Respect: The Oil of Civilisation

The more I read from the poles of the pedagogy debate, the clearer it becomes that one of the main issues is fuzziness around what ‘respect’ should mean in the school setting. (See this earlier preliminary post). That’s respect cutting both ways, student-teacher, and teacher-student. If the operating theory of respect is faulty then the consequences are far reaching, because this will inform the philosophical underpinnings of the teacher and the students. In the limit, the teacher becomes tyrannical or the student becomes anarchic. I think that between these poles effective teaching is possible, and the jury is still out in terms of what optimal teaching looks like.

Perhaps we need to think about what we mean by ‘Respect’ generally. I mean, what respect-characteristics do we want in Society at large? This is a very important consideration, because you might expect that the model of Respect we introduce at school would be close to, or identical to, the model of Respect we want to see children implementing once they become adults and operate in the wider world (?). Two aspects come to mind. Firstly, what attitude do we want towards authority figures? And secondly, what attitude do we want towards our fellow humankind.

Authority figures, then. These range from officers of the State (police, magistrates, SoS etc) to family (mum, dad, older sibling). Generally speaking, they are empowered to give us instructions that we should follow. (Teachers?). Let’s be honest, most people don’t like being told what to do. The problem is, society collapses without structure, and authority figures are necessary for structure. If people do their own thing (unrestricted) society tends to fall apart, nothing gets done, dangerous situations arise and people get hurt (and abused). We listen to, act on and ‘appreciate’ these authority figures for the betterment of ourselves and wider Society. We ‘respect’ them. We may question them, but we follow their lead. Is this too much? What are the downsides? It depends on how the authority figures (and the State) behave.

And this brings us to the second aspect: our fellow humankind. By this, I mean how do we want everyone to treat everyone else? What level of Respect do we want to see? What Respect is due to someone as a fellow human being (regardless of sex, race, creed, age, politics)? This is the (balancing) kicker, I think, because it applies to everyone (authority figure to non-authority figure included). To be honest, children are pretty bad at this. They delight in making each other uncomfortable……(is this because they mimic what they see adults doing? Or is it more basic than that?)……..they have to learn to treat others with respect. And adults have to model Respect to the children around about them. This means to everyone: other adults (and children do notice this stuff; they imbibe it by osmosis), and, of course, to children.

All this leads to Expectation. Respect, as outlined above, should be expected from everyone… exceptions. Please note that this model of mutual respect does not lead to dumb (in both senses of the word) acquiescence. Not in adults, nor in children. It leads to appropriate challenge (in tone, content and timing). Of course, we can argue about what is ‘appropriate’, but respectfully…..


One thought on “Respect: The Oil of Civilisation

  1. grahart

    One thing about respect is the fact that its basis does not come from itself but from a commonly-held moral or religious code. This code operates as an external judge on our behaviour and allows us to judge when to disobey a ruler, for example, who fails to live up to these standards and is no longer worthy as a leader to be respected, although as a human s/he still has an inner humanity that is worth something.


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