Member Emeritus 1946-2018
Discipline and Decorum (Before Political Correctness)Moving to a new neighborhood and into a new school can, sometimes, leave a psychological scar or two on a child. Of course, change is even difficult for adults, but at least they have their familiar vocations to return to after the last piece of furniture is unloaded into the new dwelling and the last box is unpacked.
This essay begins when my family moved out of Memphis into a suburb known as Whitehaven in January of 1957. I was ten-years-old and in the fifth grade. My new teacher, Mrs. Wilson, seemed to be genuinely pleased to meet me the first morning I attended class, but the majority of the kids in the classroom snickered when I was introduced and some of them cocked their heads to the side and gawked at me as if I was some kind of oddball. Mrs. Wilson appeared to be embarrassed by their behavior and she gently placed her hand on my shoulder and said: “Come, Harry, and I’ll help you find a real nice desk close to John Luther, the kindest and most mannerly young man in our class.”
Mrs. Wilson spoke to a suntanned boy who wore faded blue jeans and a flannel shirt and a pleasant smile: “John, will you please see to it that Harry is made to feel welcome?”
John’s eyes gleamed and seemed to be smiling at me as much as his grin was. “Yes ma’am, I certainly will and I’ll be his friend, and he can sit next to me at lunch time in the cafeteria and I’ll be sure to play with him during recess.”
I sat down in the desk behind John and whispered to him: “Thanks John; I feel as if I really need a friend right now.”
During the course of the day I noticed that a goodly number of the kids in Mrs. Wilson’s class were clannish; that is, they had their own special little group on the playground and in the cafeteria; and would not freely associate with newcomers like the kids at Rozelle Elementary School in Memphis did.
John quietly commented to me as we were leaving for the day: “Some of these kids think they are better than other people, but I’ve gotten used to them and you will too. Just don’t let it get you down.”
Had it not been for John and Mrs. Wilson, I would have been the most miserable boy in my community. I look back and am grateful to God for the kindness that one lone boy and my dear school teacher extended to me on that particular day, and for the remainder of the year that I spent in the 5[SUP]th[/SUP] grade class.
“Kindness is the evidence of greatness”
Charles Fenno Hoffman (1806-1884)The last day of school finally rolled around and the classroom buzzed with excited voices. After the commencement bell rang and Mrs. Wilson called the roll, she was called to the office over the intercom. She appointed a girl named Jean to be the class monitor while she was gone.
A boy named Billy Lantert (fictitious name), who had any eye for Jean, stood up and began strutting around the classroom like a Bantam rooster. He started taunting some of the quiet, shy children and embarrassing them with his hateful remarks. When he came near my side of the room I said: Billy, why don’t you leave those kids alone…especially the girls?”
He turned and snarled: “Aw, shut up you greaser! I haven’t liked you since the first day you walked into this classroom” The majority of the kids in the class began roaring with laughter. John wasn’t laughing, and neither was a precious and demure young lady named Margaret.
Billy continued his tirade on me: “You are one of the trashy people who live across the tracks where the men and boys still grease their hair down and try to slick it back like Elvis! And, another thing I don’t like about you is that you wear the same stupid pair of shoes to school every day. Don’t you have any other shoes except for those hideous black high-topped Keds?”
I felt my eyes brimming with hot, salty tears…and I struggled to keep them from streaming down my cheeks. “Yes, I do have another pair of shoes, but they are my dress-up shoes that I wear to Church on Sundays, or when I get dressed up to go somewhere fancy.”
The class was in a virtual uproar as Billy continued on his roll of insulting remarks. “Where do you ever go that’s so fancy, greaser?”
At that instant, the teacher reappeared and clapped her hands furiously to call the class to order, and immediately there was silence in the room. Mrs. Wilson's chest was heaving from her excited breathing and her face was flushed red. She called the class monitor to her desk and inquired as to what in the world was going on.
Jean lied: “Well, Harry began saying mean things to some of the other kids and he made fun of the shoes that Billy is wearing, and this is why the class members were hollering and laughing.”
The teacher shook her head from side to side. "I don't believe a word you just said. Go sit down, Jean." Next, Mrs. Wilson called John to her desk and the two of them talked in hushed tones for a moment. Then, John returned to his desk and sat down.
“I have never, in all my twenty-six years of teaching, seen a class quite like this one. Many of you are rude, insolent, disrespectful, and seem to have an air of superiority about you that I have never seen in school children your age.!” After she spoke these words the room was as silent as a tomb in a deserted cemetery.
The teacher turned to Billy and said: “And you, Billy Lantert, where in the world do you get the idea that you and some of your snooty friends are so much better than some of the other children in our class?” She didn’t even give him time to reply before continuing: “I’m not going to send you to the Principal’s office to be paddled this morning, since it is the last day of school; but I am going to write a letter to your parents about your atrocious behavior towards Harry and the other children you were tormenting when I walked back into the classroom!”
Billy looked down at the floor and nervously shuffled his feet. Mrs. Wilson continued: “Let me tell you something, young man; you are never going to amount to anything worthwhile unless you change that haughty attitude of yours. Do you understand me?”
“Yes ma’am”, Billy said as his lower lip began to quiver.
“Then sit yourself down! I don’t want to hear so much as another peep out of you for the rest of the day!”
When the dismissal bell rang, Mrs. Wilson made her way to the doorway and spoke to each child as they departed. When it came my turn to cross the threshold, Mrs. Wilson told me how much she had enjoyed having me in her class this year. Then she leaned down and smiled and said softly: “I hope next year that I’ll have a class full of nice students like you, and John, and little Margaret.”
***********How I yearn for the days when a school teacher wasn’t afraid to speak out against unruly conduct; and had no qualms about sending a disrespectful and disruptive student to the office for a good old fashioned lesson from the “board of education”.
But, alas, with the advent of Bill Clinton’s political correctness movement and the vast numbers of sheep who blindly follow its tenets, our grandchildren will never be able to experience true discipline and decorum in the classrooms of public schools like many of us were fortunate to spend our formative school years in.
How about it, folks? Anybody have a thought about how the advent of political correctness has, in many cases, replaced common sense and has virtually dismantled the customs of decency, decorum, manners, and respect for others that were the norm in our lives a generation ago?
Comments and observations need not be limited to schools and classrooms. How has the lunacy of political correctness degraded what goes on in the halls of our government, in the city parks where families spend time together, in penal institutions, or in any other facets of our lives?