Friday, October 1, 2010

What Ever Happened to Respect?

It is Friday and I had a rough day at the neighborhood high school where I teach. Yes there are gangs in the building, but that's not the overriding problem here. The problem is that in certain sectors of society, or perhaps society as a whole, there has been a serious breakdown in the idea that one needs to show respect to one's fellow human beings. The idea that elders and people in positions of responsibility need to be shown respect is all too often found laughable. How did we get here.

Let me take you back to the jumping off point with a couple of anecdotes. I teach a senior level political science class during the second period of the day. The students vary from one child who dyes her hair green and made a 29 on her ACT test last year (If you don't know, that's really good.) to students who still read on an elementary school level and chafe at being made to sit in a classroom and do anything constructive, like learn about how your country is governed.

Today, two largish 17 year old boys were sitting in the left rear corner of the classroom while I was taking attendance and tending to basic administrative tasks. They were a little louder and more boisterous than I would like, but it was Friday and I was taking care of business. Then there was a loud crash. A desk was knocked over. Inwardly I was saying "What the fuck?" Outwardly, I let slip, under my breath, "Goddammit!"

I stopped what I was doing and told the young man in the corner to stop playing and pick up the desk. His reply was "I didn't do it. He did." I looked at the other kid seated near him. He didn't say a word so I asked him if he was responsible. He denied it. I was becoming annoyed. I needed to get the class back on track. "One of you needs to pick up the desk. I don't care who. Just pick up the desk." There was no response. No one moved. I had to repeat, this time in a more severe tone, "One of you pick up the desk or both of you will have to go. I really don't want to go there."

The two of them looked at each other and the second kid picked up the desk. The first kid made some smart remark. He has a history of smarting off in class. He likes to make remarks that have nothing to do with what we're discussing and trying to be funny at all times in that adolescent I'm a smart-ass and everyone thinks I'm cool kind of way. I told him to pick up his things and move to the front row. He said "Why?" I replied, "Because I asked you to do so and I'd appreciate it if you got up and moved to the front. He decided that he didn't have to move. "I'm not going anywhere. Go ahead. Call security. I'll go to detention."

So at this point what do you do? Cave in to the teenagers and you lose control of the room. They can and will do whatever they want to disrupt the class. I had to call for security and stop the class to a standstill while I filled out the paperwork. I turned my back to write something on the board for the rest of the class while I waited for security to show up and someone hit me in the back of the head with a small piece of paper. Shrugged it off and made a snide comment about seniors in high school behaving like 12 year olds.

Security came and took away the first kid. I looked at the second kid and told him to pick up his things and move to the front of the room. This one chose to swear at me and stalk out of the room. He tried to slam the door as hard as he could on the way out, but they recently put new hinges and springs on the doors so they close slowly and can't be slammed. Tsk! Tsk! Had to call the office and ask security to return to the third floor to pick up the paperwork on the second kid. Had to take the time to fill out the paperwork on the second kid. By the time all of this was over and I'd finished with the attendance report and basic b.s. somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes had flown the coop.

This afternoon I had to lecture a Freshman about his tendency to talk non-stop in class and disrupt the class. He was amazed for some reason. He had to argue with me. He told me, "You're crazy man. You're acting like I was......on and on." The point is that these kids have to know that they've done something wrong. It's not as though I never did anything wrong when I was their age, but I had the respect for the institution of education and the people involved to accept it when they dressed me down. Take the fall. Swallow the pill. Admit that you screwed up and move on. When did it become the norm for people to rail against their superiors? When did it become the norm to think that you could swear at people, call them names, throw things at them, and this would be acceptable behavior?

It is very tempting to write this off to the fact that I work in a neighborhood that most would call ghetto and the behavior of many of these kids is often called "acting ghetto." The trouble is that some of this sort of thing has permeated our entire society. A Congressman shouts out "You lie!" when the President is speaking. Tea Party ralliers shout racial epithets and throw things at African-American members of Congress. Glenn Beck and right-wing media routinely make up false statements about the President and sell it as the truth. Say something to another human being about how they've acted badly and they threaten your life.

People have learned to act and react with a sense of self-entitlement that is unjustified. If you screwed up, own up to it. There is structure to our society and rules for civilized behavior. When these rules and their sanctions disappear we might as well be living in an anarchy where life is, as the philosopher said, "nasty, brutish, and short." A little respect for your fellow humanity goes a long way, and in the long run results in more successful lives. That is all I wish to convey to the kids I encounter at times like these. We don't have to like each other. We don't have to hang out together. We do have to exhibit a modicum of respect for one another, however. Not doing so, has disastrous results.

1 comment:

  1. Rex,
    I applaud you for staying in the teaching field. I myself could never go back, pay, lack of respect, no freedom in the classroom.
    Kids are taught respect at home. Mom does not stay home any more to see what the darlings are doing before or after school. Parents "time out' rather than punish. Truly, is a time out with hd t.v. and a computer at the ready, punishment?
    If a parent is not in charge at home, how can you expect to be for 50 minutes of that child's day? Hamster on a wheel.
    By the way, any one that can be heard shouts & makes things up on t.v. (left, right, & middle).