Commentary Coercion is not a Teaching Tactic

Insults Beget Insults

Which of us at some point in our adolescence didn’t protest the unfairness of it all? Granted the it’ in question was subject to frequent and regular change but, nonetheless, each of us had an understanding of what constituted fair treatment. Like many, and in spite of my parent’s many assurances to the contrary, I believed that my expectation to be on the receiving end of fair treatment was not an unreasonable one. I remember feeling confused by the inconsistency, nay hypocrisy, of the messages I was getting from my folks. Growing up with four siblings and resources that on occasional were barely sufficient, sharing and fairness had long been frequent themes at our house. Now, I was being told that my expectation of fair treatment was delusional. How could they passively accept that for me when they certainly would never accept it from me? I remember feeling so powerless and angry at the time.

It is funny. O K it isn’t the least bit humorous and really quite sad the things that remain constant. Case in point, during a recent verbal exchange between my 16 year old son and his Language Arts teacher, both made comments of which they should both be ashamed. Being the bigger person, or at least the one higher up on the educational food chain, the teacher gloated about getting him what she believed would be a three-day suspension saying, “Hope you enjoy your vacation.” Can you say mature?

This seems the appropriate time to interject that, as a rule, I hold our educators in the highest regard and firmly believe that some deserve combat pay in addition to their regular teaching salary. In most instances I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt and support whatever decisions they have made. To some extent this instance was no different. Upon hearing the events, as my son related them, I told him that the comment he had made was disrespectful and the principal was justified in punishing him for his behavior but that I did not agree with the teacher’s behavior either and would investigate further. Additionally, I explained that even if the teacher had initiated the disrespectful nature of the exchange it did not make him any less culpable citing the proverbial two wrongs don’t make a right arguement. Nonetheless, if I found that the teacher’s behavior was the catalyst for my son’s bad behavior, I would do the best I could to get him an apology.

I did speak to my son’s teacher and, while I now have further reason to believe she misrepresented the truth O K I don’t feel like using a euphemism she lied during her recitation of the event, I was still able to explain that in the future I expected respect to be of a reciprocal nature between the two.

Unfortunately and justifiably upon hearing this outcome, my son felt the same powerlessness and anger that mirrored mine of thirty years ago and like my folks I found myself on the receiving end of a diatribe echoing mine from those bygone days. “I’m not like you. I can’t just sit back and do nothing while I’m being treated unfairly” he shouted.

I commiserated using all of the motherly warmth I could muster and shouted back, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I was you. I’ve felt your frustration. I’ve screamed at my mother like you’re screaming at me and like her I’d like to be able to tell you that this can be fixed but it can’t. The teacher is not likely to admit making any inappropriate comments. The principal is not likely to take the word of other students and even if it could be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt the most the teacher is looking at is a reprimand which alters your fate not at all. You still serve your punishment because you were wrong. To add insult to injury you’re stuck with a teacher inclined to make you life hell.”

Providing an analogy that he could relate to, I reminded him of Sancho Panza’s’ line in Don Quixote de la Mancha when he says something to the effect that “Whether the stone hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the stone, it’s going to be bad for the pitcher.” I continued by equating him with Don Quixote’ talking about life as it should be while I was his sidekick Sancho’ trying to show him life as it is. Looking at his face told me I probably owed my folks another apology. I can’t remember ever regretting more that they had been right once again.

In the wake of escalating school violence a number of mandates have been instituted by our schools designed to aid in keeping our children safe. One of those rules speaks of zero tolerance for abuse of any kind including verbal and the ramifications resulting from an infraction of the rules is clearly disseminated to students, parents and teachers alike. While it is not feasible nor wise to make rules universal to students and teachers, those pertaining to verbal abuse must remain so or risk undermining their very purpose.