Damm: Schools can’t teach respect when they’re disrespected by society

January 17, 2014 


— I pulled up the news on the internet one recent morning and watched a video of a 3-year old getting some very bad guidance from several adults: They were encouraging terrible language and hateful talk. Unfortunate, to say the least, but not surprising to me as a longtime school administrator. The world is full of adults who raise and mold kids in very hateful ways; it always has been. That’s how beautiful young people learn to hate, lack tolerance and isolate others.

In this country, we expect the schools to help define social norms and expectations, to reduce this type of negativity in young people.

Used to be, we as parents and as a society helped the schools play this role, even in other people’s children. There was a time when schools (and teachers) were respected and respectfully addressed through the media and politics. That had an impact on young people, generally, as they came to school. They typically came respecting teachers, administrators and the institution.

When I was in fifth grade, our local school board made the decision to end corporal punishment. My father didn’t agree with the policy, so informed his children’s teachers that they had his permission to spank his kids if needed. I didn’t think much about it; that’s just the way things were.

My father impressed upon his children that education was very important and that teachers were very important. That education was their ticket to a brighter future … and that teachers held the upper hand. If my parents thought the teacher was wrong about something, they took it up with the teacher, but not through their child. We had no clue, ever, that there was a disagreement.

In many cases, that’s not the way things work today. In addition to parents like those in the video, teaching children to hate, there is a new negativity, in the larger society: Schools are denigrated constantly by the media, politicians and many adults in general, for their own purposes.

The ability of schools to have a positive impact on young people raised in a dysfunctional environment is greatly reduced when we constantly define our schools in negative ways. Not that schools should be above criticism, they shouldn’t; but we as adults need to understand that we make the beds we sleep in.

Dave Damm


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