How Do We Teach Respect and Responsibility?
There is a culture of wanting to be a friend to young people that pervades parenting and education in this country. If the adults charged with shaping the character of young people feel the need to “connect” with them on a more informal level, is that damaging to the position of the adult—the respect component? How do we teach responsibility? Caring people are called to guide children, but can that caring do more harm than good if it enables youngsters to continue irresponsible behavior such as parents giving too much help to children with homework or administrators letting bad behavior go without consequences because they have a soft spot for the student? Are we doing too much for our children?
When I was a student at Sammamish High School in the 1960s we had a running joke about what the principal, Mr. Torgeson, looked like. He was either in his office with the door shut or out of the building at a meeting. I joked that he didn't exist, but to coin a Dana Carvy Cranky Old Man phrase, “we liked it that way.” I don’t know what the vice principal had done during WWII, but I suspect it was drill sergeant. He was in charge of discipline. Cruising the halls during classes, Mr. Cherry looked for people skipping class. We tried hard not to be noticed by Mr. Cherry and as long as we weren’t, we liked it that way. These gentlemen did not attempt to “connect” with students. We had caring teachers and councilors who did that despite the fact that they expected respect and for the most part we were a pretty well behaved lot. If the administration wanted to connect with students it was liable to be at the business end of a paddle which brings to mind the cherry bomb in the boys’ toilet incident of the 100 wing. I don’t remember what happened there. Now before you run me out of the Neighborhood on a rail, let me say that I’m not advocating corporal punishment, but I believe that we may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater when American adults decided to be pals to their children. What happened to standing up when an adult enters the room and removing hats and caps when entering institutions for which we are supposed to have respect? What does this culture of being friends with your children do to educators when the “everyone’s a winner” and “you’re all perfect little snowflakes” children reach school? So how do we teach respect and responsibility? How do we make them pick up after themselves and do their homework?