Sunday, October 11, 2015

Lord Douglas

You’re no good, you never were any good and you never will be any good.” That was one of my Dad’s favorite things to say to me, defying every proper procedure in today’s education and parenting paradigm. The new wisdom is that we must celebrate the child, adore the child, cultivate the child’s positive self-image. And I’m mostly on that bandwagon myself.
But only up to a point. The child may come to us “trailing clouds of glory” and remind us of our own spiritual promise long ago set aside, but the child can also be a royal pain in the butt and need some stern reminders about how to be a functioning member of human society. So everything in moderation—praise what is worthy of praise and hold the child accountable for what is less than praiseworthy. Me, I’m heavy on the praise side these days.
Yet something rankles me when I hear the next psychological counsel from above that we must never be sarcastic with our students or raise our voice or forget to use the current politically correct terms. I remember commenting in a meeting that you can just about say anything you want to kids, as long as they know that love and affection is ultimately behind what you say. (See my “Keep It Real” blog). And now I know why.
I often talk about the 55/38/7 rule as researched by a psychologist— that in any conversation more complex than simply giving directions, only 7% of what we communicate comes from the actual words we choose. 38% is communicated by our tone of voice and 55% by our body language and facial expressions. Any actor, dancer or musician knows that, but in an education world reduced to words and mind only (not accounting for body and heart), people place too much weight on the choice of words and too little on the delivery and actual feeling behind it. When my Dad repeated his mantra to me, there was always a touch of a smile behind it and though he was light with praise in general, at the end of the matter he admired and respected and loved me.
So today I heard one of the most extreme examples of wrong-headed thinking, one that made my jaw drop with a “Really?” ten sizes larger than any I had ever uttered. And to quote various comedians, “I am not making this up.” Buckle your seat belt here.
A fellow teacher who works with elementary school told me that one of her students is named “Yourhighness.” That’s not a nickname, mind you, it’s on his birth certificate and both his parents and he himself insist that everyone call him by that full name. The clinker is that his parents have no involvement in the school and according to the kid himself, don’t care that much about him. Seems they felt that just giving him the name would confer all the self esteem a human being could want and offer foolproof unconditional love and adoration. It absolved the parents of actually raising the kid with love and absolved the kid of actually doing anything to earn his royal status. (I’m thinking of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, King Oliver, Prez—these guys earned their names!)
Once when my daughter’s college friends met me, they addressed me as Mr. Goodkin and I just had to smile. I told them that no one my whole life has ever called me Mr. Goodkin except my travel agent and eventually he stopped. “But,” I went on, “if you feel uncomfortable calling me Doug, you can address me as Lord Douglas.”
And they did. For the rest of the visit. I have to admit that I enjoyed it, but there was a 55% and 38% tone behind it that made it clear this was a fun game and that’s all. But a 7-year old kid named “Yourhighness”? I’m trying to imagine the parent conference:
“Yourhighness is not playing well with others.”
Maybe when he grows up, he’ll name his kid “Heyyou” and the balance of the universe will be restored.

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