Okay: that title actually takes me into a different topic than I meant to talk about. So let’s see if I can tapdance my way into a confluence of ideas.
Here’s where I was going to go with this: This story about the drunken Secret Service agents who crashed into a White House barrier. Now, I’m tempted to bash law enforcement in general about this — and I think there’s grounds, because the worst part of this story, for me, is that a senior Secret Service agent overruled local law enforcement that wanted to drunk test and detain the two agents. Somebody actually told some cops to stand down and let the drunken agents drive away — and then they promptly crashed their car right into CNN (Not literally. Though that would have added a nice zest to the story. It’d be even better if they ran over Rush Limbaugh. But then they’d be heroes.). This shows the way our unquestioned “respect” for policemen has damaged our objective judgement, and therefore corrupted the police, who seem to believe they have carte blanche simply because they are police — and in Ferguson and Coney Island, indeed, they seem to have just that.
So I could go there. But I was thinking that the problem I wanted to speak to here is the lack of respect for the office of the President. Barack Obama is a President that has been called a liar, during a State of the Union address, by a U.S. Congressman. This is a President that had to grin and snark his way through another mocking round of applause when he said he had no more campaigns left to run, during his most recent State of the Union. Applause from people who wouldn’t applaud all of the good things the man has accomplished, simply because they don’t like the man. Think about that: they dislike the man so much they are unhappy when he helps the country. This is a President who has had to “work with” a Senate minority, now majority, led by a man who stated, plainly and unequivocally, that his party’s only goal in 2009 was to make sure that Barack Obama was a one-term president.
This is a level of disrespect that nobody, no dedicated professional in any field, should have to put up with. (Well — maybe Rush Limbaugh.) Let alone the President of the United States. Think about that: the man is the pinnacle of achievement, here. Out of 330 million Americans, he has done the best of us all (Except for the other four guys still living who did the same thing. No disrespect meant to Presidents Carter, Clinton, Bush, and Bush. Seriously. I think George W. Bush was terrible for our country, but the man was still the President. He managed to accomplish more than any of the rest of us. And so if he came into the room, I would stand up, and I would salute, and I would be honored to shake his hand. And I wouldn’t say to his face all the mean things I think about him. I sure as hell wouldn’t shout “LIAR!” during his speech to the entire nation.). This is what we tell kids they can do when we mean to say “You can do anything: you can do the greatest thing you could ever dream of.” And what do we say to exemplify that belief? We say You could grow up to be an astronaut, or the President of the United States.
Barack Obama did it. You didn’t. Show some goddamn respect.
Maybe it’s a stretch to say that the recent spate of absurd Secret Service screw-ups is also related to this same lack of respect, but I don’t think so. I think that’s exactly what the issue is. These drunken idiots did not think, “If I get busted for this, it will reflect badly on my office, my country, and my President.” But they should have. The Secret Service is directly linked to the President. That’s why they get respect — even respect from cowed but genuine police officers, who let drunken dipsticks go when they know better (I am presuming about the details of the law enforcement override, but the point remains regardless), and they should be glad the drunks didn’t kill anyone, and they should remember that even though the President deserves respect and consideration, and so too do his people, we are a nation of laws: and the law against driving drunk is one of those that can’t really be debated, unless you want to make it tougher.
Any road: the agents should have been cognizant of how their actions would affect their President. They should be cognizant of that every second of every day. That, as much as protection, is their job. And I think it is a lack of respect that leads to the slackening of personal standards of behavior, in this case. What else? Maybe that LEO carte blanche I was speaking of, and maybe it’s the simple rise of idiocy — but I doubt it. Drunk driving is not quite the same thing as “protecting the citizens,” which the cops in Ferguson, and Coney Island, and LA’s Skid Row, could tell themselves they were doing; and though every generation seems dumber than the last, these were senior agents, so not young enough to really claim “Electrolytes are what plants crave.”
No: I think the point is that they don’t take their job seriously enough. And the reason they don’t is because the entire country has apparently given up on the idea that our President is, for the time that he is in office, the very best this nation has to offer. He is our leader. He is the one out in front, for all of us.
Show some respect.
And then there’s this: as soon as I typed that title (My first thought was to use the line “Show Dick some respect!” which is from one of my all-time favorite movies, but it doesn’t work here, since I’m serious, and nobody in this situation is named Dick. More’s the pity.), I was reminded of the fact that today I had to deal with a class that has been disrespecting me as a teacher. This is not a new thing, but it also isn’t that common for me, compared to many of my colleagues: my students like me, and so it is easier to command, and retain, their ostensible respect (Ostensible because they’re teenagers. They don’t respect anyone. Just ask them.) for me than it is for people who work hard and teach well, but maybe aren’t as popular as I am. But still, all it really takes is a class where the good kids are quieter — in this case, the best students are all girls, who are, because this is America, generally quieter and far less confrontational in a classroom than are boys — and some combination of indifference, perversity, or circumstances. And in this class, I have a student who has absolutely no respect for the educational process, who thinks of school as a series of boring hoops that must be jumped through in order to make money, and who is entirely up front about this opinion; and I have a group of students who are computer/math folk, and don’t care much about English; and I have a student who flirts with anything female, during class, before class, after class, and who survives by dimples alone. And the class is the last of the day. It’s enough to make them push a little more than usual to do nothing, every day — which to me, even though I know it is only teenaged laziness, still shows how little they respect what I do, or the effort I put into teaching them — and to try to get me to break rules for them, to let them go early, or let them out of class, or just — watch movies and stuff. Which shows their lack of respect for literature, and for rules. There’s more, too, but that’s enough to make the point.
The point? This shouldn’t be an issue. I shouldn’t have students talking when I talk. I shouldn’t have students packing their stuff up and trying to move towards the door while I’m still talking. I shouldn’t have students groaning when I say it’s time to work, and yelling out, “Can’t we just do nothing instead?” (Okay, maybe that last one is universal. But it’s still annoying. And disrespectful.) This stuff shouldn’t happen. But it does: and the reason is the same. They may like me personally, they may think (Most of them do) that there is value in education, and that teachers deserve consideration for our efforts; but there is a pervasive lack of respect for the entire endeavor of public education in this country, and especially in this state, and the kids pick up on it, and act accordingly.They may know that they shouldn’t talk while I talk — but they don’t really understand why, and so when push comes to shove, when they have something to say while I happen to be trying to teach, then they go ahead and say what they wanted to say.
Those Secret Service agents may have known that they really shouldn’t drink and drive — but they didn’t know why, or else they wouldn’t have done it. (They may have known, but ignored the reason. But that’s not better.) They should have known that their actions not only show respect, but help to create an atmosphere of respect. It’s a positive feedback loop: show respect, and you make respect more common.
My problem, in the end, is this: I have absolutely no idea how to fix this. When that class came in today, I said nothing at all to them. Because what could I say?
How do I teach them to respect me? How do I get them to listen to me when they’re too busy thinking of ways they can get out of my class?
And where the hell is this all going to end?