THE RELATIONSHIP OF SCHOOL BEHAVIOR TO OTHER FACTORS
Preliminary Statement of the Problem
Having worked in an emergency room and on a police force, the author knows from personal experience the effects of a full moon on work load. If one has never worked in this type of environment, one must talk to someone who has. Without fail, they will fill the listener with opinion on the effects of a full moon on human behavior. "All the nuts come out," is the common expression. In a study by Templer and Veleber (1980: 867) it was found that there is "something to the contention of an association between abnormal behavior and lunar phase." Lieber and Sherin (1972) found a statistically significant relationship between lunar phase and homicide rates over a fifteen year period in Dade County.
The same relationship is equally true in schools, though we often fail to realize the connection. How many times has a teacher had a really bad day, only to find a teaching colleague in another school some distance away complaining of the same problem? And conversely, how does one explain the extremely good day which all teachers agree was terrific. Educator's thoughts tend to and at the labeling of the day, and they seldom attempt to determine why the day was so terrific or so difficult - they are fatalistic. It was a good day, "because it was a good day," and they rarely explore the question "why?".
Within the SELC, a great deal of informal attention
had been given to various factors which are felt to contribute to days
of significant behavioral problems. An example of this attention was found
several years ago, when staff independently rated daily overall student
behavior on a scale from one to five. The average daily rating was recorded.
It was found, over a school year period of time, that two days before a
full moon was always a difficult day behaviorally.
There is no school in the City of Hartford that analyzes climatological data as an indicator of behavior, let alone one which sets any school plan into action based upon these conditions. Schools do have a "Code E" procedure to deal with school-wide emergency situations, but it is based upon the development of emergency conditions rather than the identification of any precipitating factors. Examples of situations which might determine a "Code E" include such things as racial conflicts or gang confrontations within the school community.
There are few educators who consult climatological
data and use them as a basis for daily planning. Further, there is no systematic
approach to the relationship between these data and the behavior they can
generate within the schools.
What Has Been Done About The Problem
Until now, educators have neither recognized nor defined the problem. Consequently, little has been done. Some teachers, when sensing a bad day, may restrict students from certain activities. But this is done as a spontaneous reaction to a 'feeling' rather than in any planned procedure. And it is done on an individual basis with no consistent coordination intra- or inter-school. While some schools have emergency procedures to deal with specific situations affecting school climate such as racial unrest, community rioting, a winning football game, or the rites of spring' food fight, these procedures are in response to a specific activity within the school community. They are preventative to the extent that they present planned responses to deter escalation in a potentially problematic situation, but they are not totally preventative in that they respond after the problem has begun.
The problem is significant and worth addressing.
If, after this study, one could have predicted days which were abnormally
bad or good within a given school population, the good days could be capitalized
upon, while the bad days could be more carefully controlled. If a school
staff knows that the day will be extra difficult, they can, for example,
reallocate staff to more carefully control the cafeteria, they can cancel
professional day leaves, and they can postpone the pep rally. Conversely,
on a good day they might relax the regulations a bit, let a couple of staff make an out?of?town visitation, or entrust students with a little extra responsibility.
Probable Causes of the Problem
While each person is a distinct individual, we all occupy the same planet and are subject to the influence of climatological factors. Staff in mental hospitals and emergency rooms talk of the effect on their work load of a full moon. Further, as previously stated, some relationship has been shown. From my own experience during eighteen years within the public school system, the author feels that several factors may prove important. In addition to the lunar synodic cycle which was demonstrated during the year charting of behavior which was then compared to lunar phase, barometric pressure and changes in barometric pressure are two of those factors.
In an extensive review of the literature, the author found few studies which looked at the effect of climatological conditions on student behavior. Those which do, show a significant relationship between various meteorological conditions and the general behavior of students. As early as 1898, Edwin G. Dexter, a teacher in the Denver public schools, was searching for an explanation for student (and horse) behavior. His hypothesis rings true today:
The teachers are sure that during certain phases of the weather, our pupils are too exasperating for endurance, while a change in meteorological conditions brings with it smoothness and tranquility. (Dexter, 1898, P.515)In studying the 606 cases of corporal punishment reported between 1883 and 1887, he found that days with "abnormal"
Landsberg (1977: 8) in a review of the effect of environmental forces on humans, found that "there are subtle and largely unknown atmospheric forces that govern our … moods." He found that "there is a long catalog of physiological and pathological manifestations for which biometeorologists have established weatherbound symptoms." He discussed six weather phases, which he felt were better predictors because they comprise "the totality of the atmospheric environment." He felt that existing studies point to high winds, high temperatures, high humidities, and low pressures as accounting for behavioral problems. Since existing studies opened more questions than they answered, he recommended further research. Gedeist (1966) found in a study of fourth- and fifth-grade students over a year's time that during low barometric pressure they exhibited poor behavior. Teachers of the fourth- and fifth-grade classes rated students daily on behavior, activity, and mental performance using a three-point scale. Over a year's period of time they found that when the barometer rose, behavior was rated by teachers as good. Conversely, they found behavior poor during low barometric pressure. Further, children with emotional problems seemed to be affected to a greater degree, showing wider variations on a memory test in relation to weather. Similar studies have found the same results.
In Philadelphia in the 1940s, behavior during a three month period was studied in five schools. Three of the schools were regular, and two were "orthogenic discipline" schools for children with mental, emotional, or physical handicaps. In daily evaluations of overall student behavior, teachers found the best behavior was noted when atmospheric pressure was high. (Landsberg 1977)
In a Canadian study, fifty teachers observed the behavior of their students through use of an observation scale twice a day. They rated overall pupil behavior during the first one-month period on a three point scale, and during the second one-month period on a five point scale. They found a correlation of .35 between pupil behavior and air pressure which showed that pupil behavior was worse at lower barometric pressures (significant at the .05 level of confidence). (Vachon 1983)
During the early 1980s, Edward G. Scagliotta conducted
several studies examining the relationship between behavior and the barometer.
In one study, he looked at 127 students, ages nine to 13, in the Midland
School in New Jersey. The students were selected because of past
behavioral disturbances. Students were observed, and a behavioral rating
chart was completed once in the morning, and again in the afternoon. He
found "a definite relationship exists between decreasing atmospheric pressure
and maladaptive behavior in children..." (Scagliotta 1980:611). In a follow
up to this original study, expanded to
include several hundred more students, he more carefully defined this relationship when he stated: "Though the falling barometer is only one... condition,...it appears to be the paramount effector." (Scagliotta 1983:94)
There may be another interesting variable that could
have a significant effect on student behavior. Since 40 percent of Hartford's
students are dependent on the welfare system, there may bean additional
cycle that influences their behavior - the welfare check cycle. Though
controversy exists in the medical and academic community, there is increasing
evidence to link behavior and diet. Children of welfare families are dependent
on this cycle as it determines the food that they eat. From this author's
personal experience in working and living 18 years within the inner-city
neighborhoods, as money runs low in the days before the check arrives,
diets may become increasingly starch and carbohydrate. When the checks
arrive, diets may see a dramatic increase in proteins and sugars. Schoenthaler
and Doraz (1983) found that revising the diet (low sucrose) of an incarcerated
juvenile population reduced the incidence of antisocial behavior by almost
50 percent. Eichler (1984) found a controlled diet to be effective in improving
the physical and emotional behavior of a small sample of conduct problem
children. From his own experience, the author finds that welfare families
tend to experience changes around the check cycle. As money becomes short,
diets become more basic and starchy. Once checks have been received, large
quantities of food are purchased, and the diet drastically changes. More
sugars and 'junk' food become available. It was interesting to see if the
bi-monthly cycle of welfare checks produced some changes in school population