Civil Discourse and the American Classroom

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Civil Discourse and the American Classroom


From generation to generation, there have always been a host of influences- be it in the press, music/entertainment industry, or political arena- that threatens to demoralize the youth, somehow paralyzing their progress in the quest to become the apotheosis of long-held, tacit and home-brewed American values.  Depending on who you ask, this threat has materialized in a variety of forms (from Elvis to Snooki, to Elliot Spitzer or Flavor Flav).  It is fair to say that, at least ostensibly, our nation has long symbolized the merits of freedom, equity, individuality, and integrity.  However, it is not only the headlines from week to week which seem to indicate that we are a nation clearly missing the mark.  We can see this in our schools, where inequality prevails, in our government, where dissidence reigns, and in our popular television programs, where depravity is idolized.  From every angle, American children are immersed in an imbroglio of mixed messages, and if we are to expect them to develop into responsible, civic-oriented people, we need to model what that looks like in adults.

In president Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address, he urged young people looking to make a positive impact to consider a career in education and pushed for the general appropriation of South Korea’s stance concerning the field because, there, teachers are hailed as “nation builders.”  Being that the bulk of a child’s formative years are spent in school, the Commander in Chief has a point. Teachers, whether they accept it or not, are a kind of second parent to the child and have a responsibility to instill a measure of civility and propriety in their students.  They can do this primarily by embodying a high degree of decorum and etiquette themselves-both in and out of the classroom.  Administrators should evaluate both the character and credentials of teaching candidates, and apply more meticulous filters throughout the selection process.  As if the forces of a degenerate milieu weren’t enough to contend with, schools are still mottled by scandals involving illicit teacher-student relationships and dissolute revelations.  Melissa Petro, a 30-year-old former prostitute and stripper who openly flaunted her indiscretion both in print and in prose has been teaching art in a Bronx elementary school for three years and has only recently been terminated.

Though traditionally the purview of the Church (or other faith-based organization) and home, schools are now much more accountable for the morality and mores of the citizens they help engender.  Ergo, it is important that we hire those who have the kind of decorum and aplomb that we would be proud to have children reflect.  Teachers should moderate student interactions and help to differentiate between the kind of inflammatory behavior seen in the media and that which is acceptable in school and the public domain at large.  They must instill an uncompromising respect for peers and authority figures as well as openness to hearing opposing viewpoints. In the process, learning itself is facilitated and a safe environment is created where children are encouraged to participate and share their ideas openly.  In practice, this can be accomplished by holding debates, mock trials, and student votes- anything that would help students absorb a strong sense of justice, democracy, and diplomacy.

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