Respect in the Real World: A Case Study

   
In my last two posts to this blog, I made the argument that we need to replace what I see as a Paradigm of “Control” in our schools with one of “Respect.”

The title of this cartoon by Colby Jones is “Tolerance?”

“Fear and loathing cannot coexist with respect, ” I wrote.  “I mean mutual respect–that is, everyone in the system respects and genuinely honors the contributions that all parties bring to the table.  But I also, specifically, mean much greater respect for students and their families, and also for teachers.

But it’s one thing to ask for respect, or discuss it in the abstract.

It can be quite another in practice, especially when you are being asked to respect someone from another culture who is doing, saying, or wearing something you don’t understand.

I received an example of this via email, just yesterday. It came from a person who often sends me emails that might generously be described as “culturally insensitive.”  This one very rudely mocked the young, African-American subjects of several prom photos.

When I spoke with the sender, the reply was essentially, “Oh, come on. Those outfits are clearly not in good taste!”  Perhaps not, if you are looking at them through the “cultural lens” of a conservative, white, middle-class sense of propriety.

But that’s not the way the kids looked at them.  I know this, because, I have known many young people from a similar cultural background.  They have very little connection with a conservative, white, middle-class sense of propriety–but they are very creative.

So here’s a small challenge for you.  Suspend your preconceptions for a moment, and join me on a short photo tour.

All I ask is that you look at these beautiful young people, arrayed in their best finery, participating in a “milestone” event they’ll remember all their lives.  Just to keep you alert, I’ve included a few photos from a couple of other events that have been in the news lately.

Young women in extreme dresses

I think it is likely only one of these young women is wearing a dress she did not design herself (that includes Victoria Beckham in the upper left corner).  

Young men in unusual outfits
All of these outfits include interesting or extraordinary accessories, but I couldn’t find a single young prom-goer wearing spurs or carrying a sword.
Young ladies wearing creative hair styles
I’m guessing the young prom-goer at left could have a future as a hairdresser for Fashion Week.  What do you think?
You still may not like some of these fashion statements.  But I hope I’ve made my point that “weird” or “bizarre” is in the eyes of the beholder.  I hope you’ll also agree that the young prom-goers truly didn’t deserve to have their personal photos and homemade finery turned into the laughingstock of the Internet.
Educators must never forget respect.  Especially when we are relating to young people who are at an extremely vulnerable moment in their emotional lives, I think it is of absolute importance to ask, “where are they ‘coming from’?”  “What is their goal?”  It truly isn’t always to “get to us” (surprise: it’s not all about us!).  Sometimes it is simply to look their own personal version of fabulous.

PHOTO CREDITS: This post presented more than the ordinary challenges, when I tried to figure out how to attribute the prom photos.  I used the TinEye site to do a reverse search for them, but encountered a long list of joke sites.  Many of these photos have indeed been made the laughingstock of the Internet, on blog after blog.  I have no intention of boosting the circulation of any of them by adding a link here.
I do, however, want to thank Colby Jones for his cartoon, “Tolerance?” which I found on his SirColby website.  
The British Royal Wedding photos are from The Daily Beast. They include the work of photographers Pascal Le Segretain and Odd Anderson, AFP for the Young Women in Extreme Dresses collection, and Peter Macdiarmid and Ben Stansall, AFP for the Young Men in Unusual Outfits collection.  All are associated with Getty Images.  
Setting aside the girl with the “helicopter hair,” whose joke-site source shall remain in nameless shame, the three middle photos in the Young Ladies Wearing Creative Hair Styles collection are from Fashion Week, January 14, 2011, courtesy of the Onjer Hairstyle site (photographers not credited); the Crimped Hair Hat on the right end is the design of John Galliano, from the Christian Dior Show of Paris Fashion Week, Sept. 29, 2008, courtesy of The Frisky (AP photographer not credited).

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

2 thoughts on “Respect in the Real World: A Case Study”

  1. I think they're all idiots. I'm an equal-opportunity Misanthrope.

    NOTE: I deleted my previous (nearly identical) comment because there's no "edit option; I misspelled "Misanthrope"; and I didn't care to give some sub-genius the opportunity to declare me a(n) (insert perjorative relating to my alleged political/religious/racial beliefs here) because of it.

  2. Sorry about the lack of an "Edit" option, once you had posted your comment–this is not the first complaint I've received about the Blogger interface. Please note that there is one on the "Preview" function.

    I also apologize that I didn't see your comment until now!

    I regret that you do not seem to be too much in harmony with my message of respect, but you do provide an excellent illustration for the perceptive. Thank you for leaving a comment.

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