spring valley high

“What do you think I want, respect or compliance?”

This was the question I posed my class this week, after I asked them to define the terms. For compliance they yelled out things like “following orders” and “obedience.” They defined “respect” as “valuing the thoughts of others” “being loyal,” and so on.

I asked them to define respect versus compliance for a few reasons. Last Friday, my class of mostly white college sophomores, juniors, and seniors was feeling particularly antsy. For many, my 11 o’clock class is their last one before their weekend begins and by the time I see them they are “ret to go.” But Last Friday took the cake. There were so many cellphones, so much scrolling through Facebook and Instagram. Here I am trying to engage them in a conversation about Toni Morrison and they are liking pictures and commenting on posts. This was very frustrating.

My general policy is to note who is using social media and file it away for future reference. This will simply affect their participation grade and I keep it pushing. If they are persistent, I pull them aside and ask what’s up. Ultimately, my students are grown and make choices. My pedagogical style does not emphasize shaming or policing.

But Friday felt different. I felt different. The magnitude of the disrespect welled up within me. When they started shuffling their books and bags at 11:45—5 minutes before class ends—I was too through.

“Class is not over until 11:50! Please stop putting your stuff away.”

Most of them stopped shuffling, but many just sat there looking at me blankly or sullenly for 5 minutes while I wrapped up a meager discussion with a handful of engaged students.

So, I had already planned to talk to my students when I returned to class the next week. This is a classroom community and we need to respect one another. They need to respect me. They need to respect themselves. We’ve made agreements about what we’ve come together to accomplish this semester and I’m going to hold us to that.

And then the attack on the young sister at Spring Valley High happened. When I heard that she was accused of being “disruptive” (alternately chewing gum or using a cell phone), I thought about my own students and what I want/wanted from them. And I thought about what is/was expected from the young woman who was violated and her peers.

So when I spoke to my class this week I asked them what they think I expected of them. They said respect—unanimously. I said I want us to cultivate a place where we’re excited about learning and where we could all be seen and heard. They affirmed this shared goal. A few apologized. We talked about how we could move forward and had a pretty solid discussion. We even talked about Spring Valley and the work of viral videos in our society. No one got manhandled, beaten, or shamed. I called out inappropriate behavior, we had a civil discussion about it, and we kept it moving. We reestablished mutual respect.

Building community is an ongoing project and will happen over the course of the semester. And while I don’t teach high school, the reality is that I am working with young people who are constantly testing boundaries and learning to navigate their lives as adults. I’m sure I’ll see someone else scrolling through Facebook again, but I ain’t worried.

My job is to teach, not to break spirits.

But I am worried that what we want from Black children, and from the Black child in the now infamous video, is not respect, but compliance in the form of unyielding, unquestioning obedience. There is no room for questions, pushing back, mistakes, or bad days.

And, to that end, I have been alarmed, saddened, and driven to paroxysms of rage at all the “But if she had just followed the rules…” particularly coming from Black folk.

Clearly, following rules is what she needed. She should not be surprised at the violence she received because she incited it with her insolence.

By that inane logic, I should have body slammed a good chunk of my class the other day. By that ridiculous misogynoirist logic, teachers from K-12 through college (and even in some grad school classes), should resort to violence if students are not obedient. (Do you know how often my college students come to class with no book or haven’t read? I’d be fighting all day). By that raggedy ass, bootleg logic, half of us would be both bruised and unemployed after we were violently ejected from staff meetings for looking our phones. (Because that meeting should’ve been an email and you might as well check your Black People Meet account, right?)

See how that doesn’t make sense?

Let me find out that we’re all just a bunch of law-abiding citizens who were never “sassy,” no, not once! We never act “inappropriately” and are 100% respectable always. Let me find out that we’re all prepared to receive the wrath of authorities if we step out of line. Please send me your full government name and your mailing address so that when a police officer or a vigilante decides that you’re too much of a uppity negro for your own good I won’t go to any vigils or remember your name. Because clearly you deserved it. You asked for it.

See how that doesn’t make sense?

But this logic makes perfect sense if our goal is compliance rather than mutual respect.

The truth is that many of us experienced some masochistic thrills in watching this child get body slammed at school. Our mouths watered at the soul murder on display. We saw a “mouthy” child get cut down to size. (I doubt this reading will change much even as reports that the child has specials needs start to roll in). We agree that “kids these days” are so damn rude and that more of them just need a good ass whooping. The self-loathing and internalized hatred has gleefully bubbled up and spilled over onto keyboard keys where thumb thugs could intone the most violent rhetoric, acting as if this young woman was the bully/partner/parent that haunts our own nightmares. But, quiet as it’s kept, we are the quiet young girl in that desk. Former officer Ben Fields—aka Officer Slam—would as soon body slam you, me, my mama, and that Black girl he’s been supposedly dating for a year. Scapegoat this young sister if you want to. That doesn’t change a thing.

It’s also not lost on me that there seems to be less sympathy for this sister in our community than for Black men who have accused of acting out. She’s disobedient and disrespectful, but we would not say that, for example, Tamir Rice “should’ve known better than to be outside with something that looked like a gun.” No. Because why would we? That baby did not deserve to me mowed down in the street and this young person in South Carolina who has just lost her parents and is in the foster care system doesn’t deserve to be body slammed for not following instructions.

And, from one educator to another, that raggedy teacher needs to reevaluate his teaching philosophy if he has to call the SRO police and the principal because a student whips out a cellphone. He needs a new profession and to get a life.

So let me ask again, do we want respect or compliance?

Choose wisely or we will never get free.

13 thoughts on “R-E-S-P-E-C-T

  1. Several decades ago on the main street facing Ohio State University there was a graffito reading, “Sit still, Be Quiet, Get a Job, Die” It encompassed what certain parts of society expect from its youth.

  2. The Ego running wild. This need to control others and “how dare you not do what I say” attitude is ridiculous. Respect is earned and not forced. I am tired of hearing that kids need to be whipped and that lack of it is what makes them behave poorly. Thank you for being a real educator.

  3. I’m going to respectfully disagree with the characterization of the teacher. We know virtually nothing about him/her, nor is there a complete record of what transpired prior to the police action. Kids never should be whipped or assaulted or injured by anyone, period and what happened in that classroom was just a mess.

    I don’t think it’s ok for students to have their phones out during class and I have collected them at the beginning of the period and given them back at the end when requests for putting them away have gone unanswered, and I’m fairly certain that doesn’t make me a Neanderthal.

    But here’s the thing- someone’s in charge and like it or not, you as a student have to listen to them. Sure, it sucks and maybe you’d rather do a million different things, but if they’re an engaged educator, they might just have something to offer and maybe they’ll have an opportunity to hear you, too.

  4. You apparantly misunderstand the role of an SRO officer, they aren’t counselors, they are police officers. Don’t request a police officer if you want a counselor. Police officers subdue any non-compliant person regardless of race, gender, age.( It’s an equal opportunity thing). They make a request which is expected to be followed. When it’s met with resistance, it’s a physics, thing…. they apply equal or greater force to complete the objective.
    You see, you can’t have it both ways, when that bast $@$@! is prone over your naked body, forcing his/her hand over your mouth, and the other..we’ll you get the idea, the officer on scene isn’t going to counsel that creep, he or she will give a simple directive and if there’s not compliance, they, (the perp) will receive a physics lesson so to save your life, your dignity, and restore the semblance of security you might have left.

  5. this stems from an entitled society we have come to know and love…kids have no respect period…back in the day, nuns used to run the daily lives of children…kids would act out and have their knuckles bashed with a yard stick…and you know what, alot of those kids turned out fine and actually have decent lives and wait for it, respect authority…you see it daily on youtube or world star, blatant disrespect to any figure, especially if they are white figures of authority…if my daughter were to have been that child, and was asked/told to stop disrupting class and keeping on using her cellphone, and then a police officer had to be called in to stop this, if she got handled the way that kid did, then i would have shaken the officers hand and then my daughter would have had to deal with me. babies having babies is the issue with society now. when the babies have not been taught about respecting elders and people of authority and they deem themselves worthy of being respected first, that is the problem. you didnt flip out on your students because you said yourself that they did stop what they were doing, so they were staring at you blank-faced, but you know what, they listened to you when you said cut the shit…i honestly blame YOU and others that are teaching our youth, especially in the college level

  6. We must have seen two different videos. No disrespect intended, but I saw a situation where, as the situation played out, and what happened BEFORE the video was explained, this young lady was asked not once, twice, but three or MORE times to put her phone away and/or leave the classroom. I could see, as you’re saying, a bad day when her teacher asked her to put it away, maybe snapping a nasty comment or making a remark in poor taste. That’s within reason, if extremely disrespectful of her teacher.

    What I CAN’T and refuse to understand, is that she refused both the teacher, an administrator, AND a police officer. That goes from the realm of poor judgement straight up into the very realm of the inane like you’re suggesting. At what point should we expect young children, black, white, or otherwise, to follow the rules we set for them in a place of learning? Add to that, this was no child. At 17 years of age, you are grown enough to have a driver’s license. A certain amount, at the very least, of civil obedience and respect for at least the school’s authority, if not the police, is called for, if only for the sake of actually learning something.

    As far as the event itself goes, did the officer in question go overboard? Entirely possible. It looks a lot worse than it probably is, I can’t see any way you can physically remove someone from a chair who doesn’t WANT to be removed, that will look in ANY way ‘good’. It’s absolutely within the realm of reason that he went too far. But I have to say, let’s look to the girl herself for the reasons this was escalated to that point.

    Really, beyond calling for administration, what options does the teacher have? No cell phones is often a rule. That’s not some wishy-washy light ‘Oh, it’s okay, just let them spend all class on their phone while we teach’ rule. It’s a RULE. She chose to break it, then chose not to comply with the consequences for that rule when told to give up her phone.

    Yes, respect is earned, not forced. However… I have to ask, if this is the disrespect given to simple school administration, what respect to you expect her to give later in day to day life if/when she breaks a law, or is told how to handle things like taxes, or other paperwork, or just about any adult task?

    And yes, I’ll freely and openly admit: I’m white, and have never worked in teaching, aside from some adult education and some child tutoring in the information technology section. But I know simply that had I EVER even considered what this child did, not only would I not be sitting for a week for the disrespect I showed my adults and teachers (and deservedly so, now that I have the adult viewpoint to understand why), but my parents likely would have ASKED them to lock me up for an hour or two so I could learn that my actions have consequences, both to me and others.

    It’s one thing to act out, when there’s an actual crime done you. It’s another when you’re willfully disobeying the rules, and denying the reasonable, rightful consequences of those actions.

  7. Teach kids who are not just on their phone but who will slam your door when they come into class 20 minutes late daily – and then sit in the back of the room and listen to music so loud you can lyrics coming out of their their headphones 30 feet away. Who will verbally assault other students in hallways.

    Then sit with them one on one and teach them to read, to do math – even though they will curse you out when you push them to try, to overcome the cop-out of “I know this already” when they don’t. To overcome a world run by facebook status and the ignorance of reality television and fame from being so oppositional defiance that it destroys the sense of purpose that comes from creating and not destroying.

    But then have the strength to be a real educator and do something to support the other 95% of student’s who overcome daily hunger and dangerous streets to be in a class that is free from that disruption. The students who spend 100 hours to repair the damage caused by 1 hour of mischief or disruption. The students who build up their community and see it get destroyed, mocked, or violated.

    Use positive supports, encouragement, fully burden yourself with all of your students’ success but hold them accountable for their actions. Free them from the rampant expectation of being able to do whatever they want without ramifications – free from the perpetuated myth of fame from viral videos on facebook and fortune from the lottery ticket of lawsuits. Pack up “taking points off” for being on a cell phone and getting upset that people are packing up on a Friday when your lesson is boring enough that they want to leave it early and enter a classroom where every day is a struggle to engage at the highest levels.

    Maybe the teacher is “raggedy” because he has to listen to this even though his colleges go into work each day and are raggedy because they work for 100% of kids and despite that unimaginable burden, the systems in place have taken all the blood that can be given and all that’s left is bone. Maybe then your work will use a critical approach to improving a structurally violent aspect of US society, or would provide a single new option to improve it. Or maybe it would have the decency to leave out a sentence of hubris against a person representative of thousands who actively take on one of the greatest challenges with the fewest supports and most public criticism, and still go in day after day – worrying about the 95% who are there to learn while fighting to overcome the nonsense of disrespect.

  8. Kim, Dr. Stansberry, you are an example of what master teacher, intelligence, and humanity looks like when it is intertwined with, and resides within the body, spirit and soul of a loving human being Spirit-the spirit of love. I love you for your Being.

  9. They’ll get their epiphany by the time they’re 30 & deep in a lifetime of debt from student loans stuck in a cube farm doing meaningless work somewhere in corporate. Your money or your life.

  10. You have articulated so well, what I have been thinking about this. Young people are trying their best and sometimes, like adults, they fail. A teacher has to have the wisdom to not allow their ego to take over and engage in a battle of wills. You can never force another human to do what you want, you can only control yourself. Great article. Thanks!

  11. No, she was asked many times to comply, and she did not. With your class, you let it slide and then spoke to them and all together established rules. A big difference. I have never seen a generation of children that are more disrespectful to those in authority over them. If you acted that way at work, you’d be fired. When in school, and you are asked to stop doing something, stop doing it. Duh. It’s called respect for those around. Stop being disruptive. There are consequences.

  12. Point well taken. I struggle with the respect vs. compliance question in my classroom. On the one hand, students are adults who can make their own decisions about their time. If they don’t read for my class, I assume it’s because they have a good reason — jobs, families, exams, illness, lives. On the other hand, I consider it disrespectful to me and to their peers when they answer questions for which they do not have any evidence. (I teach colonial Latin American literature.) There are issues that require an emotional maturity and thoughtful engagement with the material that they cannot b.s. their way through.

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