A Fulton teacher sent me this interesting musing, which I tracked to a California high school teacher.
With author Steve Fowler’s permission, I am sharing his essay.
By Steve Fowler
Following a particularly difficult grading period where I had many students fail to turn in assignments, I had the opportunity to consult with the parents of a young man who is “struggling.” By struggling I mean in conflict with himself over the effort he ought to put forth, not with his ability to do the work.
At the conclusion of the parent conference, I was asked by the father if his son had ever been disrespectful. Certainly, a common question one hears so often that rarely is the meaning considered except on the most basic level. I responded, “Johnny wasn’t disrespectful.” This, of course, is true. The student never assaulted or insulted me, had never talked back or even slightly sneered inappropriately in my direction. So Mr. Smith, your son was not disrespectful, his errors and the cause of this meeting lay in the realm of “lack of effort.”
Last night I reflected back about the conference and this led to a consideration of the nature of respect and disrespect and where the lines of proper student behavior rest. Imagine my horror when I realized paradoxically that it was I who was disrespectful. For I was not wholly honest with Mr. Smith. I lied to him, and answered his question with words that we both knew were the ones he wanted to hear. I gave an answer that would mollify all, parent and student and teacher. As I reflected on the nature of my answer and the reasons for my disrespect, I understood that the only course of action remaining would be to convert that falsehood into a statement of understanding.
Mr. Smith, while your son’s decorum in my classroom could never be considered disrespectful toward me, unfortunately, in every other sense, it is indeed disrespectful.
Your son is disrespectful to his classmates. His lack of classroom effort displays a disinterest in the purpose of education. By not working up to the best of his ability, he cheats his classmates of an honest intellectual commitment to the materials studied and limits and harms not only his educational aspirations, but theirs.
Your son is disrespectful to his parents and grandparents, to the love and intense effort you have put into raising him. Disrespectful to the thousands of hours devoted to his well-being, to the hard work necessary every single day to provide room and board, clothing, life experiences, spiritual guidance and the myriad of material goods indispensable to growing a successful life in our modern society. This disrespect, this lack of engagement denies his parent their own hopes and dreams, of which he is, in all likelihood, the core.
Your son is disrespectful to his school, for his indifference nullifies efforts of hundreds of students, teachers, administrators and support personnel. Such insolence insults community, state and national leaders and, ultimately, all Americans who endeavor daily with the goal of raising a new generation of respectful American citizens in the tradition of our forebearers who built this great nation.
Your son is disrespectful to future employers or employees. He deprives himself of knowledge, the only commodity of value any individual possesses. We sell our time, but it is our knowledge, our developed skills that determine an individual’s value in the marketplace. There is an old saying, “Knowledge is money.” The intimate connection between this and the future is absolute. To deny one’s self either is folly, painful to all whom your son will ever connect.
Your son is disrespectful to the taxpayers and the many thousands of dollars necessary to build and furnish schools and all the accoutrements and personnel required. Taxpayers honor each child in this nation by the many hours of labor every dollar collected by the state represents. Sweat and contribution of those tax dollars ought not be met by condescension.
All citizens, regardless of age (certainly high school students) should be cognizant of the gift of tax-supported educational opportunities, not as rights alone, but as a precious gift endowed upon them by fellow Americans.
There is an implied and solemn obligation that our young people not waste our precious resources. The burden of a “free” education comes with strings. Those strings are two: being mindful of all that it takes to provide a quality education and to respect that understanding through a demonstration of one action: an honest effort to learn. This is the only thing society requires of students and, if it is not, it ought to be the least expected of them.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog