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Teaching Civility

Posted: December 5, 2013 — Dr. Dustin Swanger

As we race into the holiday season this year, I reflect on two seemingly divergent messages we send:  the season of “Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men,” juxtaposed with shoppers’ behavior on Black Friday, or worse, Brown Thursday (formerly known as Thanksgiving).

We talk a lot, particularly at this time of year, about treating people with kindness and respect. The importance of such behavior is emphasized in my favorite holiday story, A Christmas Carol. In this classic Dickens’ tale, Mr. Scrooge learns that treating people with kindness, and giving to others, is the only way that his presence on earth will be remembered after he’s gone. By performing kindness, he is transformed from a miserable old miser to a person who is respected and admired. He even changes the lives of many around him and saves Tiny Tim from his untimely death.  Kindness, particularly at the holidays, seems like the way to go.

Then we witness (or see through broadcasts) the hordes of holiday shoppers at Best Buy, Walmart, Target, and others stores stepping on each other, pushing, fighting, and even firing gun shots over the latest Barbie doll or Xbox because saving 40 percent trumps all the holiday spirit ever known to mankind.

As I have written before, much of our society has lost the use of good manners, or listening to each other, or treating others with respect, or creating a culture of civility. This loss has encouraged colleges and universities, like FM, to think about how we teach our students civility as a part of their college education.

At Fulton-Montgomery Community College we have taken a number of steps to begin to address civility, and I think it is working. A few years ago, we formed a Civility Committee to spearhead our efforts. They developed a Civility Statement for FM that was adopted by our Board of Trustees and now appears with our Vision and Mission Statements as well as on the syllabi of many of our courses. We recently had a year-long discussion about our general education outcomes, and teaching civility is one of the outcomes that surfaced as a real need. Faculty are now considering how to infuse the topic of civility into our curriculum.

 Additionally, FM has hosted a number of events and speakers on the topic of civility. A recent speaker, Robyn King, talked about bullying to a room full of students.  We hosted a noon-time performance including several FM students with the overarching theme of civility. Some of these students performed skits, some sang, and some wrote and read their own poems about civility and treating people with respect.

During our college orientation this summer, there was additional emphasis placed on civility and creating a culture of respect on campus. I’ve noticed that the number of public safety reports this year is significantly lower than previous years. While it is too early to draw a correlation between these activities and the public safety reports, it is encouraging.

We all should take time to talk about civility with our students, our children, our colleagues, and our citizens. I have always believed that if you are clear about your expectations most people will meet them. We should expect to be treated with respect and kindness, but only if we demonstrate those behaviors ourselves.

Dr. Swanger is President of FM

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