As one ages, one must be increasingly vigilant against falling into the foibles of the elderly:  saying to your children those things your parents said to you which you swore you would never say yourself; losing your hair and trying to pretend you have not; thinking your minor bodily ailments are actually interesting to others; or, worst of all, romanticizing the past.

Fear of committing that last error has kept me silent on this subject for some time.  But, as my observations have been confirmed by one fellow faculty member after another from various institutions—some of whom cannot, like myself, be accused of having glutted the history of the world with a superfluous number of birthdays—I have concluded that there has in fact been a drastic shift in our culture which bodes ill for the future.  Sometime just after the turn of the millennium, manners disappeared from the earth.

Manners in general have been under siege for some time.  If a gentleman holds a door for a lady or offers her his seat, he now does not know whether he can expect to be appreciated, ignored, or decapitated as a Chauvinist.  So a certain amount of confusion and loss of confidence at this point is understandable, if not excusable.  But there is another whole area of polite behavior that has not been subject to these baleful influences and in which, on the campus where I teach, at least, civilization had been preserved largely intact–until recently.  I am referring to classroom etiquette.

Have the primary and secondary schools in this country suddenly just thrown up their hands and stopped giving any instruction or having any expectations at all in discipline and decorum?  Let me share with you a list of behaviors that fifteen, ten, even five years ago were almost unheard of in a college classroom, but which have mushroomed into an epidemic in just the last two or three years.

  • Students who are habitually late to class—by five, ten, even fifteen minutes or more.  (When the bell rings, you are responsible to be already in your seat with your pen out, ready to take notes—not just then running up the stairs to begin a five-minute ritual of getting your stuff organized.)
  • Students who wander in and out of class at random.  (Can they not hold their bladders for 50 minutes?)
  • Students who continue their own conversations after the professor has arisen to begin his lecture.   (In the past, an expectant pause of just a few seconds would have caused such students to realize it was time to shut up.  Now, it can take minutes, and the professor may still actually have to request silence so he can begin.  And some of these folks never stop talking.)
  • Students who come to class unprepared.  (I do not refer here just to whether they have read the assignment, but also to the fact that they do not have the textbook with them, much less a notebook or a pen for taking notes.)
  • Students who tenaciously argue over every point deducted from their work.  (The assumption used to be that students started with a zero, and the burden of proof was on them as to why they should be awarded any points, with good work and correct answers being the only acceptable justifications that could be offered.  Today’s students seem to believe that they start with an inalienable right to one hundred points, and the burden of proof is on the professor as to why any points should be deducted.)
  • Students who ask stupid questions.  (Do not misunderstand me.  No honest question about the material is stupid.  I am talking about questions which prove that the student has not bothered to read the syllabus or even listen to what has just been said, or questions which have already been answered in the same way 72 times.)

How rude!

At the risk of stating the obvious (but is anything obvious to people this clueless?), let me point out that each of these lapses in correct classroom deportment betrays a profound lack of respect for the professor and a profound lack of Christian charity for one’s fellow students.

I cannot believe that even today’s eighteen-year olds are hearing these things for the first time.  If they are, if this generation of freshmen is really as uninstructed in basic decency as many of them act, their former teachers and administrators should all be fired for dereliction of duty.  Oh well, since they stopped teaching grammar and spelling two decades ago, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that basic manners should follow the Three R’s into educational oblivion.  Even so, simple common sense ought to have rendered this column unnecessary.  But since it apparently is necessary, well, wake up now, and smell the pigsty.

Hello, people.  Middle School is over.  Grow up—or ship out!

Check out Dr. Williams’ books at Lantern Hollow Press:  Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (2011) and Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (2012).  Order either for $15.00 plus shipping at


About gandalf30598

Theologian, philosopher, poet, and critic; minister of the Gospel who makes his living by teaching medieval and renaissance literature; dual citizen of Narnia and Middle Earth.

Posted on April 30, 2012, in Lantern Hollow Press Authors. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. For the record, I agree with you. Unfortunately, many of their teachers and educators SHOULD be fired for dereliction of duty. They’re mostly (though not all, nor 100% of the) union employees. Some few others rightly fear what would happen to them if they tried to instill order in their classroom. Some teachers get shot at for that kind of thing, unfortunately.

    I think it all started when they took corporal punishment out of classrooms. If you can’t inflict pain and, more importantly, the fear of pain, then how exactly are you to discipline the student who doesn’t care about your opinion of them, won’t stick around for detention, doesn’t pay attention to grades, and couldn’t be embarassed in front of the class if they were stripped naked and forced to dance a jig.

  2. I agree as completely and strongly as possible. But, with an addition. What about the student’s parents in addition to former educators? Where are/were their expectations for good behavior and demand for respect for authority and courtesy? Seems like a lot of people have passed the ball for this on to someone/anyone else and the resulting rudeness is apparent all parts of society.
    But then, maybe it’s just me and my old age and I, too, am romanticizing the past.


  4. My favorite classes have always been the ones where the professors were clearly enjoying themselves and those usually only happened when the students were as a whole well behaved, respectful, and engaged in the material. I don’t think students actually realize how much more fun and interesting classes are if you bother to be attentive and respectful. I know for myself as a grad assistant that the classes that did the best and were the most fun to teach were the ones where the students were mature and well behaved. Really, it’s such a win-win. If you sit in the back and text or sleep or gab to your neighbor, you are not only being rude, but lowering the quality of the whole class. But hey, if that’s the price of being ‘cool’…

  5. Comment heard on the way out of church: Little boy looks up to his father and says, “Wow, Dad, you’re right! It really does go faster if you pay attention.”

  1. Pingback: How NOT to Write: Pay no attention to details! | Lantern Hollow Press

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