David Pelzer: School Offers Little Refuge From Abuse

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "A Child Called 'It'" by Dave Pelzer. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Who is David Pelzer? How did David Pelzer live through school while being abused at home?

A Child Called “It” is the book David Pelzer wrote about his childhood spent being abused by his mother. The abuse takes place over the course of his elementary school years.

Read more about David Pelzer as a child and his elementary school years.

David Pelzer in Elementary School

When David gets to second grade, his teacher Miss Moss notices his bruises, constant tiredness, and ragged clothes. Miss Moss asks David Pelzer what’s going on, but he simply repeats the lies Mother has instructed him to tell. Unconvinced, Miss Moss talks to the principal, who calls Mother; when David arrives home from school that day, Mother is irate and beats him until his nose bleeds and he loses a tooth. 

Mother has to go to the school to meet with the principal. Surprisingly, she comes home elated: She brags to David that she convinced the principal that David makes up stories and even hurts himself to get attention. Mother told the principal that the school staff shouldn’t believe any of David’s tall tales about being hurt or hungry. 

David is devastated. First, even if he musters the courage to ask for help from anyone at school, now no one will believe him. Additionally, the meeting has bolstered Mother’s confidence and David fears that it will make her more brazen and brutal. 

Third Grade

By third grade, Mother doesn’t let David ride to school with his brothers. Instead, after David finishes his chores, he has to run to school, leaving him no time to steal his classmates’ food. 

School is no longer a refuge for David. His classmates tease him for stealing food and for wearing tattered, smelly clothes. David’s ostracized both at home and at school, and he feels completely alone; building on the vow he made after the stove incident, David reminds himself only he can ensure his survival.

Fourth Grade

A few others outside the family begin to notice that something’s wrong. 

During the first couple weeks of David’s fourth-grade year, he has a substitute teacher who intuits that there are problems in David’s home life. 

The substitute teacher informs the school nurse. The following month, the nurse calls David to see her, and she asks him about his bruises and tattered clothes. 

David initially repeats the lies Mother has taught him to tell. After some talking, David begins to trust the nurse enough to tell the truth, and the nurse invites David to come back and talk to her anytime. 

School Is No Refuge for David Pelzer

By fifth grade, school isn’t the escape it used to be for David Pelzer as a child. 

David’s poor sleep and constant hunger make it difficult for him to focus, and his pent-up frustrations lead to unwarranted outbursts. David’s odd behavior doesn’t help the bullying he’s already faced for years, targeted because of his smelly and tattered clothes. 

Two bullies are especially persistent: Clifford, who often beats David up on his way home from school, and Aggie, who teases David relentlessly. On a field trip to the historic Clipper Ships in San Francisco, Aggie tells David that his life is so bad that he should jump off the ship.

Mr. Ziegler Encourages David

One bright spot in fifth grade is David’s homeroom teacher, Mr. Ziegler. Once the nurse tells Mr. Ziegler that David’s abuse is the reason for his behavior issues, Mr. Ziegler makes a point of treating David like the other students and not writing him off as a problem student. 

Mr. Ziegler chooses David Pelzer to be on a committee to name the school newspaper. David’s suggestion is ultimately selected, and Mr. Ziegler tells David that he’s proud of him; this is the first positive feedback David has heard in years. Mr. Ziegler also sends David home with a letter to Mother, telling her she should be proud of David’s achievement. 

David is thrilled, but as soon as Mother reads the letter she rips it up and retorts that nothing he does will ever make her proud and she wishes he were dead. 

That day David realizes that Mother’s hate for him is genuine, and he can no longer attribute it to alcohol. David Pelzer as a child had to accept this reality.

David Pelzer: School Offers Little Refuge From Abuse

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Dave Pelzer's "A Child Called 'It'" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full A Child Called 'It' summary :

  • How David Pelzer survived horrific abuse at the hands of his mother
  • How victims and survivors of abuse can find support and overcome their painful past
  • Why child abuse may go unnoticed by other adults

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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