Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Remedial Classroom Civility

I'm back to school this week so I thought I'd share this piece on the absence of student decorum in the classroom.

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.

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.
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.


Gayle said...

I hear frustration in this post, Donald, and I don't blame you. I doubt I could deal with such disrespectful and rude behavior day after day, and I commend you for your patience.

The students who are disrespectful simply aren't being taught at home to respect anything. I see parents who let their children get away with just about everything. In fact, there are those whose kids actually run the show! It is no longer, "while living under my roof you will obey my rules" because in too many cases there are no longer any rules to obey. We are paying the price of neglecting the children and of course it's seen in the schools.

I'm glad I stayed at home to raise my children. I didn't go to work until I had ingrained in them some of the necessary things they can only learn at home.

shoprat said...

It's not just the classroom. It's everywhere. General disregard for others and absolute selfishness is the norm today and leads not only to disregard for others in the classroom but stuff like roadrage and violence in general.

AmPowerBlog said...

Actually, Gayle, I've lost my patience a few times, LOL!

It takes experience to get a routine where you can handle disruptions and incivility. I'm at that point where I don't let as much stuff bother me, but I'm going to be a bit more vigilant this semester because text-messaging is out of control in the classroom.

AmPowerBlog said...

Thanks Shoprat. You're right. Civility is a lost art all around.

Laura Lee - Grace Explosion said...

The treatment of Governor Palin in 2008 showed me a lot. I'm sorry to hear about so much incivility in the classroom.

Anonymous said...

Donald: I'm confused. As a teacher, can you not implement a no cell phones, no texting policy?

Things have certainly changed in the days since our public schools were better funded. Seems to me that you could draw a line from when funding started dropping, to when decency in the classroom started to decline. (College behavior is just a continuation of established habits.)

In more positive news, gun violence and murder dropped considerably in Long Beach and other areas last year.

AmPowerBlog said...

Well, Grace, the classroom environment should be different, more respectful than the online fever swamps.

AmPowerBlog said...

It's more complicated than just setting the policy, Tim. Students ignore the policy and do whatever they want anyway. Then professors spend more time enforcing the policies than actually teaching. I doubt you have the faintest idea what it's like to manage a classroom, so the Chronicle article really is excellent for people who have no clue.

King Politics said...

Donald, I'm with you on this one. I've steadily become more impatient at disrespectful classroom behavior and I frequently call out students who start emails with "Hey" and neglect to include their name anywhere in the message.

Anonymous said...

Donald: I have guest lectured at Fresno State and am a registered substitute teacher. And I also have been a student, and my wife is a teacher...so, yes, I have some idea. And, your sister-in-law and her husband also fill me in on the details of classroom management as they are both teachers. I hear about it all the time.

Maybe you can't manage a classroom?

The Vegas Art Guy said...

It normally starts and ends with the parents. If the parents view the teacher as either the enemy or as the baby sitter, then the onus is on the teacher to deal with the student. However, if the parents are on the side of the teacher, then all it takes is a phone call or two and the problem solves itself.

The Vegas Art Guy said...

Tim, students will do what they want. And you'd be surprised how clever they can be when it comes to texting other in class. I've seen all sorts of ways they hide their phones and ipods.

AmPowerBlog said...

Thanks Marvin ... I don't worry abou the "Hey" greetings too much any more, but it's prevalent.

AmPowerBlog said...

I know what you mean about hiding the text message, Vegas Guy. It's amazing sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Vegas Art Guy: Is it really all the parent's fault? Sure, it's partly true, but I've seen this used as an excuse way too often. At some point, children/young adults/adults start making choices for themselves even when they are raised correctly. Early on it can be attributed to lack of amygdalae maturity, but later on it's really about poor choices if you ask me.

If everything were the parents' fault, then we would be jailing them and not the perpetrators.

I've seen firsthand how clever kids can be with these things though. I just think maybe schools should have a broader policy...cell phones off during class seems reasonable to me. If it goes off, they lose a grade come judgment day.

AmPowerBlog said...

You exonerate the home culture, Tim, because you hate traditionalism and family values, especially respect for authority.

I'm with the Vegas Guy. Teachers get the blame for the failings at home. My sister in law tells me about it all the time, with her Latino students up in Fresno County.

Anonymous said...

"You exonerate the home culture, Tim, because you hate traditionalism and family values, especially respect for authority."

Sorry, how is this even true, relevant, or how does this qualify as an intelligent statement? Please show me one statement where I dismiss traditionalism or respect for authority.

You are questioning my ability as a parent here when all I said was that at SOME POINT people become responsible for their own actions and we cannot always blame the parents. Parents do have a lot to answer for, I never said otherwise.

Again Donald, I know you are busy, but it's no excuse for laziness.

One constant from the conservative viewpoint--make lazy, ecclesiastical pronouncements, or rely on simplified blanket statements that target a whole population rather than look at the underlying causes and psychology, or sociology. And, this is the most important part, have an entirely unsympathetic view on whatever you don't agree with.

If you and people like Grace were eligible, surely the government would give you some kind of intellectual stimulus package. Talk to the big "O."

JoeBama "Truth 101" Kelly said...

I hate to say it but I'm with the Professor on this one. And as a larger issue, this is why I am against merit pay for teachers. Because the ones blessed with the best students will of course get the best results. It sucks you have a few clowns in your class Professor. If one of my college student kids were a pain in the professor's ass I wouldn't put up with it. I may be be philosophically your political opposite, but I know you have a tough job and I respect the hell out of what you do Professor.

Anonymous said...

OK, so bad students are the result of bad parenting? No other outside influences...like other students they may hang around or learn from by example?

Am I speaking another language? I never disagreed with the main thrust of this argument by the way.

AmPowerBlog said...

Tim: You've left countless comments attacking tradtional culture, especially on opposition to gay marriage. It's no surprise you'd expect all the "outside" forces to cause behavorial problems, and not the collapse of traditional parenting in the home.

The Vegas Art Guy said...

Tim, if the parent continually takes the child's side when there is a disciplinary problem then what would you say? Why should the child behave if the parent sides with them and not the teacher?

It's not always the parent's fault, and if you read that into my post that was not my intention. I have plenty of supportive parents where I teach, and I should have some very subdued students tomorrow when I begin the teaching adventure again with the 12 phone calls I made today.

But it would be foolish to lay the blame at the feet of the teachers. It should be our job to teach students basic manners. Our time is too limited as it is. And that should go double for college.

Anonymous said...

Donald: You're shortcutting here. I attack people who deny fundamental rights while cloaking themselves in a false morality. American ideals are about defending the rights of those who happen to be different. Those who seek to deny legitimate rights, I call bigots and ayatollahs. (Because I like throwing those words around too, like you do with nihilist.)

I deem gay rights a worthy cause. (Although I don't defend some of the methods the movement uses to verify their rights. I prefer legal avenues and ones that don't destroy businesses by protests.)

Vegas: I understand all that. What I'm trying to confer is the idea that students themselves can be a bunch self-entitled a-holes because a) that is who they are, and b) they can learn from outside influences. Like rap music.

Now, when you throw bad parents into the mix, it makes every teacher's job a nightmare.

Every year my wife produces a musical at her school. And every year some girl's mom calls/emails to complain that the girl didn't get the part she deserved.

What's interesting is that sometimes the student is ok with it, it's the parent's ego that gets involved. Often times kids can even overcome their parent's bad examples.

That's why it is not always cut and dry.

The Vegas Art Guy said...

I understand that part, I was merely pointing out that many times the parents exacerbate the problem, assuming you can even get ahold of them at all.

And we should all agree that college kids should know not to text in class...

JBW said...

I'm neither a teacher nor a parent so I can't use a claim that I'm either of those to one-up anyone or lend my opinion more weight the way many commenters on this thread have, however I am going to submit that I know more about this than any of you for absolutely no good reason.

Don, when I saw that there were already 23 comments on this thread I had originally planned, just for fun, on counting how many were from your conservative commenters blaming the left for what I think is a real problem in our society. You can imagine my surprise and disappointment when I saw that most of them had made cogent arguments for their point of view based largely in reality.

But you: "I doubt you have the faintest idea what it's like to manage a classroom, so the Chronicle article really is excellent for people who have no clue." Come on dude; even if that were true (which it's not: Tim obviously has classroom experience) you must admit that it was written in a fairly condescending fashion and I suspect that you felt it was warranted because he's a liberal. That's the unexpected, occasional flash of incivility I've mentioned to you before.

He wasn't exonerating the home culture, he was just suggesting that it wasn't the only culprit and further that children have to take responsibility for their own behavior at some point, which can sometimes be extraordinarily bad despite an excellent upbringing.

One more thing: are you seriously suggesting that gay parents raise children who are less disciplined and less respectful than "traditional" couples? That gay attack came out of left (right for you, of course) field.

That said, I agree that the blame falls mainly on the parents. If you have the kind of kid that's going to talk back to their teacher it's your responsibility to make sure that it stops at an early age before it becomes a real problem. I would hope that most parents have sufficient motivation to make sure that their kids don't grow up to be assholes.

Laura Lee - Grace Explosion said...

One thing I think we could all note more is the power of culture. Children didn't use to have so much "influx" of messaging and modeling from the culture. Mass media has meant that children have access to different "messages" than just the messages given by parents as authority figures and role models.

The music these days (yep, I think it's true) does so much to form and shape a person's mindset. The television shows. News medias. All of these things "acculturate" people. Young people are more powerfully "acculturated" now more than ever in a mass media that didn't exist 50 years ago - or in the limited extent it did exist, mostly conformed itself to parental guidelines.

It's mass media, it's television, radio, and the culture having so much influence in "acculturating" children these days - that, to me, the parents have to fight an uphill battle these days to instill values these days. Also, when the public school system attacks traditional values - and the children are in school for the majority of a day 5 days a week - unfortunately, the schools themselves can be an "acculturating influence" that destroys children's respect for their parents, authority figures, and teachers. Public schools are are teaching from a humanist view contrary to the Judeo Christian and they destroy respect for authority.

As a Christian, I'll raise one last point. Respect for God as Creator is the #1 level of respect for authority there is. Darwinism has eroded the foundation of respect for human beings as persons created in the image of God, the foundation of respect for God... and with that foundation gone - the society will crumble in it's respect for authority.

The Bible says "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." that "fear" is reverence and respect for God's authority. Without that, everything comes undone. Whether a humanist can recognize it or not, it's the unseen reality of the foundation of all respect for authority. People do not have self-respect when they don't respect God as Creator - at least the "higher self" value of one's self as a child of God created by God in the image of God. That's a whole different level self-esteem that no Darwinism can really teach. And when one truly has respect for God, then one can have balanced self respect as a human being created in the image of God - and respect for others as same at that core foundational level.

Just some thoughts.

JBW said...

Grace, you're so right: how can I possibly have respect for myself or others when I have no respect for God's magical superpowers? OK...

If you don't like the culture, blame capitalism. Free market, baby. Every television show, movie, song, newspaper and magazine you watch, listen to or read exists because people are willing to spend money on them. Make a better, more moral product and you can change all that.

Average American said...

I'm not a teacher and it has been a long long long time since I was a student. I am a foreman in the construction industry. One of my steadfast rules is---NO CELL PHONES during work hours. Any one who can't live with that rule can go find another job. I would think that in college where good money is being spent on an education, a student would not want to miss classes. Would the administration back you up on that? I doubt you would have to toss to many out before the rest would get the idea.

Anonymous said...

Grace: Thanks for the bible lesson. Again.

This is a political blog by the way, not an evangelical blog. Although Donald, judging by his comments, is turning more and more into an intolerant Christian by the sounds of it. I think you have at least one convert.

One thing Grace forgets...Christianity is not so much in freefall, it's other factors. And Darwinism, while being scientific and upsetting to those who believe in a man up in the sky who watches over them, is sometimes hard to swallow. Kinda hard to wrap your brain around science, isn't it? Means you actually have to study reality and not fairy tales. (I will say, the bible is an excellent source of tales of misery and woe, and history, and life lessons, and some all around general nuttiness.)

Vegas: I think we are more or less on the same page. JBW: Thanks for the support. Donald does suffer from hubris and arrogance at times.

Once again, truth has a liberal bias.

Law and Order Teacher said...

This is all very interesting. I do think that some are letting parents off a little lightly. Parents have tremendous power over the behavior of their children.

For example, I had a student who didn't want to work too hard in class. Result: bad grade. Parent email followed in which I told them what was happening in class. Parents laid down the law to the student threatening to take away privileges that the student enjoyed.

I moved the student away from some less than diligent friends in amongst some hard-working students. This combination resulted in a much improved grade. I just posted 2nd quarter grades and that student has an A-.

Parents happy, student happy, teacher happy. Take the parents out of the equation and I don't know if it would've worked.

As for college students, the parents are pretty much out of the equation. My only thought is to kick them out of class. Or is that an option. That makes your job a little harder than mine, Dr.D.