You are awful but I like you


‘You are awful but I like you’ was a catch phrase of British comedian Dick Emery

It seems to capture a philosophical position that pervades education whereby no matter how badly behaved a pupil or student is they are to be ‘understood’ with a high dose of liberal empathy and an attempt at getting them to ‘re-frame’ their attitudes is encouraged. 

This of course assumes that the perpetrator is also liberally minded, self aware and socially intelligent and therefore interested in and capable of self reflection about the impact of their behaviour on themselves and others. There are ‘hard cases’ who don’t give a sh@#’. For them the educational setting is irrelevant (Schiller 1912, Grice 1957, Sperber and Wilson 1995, Clark 2013).

This article Sparing the rod…discusses how pupils learn there are no credible sanctions (social or otherwise) to mark the line that has been crossed when the ‘orders of interaction’ (cf Goffman 1959) that can be reasonably expected in a learning context have been transgressed.

The unexpected side effect (cf Anthony Giddens) of this laudable philosophy is an imbalance of responsibility taking. The pupil/student simply abdicates any responsibility for their behaviour. This is exacerbated by a facile grasp of the notion of customer centricity that preaches that pupils and students are customers. 

Let me be clear. Students are both customers and students, not just customers. They are customers of the institution and deserve excellent administrative and facilities service. The moment they are in the class, seminar or lecture they are students engaged in a transformative rite of passage. 

Their guide on this journey is typically a more mature, experienced and qualified person. If as a pupil/student they do not comply with orders of interaction typical of a learning environment they should expect to be rebuked and their misbehaviour treated as just that, rather than an opportunity  for a 1:1 counselling session.

If all the lessons from the commercial world are to be applied to education then dealing emphatically and decisively with inappropriate behaviour in the class room might be high on the list. 

Ask yourself what would happen to the unruly individual (colleague or customer) in a commercial work setting? Oh…so students aren’t customers after all!

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