Lethal Labels And The ‘Class Clown’ Syndrome

According to Barnett (2018) we have a problem.

In his study, he found that teachers didn’t particularly like playful boys in their classrooms because they were seen as rebellious, disruptive and intrusive. This overwhelmingly negative view didn’t apply to their less playful counterparts or girls. Labelled as ‘class clowns’ by their teachers, these ‘playful’ boys didn’t see themselves this way and neither did their peers – they liked them for who they were and took the view that they were engaging playmates.

Barnett (2018) identified degrees of playfulness in 278 kindergarten-aged children, and followed them through their next three school years to determine how playfulness was viewed by the children themselves, their classmates, and teachers.

The data further revealed that the playful boys were stigmatized by their teachers, and this was communicated through verbal and non-verbal reprimands, and classmates assimilated this message and became increasingly denigrating of the playful quality in the boys. In stark contrast, girls’ playfulness levels were not a consideration in ratings by teachers or peers at any grade, nor did their classroom behaviors show significant variation.

The negative perceptions expressed by teachers were passed to the children and over time these children began to change their positive views of their peers to a negative view.

The results contribute to the literature by demonstrating that playfulness in boys (but not girls) is often associated with the “class clown” designation, and is viewed as an increasingly lethal characteristic in school classrooms, where compelling efforts are undertaken to discourage its expression and persistence.

Teachers have always informally labelled their children but when done overtly and in this case negatively then “Houston, we have a problem”. Labels do what they are designed to do – stick and some are hard to get rid of in that they act more like tattoos.

Avoid labelling any child at all costs and certainly not to their faces or their peers. A child might be seen as a playful puppy or a class clown – either way keep your emotions to yourself.

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