Friday, September 01, 2006

Lauren's Question for Educators

I know my posts have been too long to read, so I'll try to keep this brief, but I think this is worth discussing; as a comment (and probably not one looking for a lot of serious deliberation), Lauren asked, "Is it wrong that I have totally different standards for myself and my friends than I do for students?" Though I'm sure Lauren's standards for her own behavior and that of her students aren't nearly as disparate as she says, I think the question is a very important one, and I would love to hear how all of you (both friends and random readers) address this question.

Allow me to take the first whack at it: I think it's an issue tha has to be measured by two factors: what is role-modeling, and what is developmentally appropriate. First, the biggies: sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll. When it comes to sex, I think my student should wait. This isn't a religious conviction, because I don't expect students who do not share my faith to feel compelled to base decisions on my religious views anyway. I just think fifteen and sixteen year olds would be better off waiting. And it's not just an issue of pregnancy or disease (though those are huge concerns because kids are far more likely to be unsafe about their sexual practices). I don't think they are emtionally ready to inject the power of sex (pardon the pun) into their fragile relationships. Also, I know that, for my students, relationships last weeks or months at most, and serial monogomy and sex don't mix well on any level. I don't think educators should have to hold themselves to this standard. We're all married or in serious, responsible adult relationships, so staying celibate in the name of role-modeling would be silly and unfair to our spouses/significant others. I think our obligation is to model decorum; we shouldn't talk about our sex lives with our students.

As to drugs, I think it's similarly important that we not talk about any illegal drug experimentation in our youth. While I don't think educators should be using illegal drugs while in the proffession, we also shouldn't get sucked into conversations about our childhood use because if we say we didn't use we put fellow educators on the spot, and if we say we did we provide kids with an excuse. Refusing to answer the question may make some kid assume you were a junkie, but it's better than giving a kid a reason to challenge another educator and make them a liar.

Regarding rock'n'roll, and all art, I'm very open about my tastes. I think this humanizes me and, if I've shown myself to be a role model in other ways, opens kids' eyes to the fact that responsible people can appreciate all kinds of art, music, films, entertainment that they may think of as taboo. Do I admit to reading Harry Potter? Absolutely. (When a student confides a frustration with those who think those books ar evil, I share my opinion that a person whose faith is threatened by a children's book doesn't have a literary problem but a weak faith, but I am very careful who I share that with). Do I admit that I love The Daily Show and The Colbert Report? Definately. If students want to make judgements about my politics as a consequence they can, but I haven't tried to inculcate any political beliefs by sharing a personal taste.

One last more frivolous example; I don't allow my students to eat or drink in my classroom. It's against the school rules. I do eat in class, though. I am unapologetic about this seeming hypocrisy, and I freely explain it to my students. I tell them from the first day that I have graduated from high school and continued with my education, and that earns me privalidges in the real world. I encourage them to come back to visit me when they are enrolled in some form of higher education and eat and drink in front of some future group of high school freshmen, to show them that privilidges are earned. Some of my students have promised to do so, and seem very excited about the prospect. Whether or not they remember in four years is irrelevant. Is this self-serving? Yep. But it's also a valuable lesson. I benefit from other valable lessons I teach with a monthly paycheck, and I don't hear anyone complaining that this makes my advocacy of learning for its own sake hypocritical.

Ultimately, I think it's good to hold adults, especially educators, to a different standard than kids. We are different, and expecting us to behave like kids is just as unfair as expecting them to behave like adults. But we, like Lauren, should have a standard, and it should be carefully considered and intentional. What do you folks think?

24 comments:

laurenj said...

I think that one other reason I have higher standards for my students is that I meet with them in a professional environment. Or, at least, as professional as public school can get. When I am with my friends I don't hold them to any professional standard. Do I actually think that when Ben uses the word "retarded" that he is being discriminatory toward people who are mentally disabled? No. However, if Ben used that term perjoratively in an article that was being published in a professional journal damn straight I would call him on it. Because not only would he be judged as a professional in that circumstance, he also would be contributing to the cultural understanding of what professionalism means.

That all being said, there are times that being casual around friends is not an excuse for certain language. There are words that are unacceptable even amongst my closest.

BUT (and this is just to give ben something else to post about) I have no problem whatsoever watching television or movies that use those words. Somehow all the no-no words are okay when its on HBO. God bless Deadwood and The Wire. That's right guys. I'll judge you harshly (and possibly silently) for calling a woman a cunt, but I love Al Swearengen even more for doing so. maybe because I can't.

Benjamin Gorman said...

I once read a great into to a book in which the author apologized to his grandmother for the language characters used in the story, on the grounds that he was not saying these words; they were. I don't think great artists use strong language because they can. I think they do it because that's what the characters really say. To do otherwise would be to falsly represent them. It might seem hard to imagine that the language in a how like Deadwood is NOT gratuitous, but I think that's the case. Those characters talk like that, and to present them otherwise would be just as wrong as shoving unnecessary swear words into the mouths of a character who doesn't use them just to get a rise out of people. Stephen King once wrote that creating fiction is telling lies about people who never existed, but I think he's wrong. Creating fiction is telling the truth about people who never existed. We don't love good art because the language is bad, but because the artists are honest.

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@bdul muHib said...

My old school didn't allow us to eat in class, because the students weren't allowed. This was in a culture with a high power distance, but the administration never really got cultural cues and the idea of contextualization. cela vie. But I enjoyed the drinks. Soda my last year was thankfully no longer served to students, and they could only drink more healthy stuff. They would complain some that teachers still got to drink it. I pointed out to them that it was really already too late for me. Their bodies were still growing and they could still make it. Or did they want to look like me when they were my age?

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