The essay, "Remedial Civility Training," is not new. I came across it while reading another excellent article in the latest issue of the NEA's teaching journal. But I like the idea of "remedial civility," and the essay's the best piece on the topic I've seen in a long time:
I think it is a serious problem that many public schools - and private ones - have just about given up teaching many of the academic skills that were once considered basic for every high-school graduate, not just the ones going to college. But what really troubles me is that schools - no doubt, mirroring the broader culture - have given up cultivating the ordinary courtesies that enable people to get along without friction and violence.I could share dozens of stories on this stuff, and at some point I will, but right now I have to get ready for my 7:30am lecture. I'll be back online this afternoon.
Instead, I see among my students a dispiriting amount of cynicism about teachers and contempt for learning except as a hurdle over which one must jump on the road to some lucrative career. Some students imagine they will advance on the basis of having a degree, even if their words and manners indicate that they are unsuitable for any kind of job that involves dealing with people. They seem completely unaware that knowing how to behave will have a serious impact on their future prospects.
This is not about the simple rules governing which fork one should use but about norms of behavior about which nearly everyone used to agree and which seem to have vanished from student culture.
There are the students who refuse to address us appropriately; who make border-line insulting remarks in class when called upon (enough to irritate but not enough to require immediate action); who arrive late and slam the door behind them; who yawn continually and never cover their mouths; who neglect to bring books, paper, or even something with which to write; who send demanding e-mail messages without a respectful salutation; who make appointments and never show up (after you just drove 20 miles and put your kids in daycare to make the meeting).
I don't understand students who are so self-absorbed that they don't think their professors' opinion of them (and, hence, their grades) will be affected by those kinds of behaviors, or by remarks like, "I'm only taking this class because I am required to." One would think that the dimmest of them would at least be bright enough to pretend to be a good student.
But my larger concern here is not just that students behave disrespectfully toward their professors. It is that they are increasingly disrespectful to one another, to the point that a serious student has more trouble coping with the behavior of his or her fellow students than learning the material.
In classrooms where the professor is not secure in his or her authority, all around the serious students are others treating the place like a cafeteria: eating and crinkling wrappers (and even belching audibly, convinced that is funny). Some students put their feet up on the chairs and desks, as if they were lounging in a dorm room, even as muddy slush dislodges from their boots. Others come to class dressed in a slovenly or indiscreet manner. They wear hats to conceal that they have not washed that day. In larger lectures, you might see students playing video games or checking e-mail on their laptop computers, or sending messages on cell phones.