It should surprise no one that the latest educational fad making waves across the country is just another repackaged, touchy-feely program designed to bolster self-esteem. This is what we have come to expect from our public schools. Elevating the self-esteem of students has become hallowed − and all too-familiar − ground for public educators.
So, what is it this time? During the coming year, all elementary and middle schools in New York City will adopt a program called “Operation Respect: Don’t Laugh at Me” (DLAM). Founded in September, 2000 by Peter Yarrow of folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, DLAM is a program designed to heighten sensitivity to bullying, disrespect, and ridicule among schoolchildren. Yarrow, who pleaded guilty in 1970 to taking “immoral and improper liberties” with a 14-year-old girl, wants to teach our children how to “make a heart connection” to his music, thereby learning to respect one another. Am I the only one here who sees the irony in this man teaching our children about respect?
New York is not the launch site for this movement − DLAM is already practiced in more than 12,000 schools and camps around the country. But according to Lauren Collins of New Yorker magazine, the Department of Education there has already begun training middle school teachers in their Brooklyn offices. Conflict resolution experts led teachers in exercises, creating a “Caring Being,” or human figure drawn with negative behaviors (“put-downs”) on the outside, and positive behaviors (“put-ups”) on the inside, close to the heart. Teachers participated in sharing activities, ostensibly purging painful memories of times when they too felt disrespected.
Don’t get me wrong. I support a zero tolerance policy toward teasing, bullying, and disrespect in schools. My strategy, however, is to enforce the Golden Rule − “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Yes, schools must keep order, but they must also mete out consequences − punishing misbehavior and disrespect − and following words with action.
DLAM is not in North Carolina yet, but be on the lookout. In the meantime, we still must slog through a similar version of political correctness that has infected schools (and our country) everywhere. Last year, North Carolina’s State Board of Education adopted a policy against harassment, bullying, and discrimination. No problem, except for the fact that there are already both federal and state laws against this kind of thing, as well as multiple local policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment: Mecklenburg County alone has 41 references to policies discussing harassment and discrimination. Clearly, adding more rules is not the answer.
Violence − the height of disrespect from one human being to another − is a persistent and very real problem in many of our schools. Does anyone really think that having students watch a video about a “ridicule-free world” or croon along to Peter, Paul and Mary ballads will fix the pervasive and entrenched disrespect we see among students?
I’d venture to say it’s time for a little tough love: following the sound rules we already have on the books with some serious consequences and enforcement. But let’s not put teachers in the role of camp counselors or therapists. Teachers aren’t in school to soothe egos; they are there to teach students. And schools need to get over the feeling that it’s somehow “wrong” to distinguish between right and wrong. Whatever our problems, one thing is clear: the answer, my friends, isn’t blowin’ in the wind.
Lindalyn Kakadelis writes a regular column for the North Carolina Education Alliance (NCEA). This column was originally posted on the NCEA web site (www.nceducationalliance.org.)