Friday, August 13, 2010

Brief thoughts on civility and college

The video presented in this article from Inside Higher Ed, entitled "Rude Democracy," made me cringe. I hate incivility, especially in politics. Politicians who use rudeness, fear, hysteria, and bullying tactics to advance their agendas are pretty much thugs and should be run out of office. Those who support them should be run out of town too. If you can't behave like a grown adult, then go sit at the kiddie table until you learn some common manners and courtesy. The article makes a good point: civility has to be taught, and college, haven for the marketplace of ideas, is a good place to do it. As Susan Herbst writes, "thinking citizens would rather see real debate and a measure of respect among those who disagree." I would say that a lack of thinking citizens is a serious problem as well, but that may be for another post.

Herbst makes another point: you have to practice civility. Provide opportunities for debate and expression of ideas and model civil behavior as well. A civility code, which many colleges have, should not just be a document in some binder or a handout a student gets during freshman year at orientation. And while we are discussing orientation, and its cousin the first-year experience, we need to have programs and events for more than just the freshmen. It seems that in higher education, campuses lavish all sorts of educational programs on freshmen, and those are good programs, but they seem to forget their upper classmen and especially tend to forget non-traditional and/or transfer students. Teaching things like civility has to include all student and be integrated at all levels. After all, students will often really start campus involvement after the freshman year (once they get some experience and settle in).

In addition, Herbst suggests not overloading student leaders. She writes, "work on civility will need to be done in dormitories (not just in special "learning communities"), libraries, and cafeterias, with the mass of students." Hey, she mentioned libraries. Yes folks, we librarians can and should engage in this labor as well.

The comments posted to the story are worth reading over as well. Some raise good points about communication and giving students a voice. Others just let the anger of the writer show (whatever the reason for the anger). Then again, a lot of the comments (if not most), as in many Internet forums, are anonymous or pseudonymous. This means that a lot of folks go on to disregard civility since they feel free from personal responsibility for their words. Stuff like that is a big reason why I never comment in major forums; I hate trolls and cowards who throw flames in a forum. Discussing that issue could be a whole other discussion. For now, we could look at some of the comments as a teachable moment.

For reference and/or for those interested, here a link to the video in question (goes to YouTube).

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