Disrespecting Authority: An Issue of Character & Basic Self-Control


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 mrg.bz / Karpati Gabor

“To Pamper Excessively”: Posh Amenities in College

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The finer things?

If posh amenities top your list of desires in a prospective college, you may have mixed-up priorities.

That’s because college is supposed to be about academics first and foremost, and if you’re not ready for that, you should hold off on enrolling until you are . . . for the sake of yourself, your benefactors or personal bank account, and your professors. I’ll explain why momentarily.

First, witness the January article in Inside Higher Ed, “The Customer Is Always Right?”, which explains (according to research from the National Bureau of Economic Research) that students’ “consumption preferences” are driving some universities’ spending patterns in ways that (I think) don’t really further the purpose and mission of an institution of higher learning (other than getting students in the door). This manifestation of an attitude of entitlement seems, frankly, silly.

I assume most of these students haven’t been to college, haven’t graduated college, cannot look back on college or reflect on the worth of their degrees – in other words, even the brightest among them can’t fully understand an experience they haven’t had. The fact that these prospective students seem to value “amenities” so tells me their priorities aren’t so much academic as social or even a bit self-indulgent. They might consider while social life is important and nice things are nice, fancy amenities are very much immediate concerns (that don’t appreciate in value) and a college education is laying groundwork for the future: a future that will demand flexible and creative problem solvers, personable people with a good work ethic and yes, humility to recognize one’s own mistakes and shortcomings.

Speaking very generally, I don’t believe someone who, even before earning a degree, feels entitled to luxury (and maybe high grades) would have the depth of character to be that flexible, creative, hard-working, humble person. It’s worth noting the Concise Oxford Dictionary’s definition of “spoil” is “injure the character of (esp. a child, pet, etc.) by excessive indulgence”; Merriam-Webster online defines “spoil” as “to impair the disposition or character of by overindulgence or excessive praise” and “to pamper excessively.”

Character development is an important part of higher learning; it should follow from studying and from enriching the environment of one’s own mind. Ben Franklin said, “If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the highest return.”

That’s knowledge, not opulent stuff, that we should seek in the place where learning is the objective. It’s knowledge, not country club surroundings, that you’ll empty into your head.

Image via mrg.bz / matthew_hull

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