Compared with when they were students, Americans today believe that
there's a lot less respect in the hallways of the nation's schools.
new Harris Poll out Thursday finds that fewer adults believe teachers
respect parents or students - and that fewer believe parents and
students respect teachers. In other words, just about every relationship
in a school has soured a bit.
In a first-of-its-kind survey,
Harris asked 2,250 adults last fall to compare their memory of "school
dynamics" when they were students with today. The percentage of
respondents who agreed with the statement "students respect teachers"
dropped from 79% to 31%. The findings on student respect for teachers
are nearly identical for adults who are parents of school-age children
and those who aren't.
"We have gone from a time when parents
believed what the teacher said in regards to their child's behavior and
reacted accordingly to the present, where parents stare in disbelief and
think of a million excuses as to why their child misbehaves," says
Marybeth Harrison, a public school speech therapist in Hunterdon County,
N.J. She said teachers are "sadly the first to be blamed," as parents
cite poor classroom management or a lack of patience. "It's time for
parents to start 'parenting' and teach manners, respect, etc. ... at
home. Let teachers teach."
Linda Schulz, Harris' senior vice president for research, says the
survey was "a way to be able to have at least some kind of benchmark" on
how people feel about schools. Harris plans to conduct the survey
Among the biggest drops: respondents' impressions of the
percentage of parents who respect teachers, which has plummeted, in
their minds, from 91% to 49%. Students' respect for teachers also
dropped, from 79% to 31%.
The findings don't surprise Arnold Fege,
president of Public Advocacy for Kids, a Washington, D.C.-based group
focused on education and child advocacy policy. A veteran of many
political battles surrounding schools, he has noticed "a lack of respect
for public education over the years," whether the issue is testing,
teacher evaluations or school choice.
"I think the community
really feels that they've lost control of large parts of the
institutions that are important to their life," Fege says.
education isn't the only arena under the gun - Fege points to recent
polls showing that Americans are losing faith in government's ability to
solve big problems. "I think that's huge," he says. "I think that's
really scary that we've come to a point where we have diminished the
importance of everything from FEMA to the military to the NSA."
Angeles teacher Michael Ulmer says, "I shake students' hands when they
enter the classroom. Seeing as no teacher I had ever did the same, I
would say students have the same or more respect these days. It's all
about expectations and modeling behavior."
Jen Childers, a parent
in Evansville, Ind., says the level of respect in school hasn't
necessarily gotten worse. "I was a sideshow attraction at our school
because I was 6-foot-2-inches in middle school," she says. "I was
constantly teased and ridiculed and teachers and counselors knew it.
They did nothing." Most mornings, she recalls, "I was throwing up in the
car but I made myself go."
Now a professional boxer and boxing
promoter and the mother of an eighth-grader, she says her daughter has
been bullied at school because of her size. When she notified the
school, she says an official said the cases are difficult to prove "and
did nothing. The school principal didn't care and has taken a very soft
approach. It's sad. The saga continues."