Teaching civility an essential part of higher education

Scott Barnes

Staff Writer

There is no doubt that going to college is a life changing experience for students. The purpose of higher education is to provide students with the opportunity to hone the skills that they inherently possess in order for them to eventually pursue a career in whatever field they choose. College also provides people with an opportunity to learn more about the world in which they live in.

Textbooks, lectures, quizzes, and tests are all aspects of college that most students expect to deal with, and these things are necessary components of learning. College also offers other lessons that perhaps a lot of students aren’t aware of when they initially enroll. In addition to the long hours of studying and meeting assignment deadlines, for many students, college is their first experience of life in the real world.

The less obvious lessons learned throughout college tend to pertain to things such as ethics, respect for others, and learning good manners. Fundamentally, teaching students how to interact with the society in which they live. This element of education is not something that Parkland College is oblivious to. In fact, the college is very aware of the importance of civility as part of a well-rounded education, and the faculty members employed here at Parkland are very proactive when it comes to personal development.

Parkland College does think that it is a responsibility of this public institution to educate students about civility. The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (C.E.T.L.) is a perfect example of the effort that Parkland College puts forth when it comes to creating a civil environment here on campus. According to Parkland’s website, one of the aims of C.E.T.L. is to aid faculty members in developing the ability to promote and integrate civility.

Utilizing the center’s resources, Dean of Students, Marietta Turner, helped put together a workshop that teaches new faculty members the skills required in dealing with disciplining students and maintaining a civil environment in their classrooms. The classroom setting brings together people from all walks of life, and students are inevitably going to disagree with one another. When these disagreements arise students are still expected to treat each other with respect. Turner hopes that the workshop will help new faculty members learn how to deal with disrespectful students.

“It’s about helping students understand that it’s okay, in an intellectual discussion, if you attack the topic or the person’s perspective, but not the person.” Turner explained. “There is a way to have good robust intellectual academic discourse. That’s part of what we try to help the faculty understand. They have to help set the stage and give the students guidelines for good discussion.”

Most of the faculty here at Parkland agree that teaching students to be well mannered and polite is part of their job. Professor Brian Cafarelli has been teaching for twenty years. He admits that he has had to deal with some rude students throughout his career, but not very many that have taken it to the level of violence or physical disruptiveness. He explained that most of the rudeness he has had to deal with mostly involves electronic devices. Cafarelli understands that his job is to teach more than what is laid out in the course syllabus.

“It’s my job to make you competent in whatever it is you want to do.” Cafarelli said. “A lot of those life skills and inner disciplines like manners, tradition, and expectation are new to students.”

Instructors being responsible for teaching good manners, or other soft skills that are required in a civil society, is a standpoint that most students disagree with. Although students expect that they are to conduct themselves in a courteous manner, most think that those skills should be learned elsewhere.

Dual enrollment student here at Parkland, Hanna Smothers, shares that point of view. She does think that there are a lot of ill-mannered students here on campus but she doesn’t think teaching civility is something that faculty members should be held responsible for.

“I feel like that is something that you should learn at home,” Smothers said. “But it definitely should be re-enforced when you come here.”

Perhaps it isn’t the responsibility of faculty members to babysit students. What is clear is that, in order to maintain a healthy learning environment, students must be civil. Whether that means holding the door for somebody, saying hello to classmates, putting away your cell phone while in the classroom, or simply smiling at strangers as you pass them in the hallway. All of these things add up to help create a positive environment that everybody wants to be a part of, and that can go a long way in helping students enjoy the days that they spend here on campus.

October is Civility Awareness month here at Parkland. If you are a student interested in being active, and creating a civil environment here on campus, there will be many events taking place in the next few weeks. You can find out more about these events at www.parkland.edu/civility