A Case Study of a Social Worker’s Permissive Attitude toward the Cursing of Multicultural Children in South Korea

한국 다문화가정 아동들의 욕설사용에 대한 사회복지사의 허용적 태도에 관한 사례연구

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    The aim of this paper is to examine multicultural children’s experiences of verbal violence and the role of social workers in an afterschool program at a social welfare center in South Korea. The researcher found the deficit theory to be deeply embedded in the social worker’s view of multicultural children. The researcher highlighted how it governed her ways of dealing with the issues of children’s verbal violence. As the social worker viewed multicultural children as victims who are deficient and deprived, their verbal violence were not constrained. Therefore, the conjunction of the deficit construction of multicultural children, embodied in a social worker’s permissive style, and children’s behavioral tendency to imitate how their peers talk and what they do maintains and circulates children’s verbal violence. This also puts social workers at risk of unwittingly neglecting children’s needs and emotional security. Therefore, this case study points out the importance of focusing on the strengths, possibilities, and potentials that multicultural children possess, rather than limiting their possibilities through the lens of deficit theory.

    이 논문은 한국의 지역 복지관의 방과후 학교 프로그램에서 소수민족 학생이 경험하는 언어폭력과 사회복지사의 역할에 대해 논한다. 저자는 결함이론이 다문 화가정 아동들에 대한 사회복지사의 관점에 얼마나 깊게 내재해있는가에 대해 밝히고 어떻게 결함이론이 사회복지사가 아이들의 언어폭력과 관련된 문제들을 다루는 방식을 지배하는 가에 대해 주목한다. 연구 참여자인 사회복지사는 아이들을 부족하고 불우한 희생자로 보는 경향이 있었으며, 이러한 관점은 아이들이 경험하는 언어폭력에 대한 통제를 약화시켰다. 특히 다문화가정 아동들이 분리된 환경에 놓일 때 사회복지사의 허용적 태도에 의해 구체화된 다문화가정 아동에 대한 결함이론과 또래들의 말과 행동을 모방하려는 아동들의 경향성은 아동들의 언어폭력 경험을 유지시키고 순환시킬 수 있다. 이는 사회복지사들이 부지불식간에 아동들의 욕구와 정서적 안전을 도외시할 수 있는 위험에 놓이게 한다. 본 논문은 이러한 사례연구를 통해서 결함이론의 관점에 의해서 다문화가정 아동들의 가능성을 제한하기 보다는 그들의 장점과 가능성 및 잠재력에 초점을 맞추는 관점의 중요성을 강조하고자 한다.


    multicultural education , multicultural children , South Korea , deficit theory , cursing , social worker’s belief

  • Ⅰ. Introduction

    It is not uncommon to witness Korean children using foul and hostile language. In South Korea, 65.5% of elementary students use curse words and 73.4% of adolescents use vulgar language every day (Moon, 2011, July 24). Jay, King, and Duncan (2006) stated that“cursing is a common childhood problem” (p. 123). Cursing, which has become part of ordinary language for children, is offensive language including name calling, slurs, epithets, obscenity, vulgarity, slang, insults, scatology, and profanity, each of which reflects a different intention by the speaker (Jay, 1996). Attention should be given to the fact that such the low-level aggression of verbal abuse can escalate into other forms of serious aggression (Goldstein, 2000). Cursing generally takes the form of (or at least shades into) verbal violence in that it results in humiliating, threatening, and inducing fear and anxiety in others (Goldstein, 2000; Marshall, 1994).

    Although it seems that the level of South Korean children’s aggression and verbal abuse has increased, not many studies have been conducted on this topic, particularly in relation to children from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, called “multicultural (다문화: damunhwa) children” in South Korea and internationally. In this paper, the term ‘multicultural children’ refers to children from different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds. Damunhwa is defined as two or more cultures co-existing in one place. In general, multicultural families include families of Korean citizens by naturalization or through marriage and of foreigners (non-Korean citizens) who either have come as a family and reside in Korea or are married to Koreans (Seo, 2011). Given that, multicultural (damunhwa) children grow up on the border of two or more cultures in a family. Since the majority of these multicultural families belong to the low income bracket (Lee, Choi, & Park, 2009), multicultural children participate in afterschool programs tailored to their needs for the purpose of educational support. Considering that, in particular, multicultural children are often educated within a segregated and confined space in the social welfare center during afterschool hours, the impacts of cursing should be intense when the children are exposed to it.

    In order to advance my understanding of multicultural children’s cursing experiences in an afterschool program, I reviewed the previous studies on the topic, which helped enhance my theoretical sensitivity. To date, most research has viewed individual and family factors as major factors influencing peer bullying including verbal and physical violence among children (Olweus, 1994; Finnegan, Hodges, & Perry, 1998).

    First, as for individual factors, children who either verbally or physically bully peers tend to have positive attitudes toward aggressive behavior, are impulsive (Olweus, 1994) and controlling (Cho, 2006), and show a low level of empathy (Ward, 2007). Adding to the psychological factors, the degree of children’s bullying behavior can vary according to their age and sex (Kim & Han, 2010); it has been reported that peer bullying starts to take place among 5th and 6th graders in elementary schools, and boys tend to show more direct behavior and physical aggression than girls do. In terms of social cognition aspects, these children“tend to over interpret hostility in others’ actions, they tend to underestimate their own aggressive behavior(Lochman & Dodge, 1998, Cited in Lochman et al. p. 118). Otherwise, children sometimes employ aggression proactively to attain their social goals (Dodge, 1991). The antisocial conduct and behavior problems of children are often regarded as pathological symptoms. In reality, only a small percentage of the population of multicultural children is classified as “suffering from true internal pathology” (Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA, 2008: 4). In this respect, the conduct and behavior problems of children in relation to learning should be considered from a broader framework that concerns both environmental and interpersonal aspects that sustain or exacerbate the problems. The environmental factors include family-related factors, classroom climates and teachers’ behavioral characteristics and attitudes while the interpersonal is the patterns/types of children’s interactions/relationships with others.

    Secondly, family-related factors that provoke children’s aggression include mother’s indifference, coercive discipline, and permissive attitude towards aggressive behavior. Gershoff et al. (2010) found that mothers’ discipline techniques, including using corporal punishment, expressing disappointment, and yelling or scolding, were associated with child aggression. As for parenting styles and family characteristics, lack of supervision, permissive/rejecting/neglecting parent styles, child maltreatment, and exposure to domestic violence are associated with children’s bullying behavior (Holt, Kaufman, & Finkelhor, 2009)..

    Thirdly, it has been reported that teachers’ attitudes and values, as well as classroom climates also affect children’s behavior and peer relationships (You, 1994; Yoon, 2006). Teachers’ directiveness and noninterference were found to be associated with children’s permissive attitude toward peer bullying (Lee, 2005). According to Shin (2013), children perceived one-on-one counseling and scolding as effective in helping enhance their self-control and reducing problem behaviors in classrooms. Pepler, Craig, and O’Connell (1999) pointed out that teachers’ supervision affects the frequency of bullying occurrence. Accordingly, teachers’ attitudes and practices appear to have to do with children’s bullying experiences, including verbal and physical violence.

    Much of the research on adults’ attitudes toward children’s verbal violence or bullying to date, both domestically and internationally, has focused either on parenting styles and discipline/punishment or on teachers’ attitudes and behaviors. However, the practices of social workers closely working with multicultural children have not been discussed when it comes to the issues of children’s cursing, though afterschool programs, which is designed particularly for the education of multicultural children in South Korea, and its social workers are part of an important microsystem in which the children spend most of their time on a regular basis.

    Given that parents and teachers affect children’s experiences of peer relationships, bullying, and verbal and physical violence, we can infer that social workers also play an important role in multicultural children’s experiences in afterschool programs, particularly in terms of cursing-verbal violence. Therefore, it is necessary to examine what multicultural children experience in relation to cursing as part of verbal violence and aggressive precursors of other types of violence and how their experiences are linked to the practices of a social worker working with multicultural children in the afterschool program, as well as the discourse underlying the practices. In order to understand what multicultural children experience regarding their peer relationships and verbal interactions in the community learning environment, we should bring into focus a social worker’s practices in relation to multicultural children’s cursing.

    On another note, the anti-oppressive practices are recently emphasized in the child welfare system (Cowie, 2010; Strier & Binyamin, 2013), however, it is difficult for social workers to locate their roles as oppressors. As Bishop (2002) puts, “all members of this society grow up surrounded by oppressive attitudes. [⋯] It runs in our veins; it is as invisible to us as the air we breathe” (114). Even when they are cognizant of multicultural children’s experiences as the oppressed, it is significant for them to be cautious of other forms of oppression that they may exercise unconsciously. An anti-oppressive approach should be integrated into social work practices in order to alleviate inequality and oppression that multicultural children face (Baines, 2007). Social workers’ practices can be critically analyzed through the oppressor/oppressed framework, which, in turn, illuminates multicultural children’s experiences as the oppressed.

    This study examines multicultural children’s experiences of verbal violence and the role of social workers in an afterschool program of a social welfare center in South Korea and how their cursing-related issues escalate into physical violence (Violence Prevention Resources, 2008). Therefore, it is important to discuss verbal violence among children and social workers’ roles in winning a war on school/verbal violence in order to strengthen effective anti-violence efforts. For this study, the researcher investigated how children from multicultural families in an afterschool program express their aggression and anger through cursing and swearing and how social workers playing a teaching role in the program react to the children’s verbal abuse. This paper discusses how social workers’ attitudes towards and reactions to cursing can endanger the emotional stability, security, and social behavior of the entire group of children spatially segregated for well-intended education. It also problematizes the educational and social practices of separating multicultural children from regular education and identifying them as helpless and deficient. Hence, the objective of this study is to channel the issues arising from children’s cursing and swearing into the problems of educational and social management of multicultural children in South Korea. The research questions of the study are as follows:

    Ⅱ. Methodology

       1. Case Study and Microethnographic Approach

    As for the methodology of this study, the researcher took a case study and microethnographic approach. A case study can be employed in order to see the specificity of a case, which is not intended to be generalized to other cases, through in-depth study of the subject. According to Yin (2006), case study research is “pertinent when [a study] addresses either a descriptive question (what happened?) or an explanatory question (how or why did something happen?)” (112) rather than focusing on the causal relationships. In this study, the researcher used a single case study with a purposive sample; a class in the afterschool program of a social welfare center in South Korea was identified as a case. This particular case was selected due to its typicality, representativeness, and viability, though case study research does not intend to generalize to other cases (Yin, 2006). Conducting case study research is useful when it is necessary to understand through in-depth study the complicated issue of children’s cursing in the context of an educational program for children from multicultural families, since no qualitative study has been done in order to understand what is actually happening to multicultural children in the situation and how social workers handle issues emerging from their interactions with the children.

    This study explored how the selected case showed children’s verbal violence experiences in relation to the deficit theory embedded in the belief of a social worker working with them. In addition, taking a microethnographic approach is a useful way of understanding the impact of a social worker’s permissive management of children’s violent language on the circulation of verbal abuse in classroom. This approach produces interpretations at the interactional level, focusing on both verbal and non-verbal aspects in social interactions between children and between children and social workers (Erickson, 1996). The unit of analysis is contexts and linguistic features in interactions.

       2. Settings

    The study was conducted in the afterschool program of a social welfare center in South Korea. The community where the center is located is characterized by its low socioeconomic status and high crime rates. This particular center was chosen due to its accessibility. The afterschool program for multicultural children runs for two hours every day. They complete school assignments and get engaged in reading, English learning, and outdoor activities.

       3. Participants

    For this study, the researcher observed 15 children aged 7 to 9 years old attending the afterschool program in a social welfare center. The research participants include one social worker, undergraduate assistant, and 15 multicultural children (7 girls and 8 boys) whose mothers are non-Korean married to Korean men. The portions of transcripts presented in this paper are limited to the observations of and conversations among 8 children, social worker, and assistant only as important events vividly reflecting the themes were selected and presented in the paper. Tables 1 and 2 contain the information of these participants. They demonstrated high proficiencies in speaking and listening Korean language whereas their reading and writing abilities needed to be improved. The social worker had 5-year experiences of working with multicultural children, and the assistant was a volunteer college student. The demographic characteristics of the children are presented in Table 1, and those of the practitioners in Table 2. Since this study uses one group of children and social workers as one case, it is significant to note that the study is not generalizable to other cases. Nevertheless, the in-depth study of one particular group can provide an understanding of the effects of an individual actor’s value-laden practices on the stabilization of so-called minority children’s social positions.


    ] Demographic Characteristics of Multicultural Children



    ] Demographic Characteristics of Practitioners


       4. Data Collection

    Most of the fieldwork consisted of participant observation, note writing, and conversation with social workers and children. For observations, the researcher visited the center once or twice a week for a stretch of two months and obtained informed consent from children’s mothers and social workers. Each observation lasted about one hour and was audiotaped and recorded in the field notes. All audiotaped observation/conversation data were transcribed verbatim. Besides, the researcher taught them English for about half an hour once a week. The participant observations led the researcher to know better about the children’s individual characteristics through building rapport and conversing with them, which we assume contributed to reducing the effect of the researcher’s presence. Although, for the first few observations, the children seemed to recognize the fact that they were being observed, they gradually came to get used to the researcher’s presence as they often approached to the researcher and initiated conversations with her. Finally, the researcher used pseudonyms to guard the anonymity of the participants and fulfilled the technical requirements necessary to demonstrate the use of ethical procedures in researching human participants.

       5. Data Analysis

    Out of the entire data generated from the observations and note-taking was selected the portions that describe the situation when children’s cursing takes place and that show how social workers react to them. The data were thematically analyzed. That is, the researcher extracted important events related to the topic-children’s cursing-after completing coding and thematically parceling meaningful codes. Methodological analytic tools, such as contextualization cues and intertextuality, were employed for analyses. Contextualization cues refer to (non)verbal and prosodic signals and the manipulation of artifacts. Intertextuality means that some ideas are shared by means of an intertextual link. For this, the researcher focused on the connections between texts-how the knowledge from the previous text is related to that from in the current one.

    Ⅲ. Findings

    This section discusses the findings of the study in four parts, respectively answering the research questions previously given. A close analysis of discourses reveals how a spiral cycle of the acts of cursing is generated through the interconnections among social workers’ ways of reaction, children’s cursing, and hidden rules of multicultural education. As for curse words that these South Korean children said in Korean, the researcher translated them into English in this paper. Of course, it is possible that the meanings of the translated words here could be different from their original meanings. However, since language is part of culture, there would be no perfect translation that does not lose any original meanings.

       1. Deficit Theory Inscribed in a Social Worker’s Practice

    This section discusses how deficit theory is inscribed in a lead social worker’s well-intended generosity which could bring about the outcome of leaving children in trouble. Deficit theory refers to the idea that social workers form low expectations of children based on a perceived lack of cultural capital or intellectual ability and believe the children have low cognitive, language, and social skills. This leads children to live up to the low expectations for themselves, which negatively affects their performance. The lead social worker’s testimony below shows that the deficit theory governs her view of the children in her classroom.

    The italicized words in this account signify the deficit theory that guides the lead social worker’s pedagogical decisions. Multicultural children are defined as lacking learning assistance, resources, and Korean language skills, and in need of help and attention from an afterschool program.

    Over the course of informal conversations with her, the researcher realized that the fundamental issue was her conception of a good teacher for multicultural children, which affected the way she dealt with their violence. She carefully brought up her thought about the children as follows:

    According to the above statement, she viewed multicultural children as the objects of oppression. For this reason, she might think, as the last sentence of her testimony reveals, that punishing or inhibiting what they do or say could disempower them. Her dichotomous understanding of oppression versus freedom seems to blind her to the fact that the children were plunged into a chaotic state of indulgence disguised as freedom.

       2. A Social Worker’s Permissive Attitude toward Cursing

    At the moment the researcher entered the classroom for the first time, her excitement and confidence was sapped, all of a sudden, by one boy boldly saying, with a frown of disapproval, “you are so ugly.” Of course, the researcher did not respond to him, and neither did the lead social worker (On that day, no assistant teacher was present). Transcript 1 is the discourse that shows the above incident.

    Korean language has two different forms, plain and honorific. The honorific form of the language reflects the observance that a speaker should follow when the recipient is older than him or her. In the above case, Min Soo did not use the honorific form when he spoke to the researcher. Gee (2005) argues that a word or a phrase is offensive when the intention of the speaker is “to cause or insinuate physical or emotional harm” (xii). The receiver in a dialogue can notice the profanity or offensiveness of what is said through other non-verbal cues such as emotional or facial expressions, tone of voice, and gesticulation (Gee, 2005). According to Sullivan (2011), psychological bullying in schools includes verbal and non-verbal. Based on this, children’s (non)verbal interactions were analyzed and interpreted.

    One notable observation was that the lead social worker’s reaction was passive when Min Soo told the researcher that she was ugly. It is unusual that an adult in South Korea does not respond or intervene in the situation when a child is disrespectful to an adult. Stress on “OK” in line 7 acts as a placeholder since after that her speech has a flat intonation pattern (Bloome et al., 2005). That is, as the children started laughing all together, the social worker tried to turn their attention to their assignments (line 7: “OK. Go back to your homework. I am going to see who has done a good job.”), rather than trying to caution them for the matter.

    The same reaction from the social worker was found in the subsequent incident when Min Soo cursed and hit Jae Min. The lead social worker was nearby but did not interrupt the violence. Instead, she simply warned him not to bother Jae Min. Also, she did not interpret his behavior as violence, but as an act of bothering (In line 14, she said, “Min Soo, don’t bother him.”). This indicates that she did not seem to grasp the magnitude of the problem.

    Considering the severity of the effects of children’s offensive language, it is not just bullying, but violence by means of language. And its impacts are never less than those that physical violence incurs. As Toni Morrison (1993, December 7) addressed in her Nobel lecture, “oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.” This is confirmed in Transcript 1 when Min Soo’s abusive language eventually escalated into physical violence toward Jae Min (line 8: [hits Jae Min on the head and laughs]) (Violence Prevention Resources, 2008). For example, Min Soo and Jae Min seemed to have a bullying-bullied relationship. Jae Min continuously resisted physical attacks from Min Soo. In line 11 ( “STOP it.”), prosodic signals (e.g. stress, volume shifts, intonation patterns, etc.) provide an understanding of the speaker’s intention (Bloome et al., 2005); Jae Min stressed the word ‘stop’ indicates his strong resistance to Min Soo’s bullying. This contextualization cue (Bloome et al., 2005) indicates that Jae Min strongly resisted Min Soo’s physical and verbal violence. In this conversational segment, violent language replaced physical violence.

    The following two conversations reveal how this deficit theory, inscribed in the social worker’s conception of multicultural children, serves as justifying evidence for her permissive teaching style. The incident described in Transcript 2 took place during reading time. As usual, Jae Min was troubled by verbal abuse and physical attack from Min Soo.

    In this transcript, whenever verbal and physical violence occurred, the social worker resorted to verbal interventions, such as brief remarks and commands, in order to control it. Of course, the fact that such an incident as verbal and physical violence repeatedly occurred proved that the way she handled the problem was not effective.

    Whether the situation is really resolved or not depends on the quality of the social worker’s intervention. Sullivan (2011) states that reflective teachers(social workers) can prevent bullying and explains how four different types of teaching (authoritative, authoritarian, neglectful/cynical, and permissive) contribute differently to children’s bullying. Having said that, the social worker’s management style is ‘permissive.’ What is more, she ended up being neglectful, as she did not “follow up when things [went] wrong” (Sullivan, 2011: 118).

    Although Jae Min strongly asked the social worker and the assistant teacher for help (line 5: “TEACHER.”), the tone of their voices was monotonous, with no shift in volume. These paralinguistic cues are critical indicators that show the social workers’ intent of speech and attitudes towards the situation. For instance, the assistant teacher’s blunted responses, with no emphasis in the tone of her voice, corresponds to her next movement of stepping back and moving to other students (line 10: [steps back and goes to other students]), which indicates how she passed over the handling of the situation to the lead social worker, whose response did not differ from hers.

    The permissive style of the lead social worker is well evidenced in her reactions. In line 11 ([hugs Min Soo from behind] “Min Soo”), the social worker’s acting of hugging could imply that verbal and physical violence is condoned. This leads her to be inconsistent and unclear about what is acceptable and what is not in regard to children’s words and behavior.

    She did not take any proactive approach to the incidents related to children’s verbal violence. Her permissive style in relation to multicultural children’s verbal and physical violence inscribes the deficit theory that, as expressed in her testimony above, dominates her view of them. This is clearly demonstrated in Transcript 3 as well. The following happened during English lesson time, when the researcher taught them English, standing in front. The children were split into two groups seated around separate tables.

    The lead social worker did not intervene (line 14: “[looks at the researcher] Please let him be..”) in Min Soo’s offensive speech until the researcher started admonishing him. Her silencing practice governed the children’s understanding of what is acceptable and what is not in regard to their language use and relationships with peers.

    As in Transcript 2, the lead social worker hugs Min Soo again right after he used rude and vulgar language (line 15: [hugs him from behind]). From a behaviorist perspective, this is a positive reinforcement that ends up increasing the likelihood of his violent language use occurring in the future. He continued to say, “kick her out of here” (line 16) and left the classroom (line 17). However, the social worker did not do any intervention to try to stop his verbal aggression or to offer him any guidance for a better action.

    What lies beneath the social worker’s practices vis-à-vis the child’s verbal violence is the deficit theory that not only is inscribed in her view of the child but also governs her practices. And the best solution for her was to allow for his unlimited freedom of action and speech, though actually it was not a true sense of freedom, thinking of other children who were affected by his verbal violence.

       3. Fears Sinking into Children’s Minds

    This section discusses how his freedom of action and speech influenced the other children in the classroom. Transcript 4 shows how Min Soo’s verbal violence provoked a sense of fear to grow in their minds. The incident occurred during reading time.

    Here, when Seong Jun took the book away from Dah Hae, she resisted vigorously. However, when Min Soo took a turn to snatch the book from her, first she was hesitant to say something. Although she insisted that the book was hers, her voice was so quiet that it was not heard (line 8: [quietly] “That’s │ mine.”). She even paused between ‘that’s’ and ‘mine.’ The pausing is a contextualization cue that provides an understanding of the speaker’s intention (Bloome et al., 2005). Regarding her intention, one interpretation could be that she was afraid of asking him to return the book.

    Attention should be given to the other children’s reactions to his offensive language. In lines 10 (XXX [with wide eyes, steps back from Min Soo]) and 12 ([steps aside] “Don’t.”), Dah Hae and Jae Min stepped back/aside from Min Soo. This bodily movement was a paralinguistic cue signaling deep-seated fear in their mind, which made them want to be distant from him. In line 14 ([looks frightened and whimpers] “Don’t.” [scarcely audible].), Jae Min started whimpering right after Min Soo used curse words. His voice was almost inaudible, which demonstrates how powerless he might feel. The same situation was repeated in lines 15 ([laughs aloud] “You asshole.”) and 16 (“[cries out while burying his head in his arms]).

    The next transcript also portrays how a sense of fear was deeply infiltrated into the children’s minds. It was during the transition time right before English class began. Jae Min and Soo Hyun were sitting next to each other, and Jae Min was looking for his textbook for English class.

    In this transcript, it was Seong Jun who used violent language. Given that in line 8 (“Ah, shit. You stupid ass!”), Seong Jun did not make any physical attack or threat to children, their reactions in lines 9 ([closes the book and moves to another table]) and 10 ([stare blankly into space and moves to another table]) illustrate how the boy’s verbal violence aroused their anxiety and dread. Some children’s verbal violence had an intense impact on other children’s emotional security.

       4. A Spiral Cycle of the Acts of Cursing

    While the cursing engenders a climate of fear among the children, the acts of cursing and swearing are copied and mimicked by them, as children often learn their language and social skills through mimicry (Stel, 1998, Webb, 1972). Through the course of the observations, the researcher was able to notice that the children were substantially affected by cursing and swearing, which was first initiated by one particular child, but which spread into other children’s verbal habits. In the following transcript, the children were supposed to finish their school assignments before they went out to play. Min Soo was playing a game on his cell phone, but the social worker and the assistant teacher did not ask him to work on his homework. The assistant teacher was trying to help Seong Jun do his assignment.

    The way of interpreting the text in this section is to parse the text into different message units, which are “the smallest unit[s] of conversational meaning” (Green & Wallat, 1981). Of course, acknowledging intertextual connections, the interpretation of a text here is based on the meanings drawn from other texts.

    The texts above show how violent language is spread through mimicry in the classroom. Mimicry of language and behavior is one of the major strategies for creating shared experiences among children. Mimicry is defined as copying the other person’s postures, manner of speech, and facial expressions. And in many cases, children mimic others’ (non)verbal behavior and expressions (un)consciously, intentionally, and automatically (Stel, 1998). The understanding of mimicry has been sought by developmental, neurological and social psychological research. According to the explanation based on social psychology, people are inclined to copy the other person’s speech patterns and manners, the amount of speech, and gestures (Stel, 1998, Webb, 1972). In this regard, mimicry has the social function of assisting children to be adjusted to a social group by emulating socially and culturally accepted behavior and manner of speech. As language helps children’s mental functions, such as memory, feeling, attention, and problem solving, develop, copying the bad language another child uses can affect a child’s mentality or ways of thinking and feeling.

    In order to better understand how children share and extend cursing experiences through mimicry, the researcher employed a different strategy here for the analysis of the above text. The text consists of more of one level-up unit from a message unit, which is called an interactional unit. The researcher assumes that the mimicry creates an interaction between more than two speakers and/or listeners. An interactional unit formed by message units is determined through the analysis of verbal aspects of each message of a speaker and contextualization cues(Green & Wallat, 1981).

    In Interactional Unit 1, Seong Jun’s talk in line 3 can be interpreted as a response to Min Soo (lines 1 and 2), considering his kinesic act in line 3 ([looks at Min Soo]). Similarly, the way that Seong Jun expressed his feeling in line 6 was the same as how Min Soo cursed in line 4 ( “This sucks” [with stress on words]). Seong Jun was almost repeating Min Soo’s verbal violence, as seen in Interactional Unit 1.

    In line 7 (“*Teacher*, I don’t want to do this.”), Seong Jun initiated an interaction with an assistant teacher. Stressing on the first word called attention, which was a way of starting a new topic. His response (line 7) to the teacher was again curse words. As in Interactional Unit 1, the I-R (initiation-response) sequence is repeated in Interactional Unit 2 and 3.

    Seong Jun used the same cursing words and phrases, such as ‘fuck’ and ‘this sucks,’ that Min Soo just said. One interpretation of this repetition could be that Seong Jun copied what Min Soo said. Therefore, through mimicry, the use of vulgar and violent language was spread and circulated in the classroom. This same pattern is found in the conversation between In Young and Seong Jun (line 11: “Fuck you.”, line 12: “*What are you looking at?*”). Here, the I-R sequence in their interaction consists of all curse words. As seen in Transcript 6, the impact of Min Soo’s verbal violence on other children is that it created a chain of verbal abuse as an acceptable form of conversation among the children. As seen in Transcript 6, the impact of Min Soo’s verbal violence on other children is that it created a chain of verbal abuse as an acceptable form of conversation among the children. Transcripts 1-6 arranged in the order of the time of occurrence show that the frequency of other children’s use of abusive language increased over time.

    Ⅳ. Discussion

    This paper highlighted how the deficit theory deep-seated in the social worker’s view of multicultural children governed her ways of dealing with the issues of children’s verbal violence and how her permissive attitude and practice shaped multicultural children’s experiences of cursing. As the social worker viewed multicultural children as victims who are deficient, deprived, and in need of help, their verbal violence ended up being unconstrained under her permissive attitude/practice. As a consequence, the findings of this study implicate the following.

    First, deficit theory, underlying social workers’ practices, was found to form a permissive teaching style that further affects children’s emotions, learning, and relationships. The result of the study about this particular group of children and social workers is not generalizable to other studies. Nevertheless, it is meaningful in that this in-depth study shows how verbal violence in a classroom creates an emotionally unsafe environment where children can’t shake the fear and anxiety. This paper highlights what a social worker’s view of a child brings to children’s peer relationships. Of course, as Moon (2001) pointed out, teachers are cautious of doing“hasty ‘labeling’ the children as‘rejected’ or ‘problem’ children” (24) as they believe that any classroom incidents are part of children’s developmental processes. However, such a teacher’s perception of children’s problem and belief in child development involving no intervention in children’s problems does not make any difference but perpetuates what is happening in a classroom, masking power relationships embedded in children’s culture (Corsaro, 1997). Likewise, both the social worker and her assistant in this study did not make visible children’s cursing and swearing─verbal violence. This result is consistent with the finding of Tepetaʂ, Akgun, and Altun (2010) that teachers “rarely consider verbal and psychological aspects of bullying” worsening children’s bullying (1678). Although their study discusses teachers’ practices, we can infer that such attitudes and practices of social workers also likely aggravate multicultural children’s negative experiences of cursing. Besides, as Lee (2005) argued that the lack of teachers’ interventions was associated with children’s permissive attitude toward peer bullying, this study also reveals that a social worker’s noninterference rendered verbal violence dominating. Consequently, as Cawood (2010) asserted, evidence-supported interventions should be implemented in order to address children’s verbal violence. Appropriate intervention and supervision are critical in ensuring children’s well-being (Pepler, Craig, and O’Connell, 1999).

    What matters is the quality of a social worker’s intervention in children’s verbal violence. As the findings of the study show, simple verbal warnings from a social worker are not effective enough to change a target child’s behavior or a situation. Therefore, the intervention strategies in children’s verbal violence should be deliberately planned, designed and implemented for any situation in which violent and abusive language is used among children (Cawood, 2010).

    Secondly, the act of cursing and swearing spread through a chain of mimic actions in the classroom since the social worker granted the children unregulated freedom without any intervention. Her way of reacting to multicultural children’s cursing seemed to be a means of compensating for their deprivation as she viewed them as the objects of oppression outside the space of her reign. However, her well-intended generosity toward children’s verbal violence maintained their cursing rituals. Accordingly, children’s verbal abuse served as an elicitor leading to victim or bystander children’s emotional experiences that were “the physiological arousal state frequently associated with emotions, combined with the experiential, subjective apprehension of that arousal-the feeling” (Feito, 1997, p. 4). Whether a child’s cursing was an expression intended to insult others or just self-talk, it negatively affected other children by invoking the feelings of fear, anxiety, and anger. This cycle of verbal abuse definitely hampered their learning and threatened a sense of security as they were frequently distracted from their work and called for help (Leadbeater & Hoglund, 2009).

    Thirdly, though the social worker viewed multicultural children as the oppressed, her permissive attitude toward their cursing rendered her approach oppressive, though she was unable to realize it. This study has demonstrated how social welfare systems are deeply rooted in the oppressed/oppressor framework (Cowie, 2010; Strier & Binyamin, 2013), but practitioners working against oppressive practices may unconsciously join the oppressor force when they identify multicultural children as deficient and forget critically reflecting upon their own practices. As Baines (2007) argued, anti-oppressive practices are critical in social work, particularly for multicultural children, since they are living under multiple layers of marginalization.

    In the case of multicultural children, how social workers as teachers in afterschool programs intervene in children’s language use would have a strong effect on their lives since in South Korea multicultural children often learn in segregated places for an afterschool program tailored to their unique needs and wants. However, this spatial isolation brings about a problem when social workers consider it a protected space for the children. Social workers’ stereotyped image of multicultural children can make them miss ‘teachable moments’ through which the children can learn desired behavior and develop empathy. Since these social workers work as teachers in the welfare center, the implication of this study can be applied to the fields of both social work and education in which practitioners teach and manage children from other cultures in the multicultural society.

    The policy implications of this study are as follows. First, particularly for afterschool programs for multicultural children, most of classroom managers and teachers did not major in education. Therefore, it is necessary to provide training opportunities to them on how to handle children’s verbal and physical violence. Besides, it is necessary for them to understand that even a low level of aggression and/or cursing/swearing could negatively affect all children exposed to them. Secondly, social workers working with multicultural children should get involved in an ongoing critical self-reflection upon their practices in order to problematize ways of reasoning embedded in their behavior, thought, and feeling and take an anti-oppressive approach to working with multicultural children. Of course, social structures per se of the larger society should be (re)built inclusively with multicultural families and children, liberating them from any label, prejudice, and stereotype which discursively envision what being multicultural children is like.

    This paper was not intended to problematize an individual social worker’s teaching practices and management skills, but to openly discuss how the belief system of social workers working with multicultural children is closely linked to the quality of children’s experiences in peer interactions. The conjunction of the deficit construction of multicultural children, embodied by a social worker’s permissive practice, and children’s behavioral tendency of imitating what their peers talk and do maintains and circulates children’s verbal violence when it comes to segregated management systems for children from multicultural families. Social workers’ uncriticized practices may put them at risk of unwittingly neglecting children’s needs and emotional security. Therefore, this paper points out the importance of focusing on the strengths, possibilities, and potentials that children from multicultural families possess, rather than limiting their possibilities through the lens of deficit theory.

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    • [<Table 1>] Demographic Characteristics of Multicultural Children
      Demographic Characteristics of Multicultural Children
    • [<Table 2>] Demographic Characteristics of Practitioners
      Demographic Characteristics of Practitioners
    • []