Monday, November 21, 2011

Talking down to kids

I went to work the other day and there was a sign posted near the faculty offices. On the sign was a photo of smiling faculty members walking single-file down the hall. Under the picture, it said: “I walk quietly down the hallways. I never run, talk on my cell phone, or disturb people who are working in nearby offices.” Above the photo, in big letters, it said, “Hallway Expectations.”

Actually, that never happened. If it did, you can bet that there would be a minor uprising. Not because the “expectations” themselves would offend, but because the sign would be so condescending.

Yet there are signs just like that one throughout my kids’ school. “Restroom Expectations,” one sign says. It then elaborates:
I use a 0 or 1 voice level.

I flush the toilet when I am finished.

I wash my hands with ONE pump of soap and TWO pulls for a paper towel.

I take care of my business quickly!

I report inappropriate activities.
Above each “expectation” there is an instructive photo of one of the school’s students, including one of a second-grade boy flushing the toilet.

Why do people think that kids prefer, or need, to be addressed in such an infantilizing way? What would be wrong with a sign that said simply, “Please flush the toilet,” or “Please keep your voice down in the bathroom?”

I wonder whether those signs serve the needs of the adults who make them more than of the kids who read them. I wonder the same thing about the euphemisms that are so common at the school, such as calling rules “expectations,” and calling obedience “respect.” Maybe the proliferation of rules, the ubiquitous reminders of them, and the obsessive emphasis on behavior make the school staff uncomfortably aware of how much the school is starting to look like an obedience training academy. Much better to pretend that the kids themselves are issuing the rules – with smiles on their faces, no less.
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10 comments:

FedUpMom said...

Chris, you're lucky that you never worked in an office with "motivational" posters on the wall. Also, their really are workplaces with rules like that posted around -- again, you're lucky that your job isn't like that.

Not that any of that makes it OK for the kids!

HomeworkBlues said...

Restroom Expectations. I can think of a hundred jokes already. This would be hilarious if it weren't so sad.

It's a school, folks. Not a prison.

Creepy, actually. Good that you have a sharp eye for all of this. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." Thomas Jefferson

Chris said...

FedUpMom -- Ha, yeah, those "Successories" would drive me crazy. People have some pretty funny ideas about what's "motivational."

Readers -- FedUpMom links to spoof posters here.

Chris said...

HomeworkBlues -- Thanks for commenting! And another thing: what would be wrong with talking in conversational voices in the bathroom? (The sign explains that "Voice level 0 or 1" means "Quiet" or "Whispering.")

Doris said...

Just a comment re: the quotation from Jefferson by Homework Blues on the price of liberty being eternal vigilance. It seems to me that "eternal vigilance" is getting a perverse spin in the expectation that students "report inappropriate activities."

Chris rightly critiques the pretense that "kids themselves are issuing the rules," but what to make of this vague directive to put one another under surveillance and become part of the actual enforcement apparatus? Does "inappropriate" refer (only) to the preceding list of rules? If so, what about the countervailing commonsense wisdom children learn that it's not a good idea to rat out their classmates--at least as long as the "inappropriate" activity at issue is nothing that would put another person in harm's way? Or is "inappropriate" a euphemism for something else that they don't want to spell out--strange men lurking in the stalls, etc.

Chris said...

Doris -- Yes, more on that topic in my next post . . .

northTOmom said...

Chris -- Great post as usual. My own "Signs Signs, Everywhere A Sign" post is still in my drafts file. What I'm wondering is, who makes the decision to post these signs? Are they an official part of the PBIS program? Would there be some way to question or challenge them in, say, a parent council meeting? I would feel quite uncomfortable if my kids attended a school in which such Orwellian directives were plastered everywhere.

There are signs in my kids' middle school, but they're not quite so condescending. I'm going to look more closely at them, though, next time I'm there.

KD said...

I haven't seen the bathroom signs, I'll have to look for them next time I'm at the school.

I did notice some similar signs in the hallway about behavioral expectations that seemed over the top.

The bathroom signs would bug me...especially the part about taking care of my business quickly.

Tchr said...

My school has these signs too. The kids don't read them. The signs are for the visitors we have. The signs are on nice banners. I am sure the school is proud on how much money we spend to let visitors know that our kids know how to behave in the hallways and bathroom.

Chris said...

Tchr -- Thanks for commenting! I cringe when I think of what the money that has gone into PBIS at our school might have bought.