Friendly chats with bank tellers, grocery store cashiers and the neighbor around the corner throughout the day can help you live longer. If your coworker’s wife or your sister-in-laws best friend puts on extra weight, you are more likely to add pounds yourself even if you have never met these individuals.
Study after study shows the spillover effects of every direct or indirect social contact we have, no matter how casual and unimportant it may seem to us. If bad things are happening in people’s lives, the spillover effects can be as unhealthy as second-hand smoke.
In the classroom, if you consider the large social circles of each child and the social circles of their family members, the spillover effects bring all of society’s problems–poverty, unemployment, domestic violence– into the brew of learning.
Teachers are all too familiar with how troubled homes result in the “acting out” and underachievement of children who live in these homes. Now an intriguing new study by two researchers from the University of California at Davis and the University of Pittsburgh has tracked the effect of domestic violence in the home on the math and reading test scores of classmates.
The researchers combed courthouse records of domestic violence cases to link each incident to students. They found that boys from troubled homes are more likely negatively affect their peers. Specifically, one more troubled peer in a classroom of 20 students reduces student test scores by 0.69 percentile points and increases the number of student disciplinary infractions committed by students by 17 percent.
If, according to some estimates, roughly 15 percent of children are exposed to domestic violence every year, the total per-student external marginal damage caused by these troubled families is a 2-point reduction in test scores and a 51% increase in the number of disciplinary infractions, the researchers write. Students from troubled homes are more likely to affect the behavior of their classmates from lower-income homes and to affect the test scores of children from higher-income homes.
This study is another reminder of how closely we are interconnected and of how one child’s problem is borne by that child’s teacher and classmates and yes, the families of those classmates.