Commentary: Culture of Disrespect

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In a television interview and article I used a specific term in describing the bullying of educators, I called it a culture of disrespect. I said: “We see many children today who are raised in a culture of disrespect. Parents do not exercise appropriate authority; therefore, some children lack humility and respect. That behavior is often extended to the classroom in many cases.”

I have received hundreds of comments from people who say that is the best term they have heard to describe what is happening. Some feel I didn’t go far enough. Nobody disagreed.

But what is disrespect? I feel like Justice Potter Stewart who described pornography: “I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so (describing it). But I know it when I see it.” There is a lot of disrespect going on in our schools and classrooms, as well as in society. And I bet you see it, too.

Dr. Leonard Sax, a physician, wrote: “America’s children are immersed in a culture of disrespect: for parents, teachers, and one another. They learn it from television, even on the Disney Channel, where parents are portrayed as clueless, out-of-touch, or absent. They learn it from celebrities and the Internet. They learn it from social media. They teach it to one another.” Children are simply no longer taught to respect others.

Dr. Danielle Ofri, another physician, described a myriad of acts of disrespect that she and other physicians have come to accept as a way of life in medicine. She said these “behaviors that don’t ever get reported and are hardly noticed because they are so ingrained in the culture of medicine.”

She referenced that doctors knew what hospitals to work in, and which ones to avoid. She said hospital cuts weren’t merely about saving money. It sent a message that people are “interchangeable widgets whose productivity can be dialed up or down like household appliances.”

Ofri also said disrespect was found in other areas such as overbooked schedules, increased paperwork, adding responsibilities, and the adding of additional required courses that had to be done on personal time. While these may seem trivial, she added, this “lack of respect undermines morale and inhibits transparency and feedback.”  Then she points out: “Morale, transparency, and feedback are pillars of preventing medical error.”

Sound familiar? Public school educators can easily relate. Educators are on the frontlines of this culture war, too. That is what prompted Professional Educators of Tennessee to work here in Tennessee for a Teacher Bill of Rights with Senator Mark Green and Representative Jay Reedy.

It may not be a perfect piece of legislation, but it is desperately needed if we want to start addressing the culture of disrespect in our schools. Educators are willing to hold themselves to the highest standard of professional conduct, but we should reasonably expect society to respect those men and women who teach our children.

President Donald Trump said recently “The era of empty talk is over. It’s over. Now is the time for action.”  Let’s show action on the education front by passing a Teacher Bill of Rights in Tennessee, and bring the respect back to our public schools.  It’s time.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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