John Rosemond September 2018 Columns
Copyright 2018, John K. Rosemond
What's a Young Teacher to Do About Discipline?
As another school year begins, one of many pertinent questions is “Has the per child or per-teacher (it doesn’t matter) rate of verbal and emotional abuse by teachers on students increased dramatically over the past fifty years or is it that the definition of such abuse has been dumbed down?”
The answer is yes.
As to the former, today’s young teachers are the first lot to have never experienced – first- or second-hand – what effective classroom discipline looks like. When they went through school, many if not all the old guard, the last bastion of classroom common sense, were gone. Consequently, the young teachers in question did not witness, first-hand, how a competent teacher “controls” the atmosphere of a classroom. In college, furthermore, in their teacher training classes, control was a bad word. Today’s young teachers may not even know that in the 1950s and before, it was normal for one diminutive female teacher to have no major discipline problems in a year with a classroom of 40 or more kids.
The deterioration of classroom decorum is the inevitable consequence of shifting from a leadership model of teaching to a relationship model as we did in the 1970s; thus, the folly and absurdity of having emotionally-driven young people evaluate their teachers. My best teachers were not concerned with being liked, and along with most of my classmates I generally did not like them.
The fallacy behind this student-teacher-relationship thing is that despite what this latest crop of young teachers have been told, children need adult authority; they do not need warm, fuzzy, palzie-walzie relationships with adults. When authority is lacking, the natural instincts of the child (despite the humanist myth, not a pretty thing) burst forth. If pandemonium does not reign, it constantly teases.
Mind you, the teacher is “disciplining” as her college professors defined it. So, believing her methods are not at fault, she blames the kids. They are, she tells her colleagues, a “very difficult group” in which there are more than her share of “bad apples” and so on.
Her mounting frustration begins to drive increasingly inappropriate attempts to control her class while at the same time not falling out of favor with her students. She must appear to not be bothered, to retain a good sense of humor in the face of what has now become a vicious cycle of her ineptitude and their disrespect. But she is bothered, and badly. So, one day, having had it, she throws an eraser at a kid.
When reports of this faux pas go viral, the descriptor used most often is emotional abuse. Is it? I seriously doubt that a one-off of that sort induces some permanent trauma in a child. Maybe his peers will see him as a clown. On the other hand, maybe they’ll see him as a hero who will forever be remembered as the kid who caused Miss Wilson (or Debbie, as she is known to her students) to lose it.
So, yes, over the past fifty years the per capita rate of teachers reacting inappropriately to the extreme to student misbehavior has increased. And yes, over that same period the consensual definition of what constitutes a perpetration of emotional abuse has been steadily dumbed down.
I came home from school one day as a child and told my mother, with great pathos, that one of my fifth-grade teachers had punished me for something I didn’t even do!
“And Mom, when you hear what she did I’m sure you will march over there and set her straight, by golly!”
Instead, Mom told me that since I now knew what set the teacher off I had no excuse for setting her off ever again and if I did I would be in big trouble with her when I got home. The next day, Mom sent a note to said teacher affirming her support and requesting a call if I ever again misbehaved in her class. I was on my best behavior for the rest of the year. I absolutely hated the ground on which said teacher strode. She was one of the best teachers I ever had.
Exchange Arrangements Stressful to Pre-Teen Daughter
Q: I am reading your book “The Well-Behaved Child” and have a question that it doesn’t address. I am a single mom with children from two different fathers. One of my ex-husbands (my son’s father) and I have arranged to do regular “child-exchanges.” One weekend, all the kids go to his house and on another weekend, they all come to mine. My 11-year-old daughter (by another father) frequently complains of being in some type of pain – stomachaches, headaches, and most recently, pains in her feet that (she says) prevent her from walking. Doctors have been unable to find a cause for any of her problems. I’ve even had her see a therapist, but that didn’t help at all. My daughter says she hates the exchanges and that they are what’s making her sick. I know that this particular ex-husband can cause a lot of drama, but even when an exchange goes smoothly she comes back complaining of aches and pains so I’m not sure that’s the real issue. I don’t know what to do any more and hope you can help us.
A: It seems to me that the solution to this problem is the most obvious one: Stop including your daughter in these child-exchanges.
I had to read your question three times to make sure I was understanding correctly that the man with whom you are exchanging children is not your daughter’s father. That’s somewhat odd. Furthermore, for you to include in these trade-offs a pre-teen girl who is not his daughter constitutes putting her emotional and even physical health at risk. To be blunt, you should not be sending a girl to the home of a man to whom she is not related unless you are able to be there the entire time. I am not suggesting that he is engaging in inappropriate behavior with or around your daughter; I am, however, more than suggesting that you aren’t using good common sense here.
I don’t know what sort of “drama” this man is capable of creating, but that description alone leads me to think that the emotional climate in his home is or can quickly become very disruptive, even threatening. Given the highly unusual nature of the arrangement you’ve worked out with him, I’m not at all surprised that your daughter is complaining of various aches and pains. Nor am I surprised that doctors can find nothing wrong. The aches and pains in question are most likely psycho-somatic.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that your daughter is inventing her aches and pains, that they’re “all in her mind.” I’m saying that these visits obviously stress her out (in fact, as you indicate, even the anticipation of an “exchange” stresses her out) and it is not all that unusual for stress to manifest in the form of physical ailments of one sort or another. Furthermore, prolonged stress can eventually cause serious physical problems.
I can’t help but think that if you stop including your daughter in these “exchanges” her physical problems will quickly disappear. These days, being a pre-teen girl is not as carefree as it once was. Your daughter doesn’t need this completely unnecessary complication in her life.
A Few Thoughts Over Morning Coffee
A few thoughts over morning coffee…
From the Feedback Department: Certain recent columns of mine have drawn a spike in reader responses, both pro and con. My comments on the fact that young teachers are and have been for quite some time ill-prepared to deal with the realities of classroom discipline prompted a former professor of education to tell me I am “uninformed…disconnected…and laughable.” She went on to say that courses in classroom discipline are part of every education major’s study program, thus missing my point, which is that the courses in question teach methods that don’t work and won’t work until parents begin once again to support the discipline of their most delicate darlings. Serving as counterpoint, a former teacher wrote to tell me that I was right on and that the column in question identified why she left the teaching profession: to wit, after realizing that in matters of classroom discipline, enabling by parents and administrators trumps all. Not all parents and administrators, mind you, but entirely too many.
From the Rosemond’s Response to Feedback Department: It is perhaps time to inform my readers that my primary purpose is not to be “popular” in the sense of being agreed with. Rather, it is to cause people to think critically about what has been called “parenting” for nearly fifty years. Proper child-rearing requires the understanding that one’s primary obligation is NOT to the child, but to neighbor and culture. Specifically, proper child-rearing is an act of love toward one’s neighbor and essential to the ongoing task of strengthening culture. Paradoxically, that “wide-angle” perspective imparts much greater benefit to a child than does the tunnel-vision inherent to the post-1960s child-centered approach.
From the “How’s This for Pithy?” Department: Past their third birthdays, children do not need a lot of attention; they need their parents to pay lots of attention to one another.
From the “Duh!” Department: Children who seek lots of attention are not getting too little; rather, they are getting far too much.
From the “The Good Old Days Were Truly Good” Department: “I feel your pain” has been a popular saying for some time now. Presumably, the speaker is communicating empathy for someone else’s distress. When, however, someone truly feels someone else’s pain, the two people in question are, by definition, in a co-dependent relationship, a relationship in which there is no emotional boundary. When that is the case, one person becomes the enabler and the other becomes the enabled. It is a given that the more someone is enabled, the more helpless he will act and the more enabling he will receive.
Over the past two generations, parent-child co-dependency has become, slowly but surely, the norm. It was not the norm in the 1950s (and before), when teaching children to think properly trumped helping them get in touch with and sort out their feelings, talking to them about their feelings, and letting them express their very destructive (to both self and others) feelings freely. This state of parenting affairs was expressed in such sayings as “You made this bed, so you and only you are going to lie in it,” “I knew if I gave you enough rope you’d hang yourself,” and “You’re going to stew in your own juices about this.” The parents who employed this sort of parenting language were most definitely NOT in co-dependent relationships with their children. They were highly selective when it came to feeling their children’s pain; therefore, they were able to enforce personal responsibility upon their kids, who did not, consequently, require “safe spaces” and other silly and counterproductive accommodations to get through college without breaking down.
Time for another cup of coffee.