to be vigilant in preventing prejudice and in celebrating the diverse and tolerant country we say we are. That begins with Martin Luther King Day, but doesn’t end there. 

In honor of MLK Day, the NEA called upon teachers to “help students put in perspective Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life, his impact on the Civil Rights Movement, and his significance to American culture and history.”

Martin Luther King Day is observed this year on Monday, January 16. As the magazine PTO Today wrote, this day is an opportunity for parent groups to “help focus students’ attention on the civil rights leader and to reinforce his message of racial justice and equal rights.” 

In the second decade of the 21st century, students have to know more than anniversaries. The history behind the anniversary tells us who we are as a people and what we aspire to be. The lessons of Dr. King’s life and legacy must go beyond one day in our schools. How the civil rights movement is taught or how Martin Luther King Day is observed, while important, is not the whole story. What is important is that we teach our children that we are a society that respects and celebrates differences. 





For more information about Meryl Ain visit:




TV Parents: What Values Do They Convey?

During the holiday break, I confess watching a few episodes of TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras, a reality show that features actual parents (mostly mothers) preparing and entering their small children in kiddy beauty pageants. The mothers are depicted inflicting on their tiny daughters coaching lessons, spray tans, heavy makeup, false eyelashes and hairpieces – all for the privilege of winning a crown or a small monetary prize for their child’s physical appearance.

It got me thinking about whether TV parents reflect our values or help to shape them. And what, exactly, are the values that we want our schools to teach our children? 

Have you seen Robert Young in re-runs as Jim Anderson in Father Knows Best, a popular 1950’s situation comedy?

Jim set
 standards for his children — Betty, Bud, and Kathy — and constantly differentiated right from wrong.

Or do you remember June Cleaver as the mom in Leave it to Beaver? She was always in the kitchen with her shirtwaist dresses and pearls
dispensing milk and cookies, while her husband, Ward, gave their sons,
Wally and Beaver, weekly lectures in the proper way to behave.

The baby-boomer generation and their parents thought these were the perfect families, and while they were glorified lily-white versions of reality, there was no question that the parents’ primary responsibility was to impart values, such as fairness, honesty and caring, to their children. They also sat down as a family for daily meals, during which they discussed the day’s events.

In later decades, the Cunninghams, Howard (Tom Bosley), a hardware store owner, and his stay at home wife, Marion, attempted to set their children and family friend, “the Fonz,” on the right path in Happy Days.

On The Cosby Show, the Huxtables — Cliff (Bill Cosby), a physician, and Clair, a lawyer, African-American 
parents of five — also modeled and taught the values they wanted their children to live by.

While all these parents were idealized versions of real mothers and
 fathers, they provided a benchmark against which actual people could
 measure their actions. And they supported the notion that American 
parents were the repositories of wisdom, knowledge and integrity, and 
were supposed to pass these values on to their children.

Fast forward to 2012. We don’t hear too many lectures on ethics from
 television parents. But we do hear about social and emotional 
intelligence, and schools’ attempts to teach character education. 
Values such as respect, kindness, empathy, and giving back are needed 
more than ever in our society, and there are many programs in our
schools that attempt to develop nice human beings and good citizens. 
But it’s naïve and unrealistic to expect schools to do this alone. 
Parents are key partners in inculcating values in their children. All 
the lessons and activities in the world will not succeed without
 parental support.

What are we learning about values from today’s fictional TV parents? 

Cam and Mitchell, the same-sex parents of Lily on ABC’s Modern 
Family, are over-conscientious and ever-present to their daughter’s 
needs. Being present is key to success and an important value. Parents 
can’t influence their kids at all if they are not physically,
 emotionally, and mentally present. This includes: engaging in
conversation, attending school and other events, and modeling values.

Frankie Heck, played by Patricia Heaton on ABC’s The Middle, should 
also be commended for parenting three rather odd children and
allowing each of them to be whom they are. Enabling children to
 discover their own interests, find their purpose and pursue their own 
dreams is a key to happiness.

In total contrast, the mothers on TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras live
 vicariously through their children. They spend thousands of dollars to
 have their daughters — some less than a year old — compete in beauty
 pageants. It is painful to watch toddlers crying and fighting their mothers as they get them ready to “compete.” Equally disturbing is the intense disappointment of both parent and child when the aspiring mini-beauty queens fail to win a crown. While some of the children say they like to
 participate, their parents are forcing their own passions on their
 children! One mother admitted that she had a baby so she could enter
 her in pageants. Another did not have the daughter she wanted, so her
s on is now one of very few boys competing on the pageant circuit.

As we enter the New Year, it’s crucially important for parents to be
 strong partners with their children’s schools in building character. 
For better or worse, TV parents, then and now, provide a framework of 
what and what not to do. Here are some tips for 2012:

• Be role models for honesty, integrity, kindness and caring.

• Let your children know what your standards are in word and in deed.

• Teach your child to respect and celebrate differences.

• Be present for your children, and show up physically, mentally, and

• Model the importance of giving to others.

• Eat dinner together as a family.

• Allow your children to discover their own interests, and to find 
their own purpose.

For more information about Meryl Ain visit:




Education News Review of 2011: What will be trending in 2012?

1. In a dismal economy, schools made deep cuts into their educational programs in 2011. 

• In 2012, look for more cutting, including mid-year cuts. School districts will consider school closings, grade reorganization, and redistricting. Administrative jobs, particularly district-wide positions, will be on the chopping block. Parents will lobby for central administrative cuts, insisting that an extensive and excessive central administration should not be kept at the expense of educational programs impacting their children. Consolidation of school districts, in a way that reduces administration and retains neighborhood schools, will also be seriously explored.       


2. High school and college sports were under fire for lack of accountability in insular “old boys’ networks” in 2011. Most notably, the egregious allegations of repeated child abuse by Jerry Sandusky and the cover-up by his superiors heightened awareness of the dangers to children when there is a lack of accountability. On Long Island, a superintendent who had once been a coach was accused of directing a principal to have teachers inflate the grades of a star football player. 

• In 2012, look for more uncovering of favoritism and bad behavior on the part of the adults in charge in high school and college sports.  There will be an outcry for fairness, watchfulness, and an overhauling of sports programs as well as child abuse reporting laws.


3. Bullying and cyber-bullying were in the news in 2011 because of resulting teen suicide. States, such as New Jersey, passed anti-bullying laws. 

• In 2012, look for more serious discussion about bullying and cyber-bullying. The emphasis will be on programs that prevent bullying and what adults – parents, educators, and others – can do in this digital age where online bullying can occur 24/7.  Watch also for a serious dialogue of whether legislation is the answer or if creates additional victims. 


4. In 2011, SAT student cheating rings were uncovered on Long Island, and teachers were accused of cheating by changing their students’ answers on standardized tests in Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. 

• In 2012, watch for more cheating scandals. While there will be more arrests to crackdown on cheating, there will also be soul-searching reflections about why students and teachers feel compelled to cheat. 


5. Many parochial schools closed their doors and there was increasing fire directed at some charter schools in 2011. 

• Look for the impact on already strapped school districts as hundreds of former parochial school students enter the public schools in 2012. 


6. In 2011, parents formed unions in places as far-flung as California and New York City. These groups were created to empower parents with a voice in their children’s education. 

• Watch for more parent power in 2012. For example, in New York State a 2 percent tax cap will go into effect, forcing districts to look for cost savings unless 60 percent of the voters vote to exceed the cap. Parents in New York and elsewhere are becoming increasingly aware that districts can put anything on the table to be cut, including sacred cows such as full-day kindergarten. Look for your district’s schedule of budget meetings, attend them and speak up! Stay tuned to Your Education Doctor for strategies to help you advocate for quality education for your children!

I wish you a happy, healthy, and successful new year!!!


December Dilemmas

It’s the holiday season and there are celebrations everywhere – at the office, at home and in the schools.

Happy Holidays

However you celebrate at home or in the office, the notion of what is appropriate and inappropriate in public schools continues to evolve as our communities become more diverse.

When I was a child, Christmas was observed in the schools with Christmas pageants, Christmas concerts, Christmas parties, candy canes and Christmas carols. Children who did not celebrate Christmas felt excluded. A generation later, Hanukkah was given a mention with a Hanukkah song in the holiday concert and perhaps Hanukkah food, such as jelly doughnuts. It was better than nothing, but still not much.

Later, Kwanzaa was included. Whether it was called “holiday festivities” or Christmas, everyone understood that it was basically a Christmas celebration with merely a nod to non-Christian holidays.

Nowadays, students observe so many different winter holidays in our multi-cultural society that schools simply can’t keep up with them all.  Rather than being exclusionary, a number of schools have adopted an educational solution to this winter dilemma by having the students share their family traditions with their classmates.  In this way, the school or teacher doesn’t put an imprimatur on any one practice. The children explain their customs and share their foods – and it becomes a learning experience. 

Did I say “food?”  Anyone who has ever worked in a school knows that you can easily gain seven pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas with all the ubiquitous goodies. But sharing food among children has become a real problem. Is the food gluten free, peanut free, animal free, kosher or halal? With medical conditions, such as celiac disease, food allergies and dietary restrictions, it’s not as easy as it used to be to share holiday fare with your classmates.  In the past, people just didn’t know any better; now we do!

Add to this the rampant concern about obesity and healthy eating in this country, and we have another dilemma on our hands. Parties bring together students, teachers and parents, and provide a break from the routine. But school parties typically revolve around junk food, such as candy, cookies, cupcakes and chips. As parents across the country lobby for school wellness policies and healthier fare in school cafeterias, the traditional holiday party becomes almost politically incorrect.

With these dilemmas, parents who care have to weigh in. You have to speak up if your child feels uncomfortable or is in danger of having his health or beliefs violated. School officials will listen to your concerns. In one district where I worked, parents rallied against a Christmas pageant in one school. It was replaced by a more ecumenical sharing of traditions.

Recently, one Rockland County teacher went way too far by telling her students that there is no Santa Claus. Parents complained and the teacher called each parent  to apologize. Clearly, this teacher had no business imposing her own views and impinging on children’s beliefs.  

If your child has a food restriction, let the school know ahead of time. If it’s a matter of healthy eating, are you willing to make an exception for a special occasion – or do you think school parties shouldn’t revolve around junk food?  A study in the Journal of Nutrition, Education, and Behavior indicated that when fruit was served along with candy and cookies, children ate it and their total consumption of calories dropped.

If you are a parent who cares passionately about what is served at class parties, form a committee and come up with healthier food alternatives. Additionally, plan fun activities that are not food-related. How about a community service project instead, around which parents and students can unite?

Whatever your individual concerns or beliefs, our public schools are for everyone. Most important at this time and throughout the year is that parents — in partnership with schools — teach children how to respect and celebrate their differences. 

Wishing you a happy holiday season and a healthy new year!




Thanksgiving – Isn’t it Everyone’s Holiday?

Isn’t Thanksgiving the best holiday of the year, especially for schoolchildren to celebrate? It fosters gratitude and generosity, values that are often missing in today’s world. It encourages young people to count their blessings, to give back, and to engage in community service — such as food and clothing drives — to help those less fortunate. It doesn’t favor one religion or another, like Christmas, a Christian holiday marking the birth of Jesus, or even Halloween, which some won’t observe because of its pagan origins. Finally, it acknowledges that we are a nation of immigrants, and we are comprised of a rich tapestry of cultures, ethnicities, religions and backgrounds.  

What could be a better holiday for students to observe, in and out of school?  Isn’t Thanksgiving the most unifying day of the year? Not to officials in the Seattle public schools, Washington State’s largest school system. According to Fox News, the district sent letters to teachers and staff saying that Thanksgiving is “a time of mourning” for its Native American students. 

The memo, from Caprice Hollins, the district’s director of Equity, Race & Learning Support, included a “debunking” of 11 “myths” about the First Thanksgiving. The list attempted to knock down traditional views of the holiday, including what was served, the motives of the Pilgrims, and the commonly held belief that the holiday was a happy one. Instead, the letter stated that Thanksgiving is a time of mourning for Native Americans. A spokesperson for the district said the letter was an attempt to help students understand history from the perspective of others. 

According to Fox News, “one Seattle-area tribe says Thanksgiving is not somber on the reservation but a time to see friends and family, as it is for other Americans.” 

The report quoted Daryl Williams of the Tulalip Tribes saying that Northwest tribes celebrate the holiday with turkey and salmon. 

“Before the period of bitter and violent relationships between natives and their culturally European counterparts, they worked together to survive,” he said. “The spirit of Thanksgiving, of people working together to help each other, is the spirit I think that needs to grow in this country because this country has gotten very divisive.” 

One of my favorite Thanksgiving books when my children were small was Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen, which takes place around the turn of the last century. I recently read it again in anticipation of sharing it with my six-year-old granddaughter this Thanksgiving. It could probably use an update to make the third-grade teacher Miss Stickley more proactive against her students’ bullying of Molly, a recent immigrant from Russia.  But the message is still a beautiful one – the class finally comes to understand that Molly’s mother is a Pilgrim too. She left her native land for religious freedom, just like the original Pilgrims. 

As we observe Thanksgiving in our schools and in our homes, let us focus on the important values the holiday promotes – freedom, gratitude, diversity, and understanding. As role models, we need to be vigilant in teaching our children to focus on what unites us, not on what divides us. 


Parent-Teacher Conferences – Do You Need A Bribe?

It’s the season for parent-teacher conferences and I urge every parent to embrace this opportunity to sit down with your children’s teachers, no matter if your kids are in kindergarten or high school. 

This is your opportunity to find out specifically how your children are doing, and generally what’s going on in their classrooms and in their schools. I have to admit I was a bit disheartened when I recently came across a NEA (National Education Association) article advising teachers of tactics that they might want to use to “lure” parents into attending parent-teacher conferences. I’d be interested in knowing whether you think the parents in your school need to be cajoled into meeting with their children’s teachers, or whether they understand communicating with them is one of the best things they can do to help their kids succeed.  

Among the strategies recommended in the article are student-led conferences, in which students actually prepare and participate in the conference. The article said that feedback on this type of conference was “overwhelmingly positive,” and that there is a growing trend to encourage parents to bring their children to conferences. Other teachers had students prepare and present Power Point presentations to show their parents what they were learning. This tactic reportedly ensured record attendance. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with involving students and giving them a chance to be present, but I’m not sure that quite fits the definition of a parent-teacher conference. It seems to me the parent-teacher conference is one of the few chances you get to sit down with your kid’s teacher — adult to adult — and discuss what’s best for your child. 

Then there were the “bribes” to entice parents to meet with the teachers. These included: extra credit for students whose parents showed up, personal invitations, raffle tickets, a dessert bar, and goody bags. Finally, it was reported that some teachers go on home visits to meet parents who cannot get to the school. 

It’s commendable that some teachers go to such lengths to accommodate parents, but I would think parents would prefer to see the teachers’ creative energies going instead to inspiring the students. 

The article didn’t mention adjusted hours for working parents, which should be pro forma nowadays in all schools and something that parents should insist upon. Similarly, if your work schedule does not allow you to get to school on a particular day, request an alternate date or a phone conference.  

Here are 7 tips for a successful parent-teacher conference:

  1. Come prepared with questions and take notes. Always ask how you can support your child’s learning at home.
  2. Don’t be passive. If you have a particular question or concern, don’t be afraid to bring it up. Be specific. 
  3. Discuss your child’s social and emotional development as well as academic performance. Be sure to let the teacher know if there is anything going on at home that may impact your child’s behavior and performance in school, such as divorce, illness in the family, or a new baby.
  4. If there is a problem, describe how it makes you or your child feel without being defensive or negative. Actively listen to what the teacher says. Come to an agreement about what is best for your child.
  5. Schedule follow-up meetings or telephone calls to be sure the plan is working.
  6. Find out how the teacher communicates with parents, e.g., online, newsletters, agendas, etc.
  7. If you are not satisfied with the conference, you may ask to meet with an administrator.  

Try This: The New Parent-Teacher Conference