There for a reason

There for a reason

I’ve been reflecting on the tragic death of a soccer referee in Utah, he who was killed recently by an enraged teenager who’d punched him in the head; I’ve read, too, that such animosity, rage, and even physical assault from player, parent, or coach are not uncommon. How, I wonder, could such behavior occur?  Aren’t youth sports, after all, supposed to build character?

Of course, it’s tough to argue that a young person assaulting a referee in a temper tantrum is anything but barbaric, whether killing was the intention or not; this act is sickening and deeply disturbing. Also deeply disturbing, though, is that the act of lashing out in anger toward such an authority figure would be even remotely culturally acceptable behavior. While of course critical thinking, civil debate, and questioning authority can be healthy, assaulting whomever doesn’t “give us our own way” certainly is not.

Sadly, I’ve noticed this “how dare you give me a penalty” attitude is not such a foreign concept in higher education, either. It’s lamentable and it’s wrong, and it’s getting in the way of learning.

I’ve taught community-college English for over 10 years, and while I (thank goodness) never was physically assaulted by a student, I have on many occasions noticed an undercurrent of disrespect and entitlement among some undergraduates; and I hear similar tales from colleagues again and again. When some “adult” students realize college is in fact hard work and they must earn their grades, the reactions of some – certainly not all, but more than a small minority – are best characterized as childish. They seem to expect high grades for minimal effort, and resent professors’ efforts to encourage them to meet higher standards. While most students don’t have violent tempers, some lash out in angry emails or simply bring their defiance to class and “act up” in ways one might expect in ill-behaved elementary-school children. Disrespect for professors and classmates alike is evident in their actions and language. Worst of all (in my view), some students caught in the act of plagiarizing show a total lack of humility or shame, either denying their wrongdoing or (incredibly) justifying it somehow. In all these cases, the students involved seem averse to accepting personal responsibility for their own performance and behavior, and rather eager to blame the authority figure: “how dare you fail my assignment,” “how dare you ask me to quit texting in class,” and so on.

Certainly, I’m not equating physical assault and tragic loss of life with the more commonplace bad attitudes and verbal hissy fits we see as professors; but on the other hand, whatever the level of offending action, we need to expect better behavior of young athletes and students. Truly, those on the playing field and in the classroom enjoy a privilege they should cherish, and at the very least they ought to carry themselves with maturity and self-control. To allow abuse of those who must enforce standards and rules, whether that abuse be outrageous or more subtle, is to invite more of it; as we do, we contribute to a real societal poison.

Image via / Karpati Gabor