In Tucson, the city sends registered voters a packet about ballot initiatives every year. This booklet includes the text of each initiative, a less formally worded explanation, and a collection of pro and con statements from members of the community. Anyone can write one. Often, these citizens’ arguments point out details that the city isn’t discussing. For example, a ballot initiative might say that the city wants to sell bonds to improve the roads, but what the initiative will really do is destroy wildlife habitat to pave a road that will only be used by 12 rich people living on top of the mountain.
However I’ve decided to vote on a particular issue, this guy, Jim Click, a rich local dude who owns a bunch of car dealerships, had ALWAYS published an argument in favor of the other side. So, after a while, instead of trying to wrap my head around some of the more complicated issues, doing hours of research, discussing the hidden intentions of each initiative with the politically savvy…well, sometimes I just look at how Jim Click is going to vote, and then I vote the other way.
Certain people just do not have your best interests in mind.
There’s this phenomenon regarding reviews of children’s literature. The phrase “promotes disrespect for adults” is code for a few things. First, it tells you that the writer believes that children cannot be trusted with anything like agency, that children are naturally wrong about everything and must be forced onto the proper path. They believe education involves telling people WHAT to think, rather than teaching them HOW to think. Second, it tells you that the kids in the book think for themselves, and break rules because they know better than the adults in the story. This charge was leveled at Harry Potter pretty often. Those kids are constantly breaking rules, and there are rarely any real negative consequences to rule breaking. In fact, by breaking rules, the kids prevent absolute tragedies, time and again.
Most good modern books for kids and teens involve young people living by their own rules with little regard to what adults think, even if they love and respect those adults. The point of children’s literature is to help kids grow up, and to grow up, you have to think for yourself. You have to go against authority when you think authority is wrong.
The book drawn in this comic is By the Side of the Road, written by Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist, Jules Feiffer. The story goes something like this: a kid is fooling around in the back seat of the car, and his dad flips out and tells him if he doesn’t get it together, he can just get out and wait by the side of the road. So the kid opts to get out and wait by the side of the road. And the side of the road is a blast. He has a better time by the side of the road than he ever does with his family. And when his dad comes back for him, he decides to stay by the side of the road. Permanently. And he does just fine. He leads a great life, by the side of the road, without his dad’s rage hanging over his head all the time.
I wanted to reread it, but they didn’t have it in my library system, so I’m waiting for the ILL, and while I was looking for a couple details to fill out the ILL request, I came across the 1 and 2 star Amazon reviews that used that phrase: “This book promotes disrespect for adults.”
This book is amazing. It’s hilarious. It’s smart. It’s a 5 star kids book. I’ve read it to many kids, and they all loved it. No child has ever read it and then ditched their family to live by the side of the road. Only starched shirt nut jobs read this book and think, “I can’t read this to a child. That child might get ideas.” Kids get the joke. Kids get that it’s the adult in this story who is being disrespectful to the child. The story returns power to children by allowing the kid to overcome unfairness.
But some people don’t seem to believe that children deserve respect.
Let me tell you something else about respect, and children.
You can’t get respect by demanding respect. You earn respect, by being fair and by treating people like human beings. If you make ridiculous rules and treat kids like livestock, you might teach them to fear you, or loathe you, but you won’t get their respect.
So, I’m actually pretty serious about this, because I deliberately read 1 star reviews of things all the time, and when it comes to books, the phrase “promotes disrespect for adults” is ALWAYS hung on the very best books, the ones that children love the most. So, if you want to earn the respect of a child, if you want to give them a book that they will enjoy reading, if you want to promote critical thinking skills in the young, it’s a tremendously useful metric.
Personally, I have never once tried to force a child respect me, and I have worked with literally thousands of kids in my life. And pretty much all of them treated me with respect.
I do love your approach to respect–running in both directions. I couldn’t help thinking of a time when I was a long-term sub at Jemez Pueblo BIA school. I decided to have my 5th graders call me by my first name. Other teachers were VERY worried about disrespect. I held my position that the title Ms. does not confer respect, that it was about relationship. Sure enough, no problems in the respect department. I also like your metrics.
Yes, it’s strange to me what certain people think denotes respect. You can use honorifics disrespectfully, and you can be familiarly respectful. You can attend church regularly, disrespectfully, and hang out in a meadow or all the mall with respect. Relationships are about compassion, communication, not imposed structures.
Oh man. That book sounds awesome.
I have it here now 🙂