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THE TEACHER'S USE OF SCORN, RIDICULE, AND CONTEMPT
IN THE CLASSROOM

CartoonBea Arthur

Scorn, ridicule, and contempt are powerful social controls. Does the teacher have a right to use them? Before answering this question, let's take a look at what scorn, ridicule, and contempt are and what they do.

It is noteworthy that we human beings take offense even when the offender is not justified. It is built into us to feel bad when anyone - anyone whatsoever - is rude or rejecting. A teacher who is rude and rejecting is going to make the victim feel bad.

The reason for this virtually automatic reaction? Answer: there is no standard in Nature for discriminating between justified scorn and unjustified scorn. As far as Nature is concerned, there is no good and bad; there is only "the way things are." Nature is organized in a food chain, with progressively stronger or smarter creatures devouring weaker or less intelligent ones. The survival of the fittest is a fundamental feature of all creatures in Nature. Nature doesn't care whether we are good or bad, kind or hurtful. It is unthinking, uncaring, and unloving.

Aside from verified insight and reason, there is nothing in Nature or the mind that leads a person to correct conclusions. When someone is rude to us or rejecting, the mind does not come up with a judgment about the offender - we feel bad regardless.

Similarly, when it comes to a personal philosophy, we are at sea. This fact makes it easy for a person to be prey to any kind of religion or philosophy and explains why there is no one religion that, because of its being correct, has become ascendent. Only verified insight and reason point to correct conclusions.

Sometimes we hear the advice, "Let your conscience be your guide." Actually, nothing could be less reliable than conscience. Since Nature has not provided the correct belief system, neither has it provided a correct conscience. Nature does not provide a moral compass. Conscience is the product of a person's upbringing. The conscience of a Mennonite or a Jehovah's Witness or a Roman Catholic might tell him or her to shun or excommunicate someone; the conscience of a Muslim might tell him or her to kill a desecrator of the faith; the conscience of a Hindu widow might tell her to throw herself on her husband's funeral pyre. When it comes to Christianity, its history is rife with arguments about the true faith - baptism by immersion versus sprinkling, the Trinitarians versus the Unitarians, etc.

Simply by being excluded, regardless of its sense, a person experiences fear and shame. The fear is fear of the unknown - wild animals, unfriendly tribes, accidents, and the elements. Without the protection and support of the group, the person faces these dangers alone, where his or her very survival is threatened. Shame is the experience of being unwanted. The circle of friends has closed and faces inward, leaving the person outside, where all backs are turned against him or her. With respect to the group of insiders, the outsider is weak, lacking the resources that group membership affords, and therefore inferior.

An outsider finds life to be a terrible burden, since no one is there is help him or her. The terrible fears of existence are not shared among a group of protectors and supporters. The belief of the normal insider that "I can cope with anything" is replaced by a dread of every task, occasioned by self-doubt - the person feels that he or she does not have the resources to cope with life's problems.

Many people have discovered that rejecting mechanisms - scorning, belittling, showing contempt, shaming, and so on - are so effective that they use them freely to get their way. It is common for people to find ways of making other people feel inferior. The suffering that rejection arouses causes the victim to give in. Furthermore, it is reinforcing to the pride of many people to make other people feel inferior. Consequently, they make a habit of scorning, belittling, showing contempt, and shaming.

Dogs are in the same fix. If you without provocation shame a dog by saying, "Bad dog! Bad dog!" the dog will cower and will look up beseechingly, the very picture of shame.

The awful feeling that arises when we are rejected/excluded came about through evolution. It came about for a purpose. Since, in tribal life, the group was necessary for survival, a feeling was necessary to glue the group together. This feeling is happiness, the feeling of belonging. Unhappiness is its opposite - the feeling of being excluded, pushed away, or pushed out. In our day happiness is still the feeling of belonging. The outsider's unhappiness motivates him or her to seek happiness, which is achieved by membership, wherein lie protection and support and, consequently, survival.

Tribal protection and support were of critical importance. The tasks of providing food, clothing, and shelter were shared. Protection was provided against the dangers that lay beyond the village boundaries - wild animals, accidents, and unfriendly tribes. Tribal rituals placated unfriendly gods, medicine men treated illness, and friends provided comfort and reassurance.

When a tribe provides protection and support, it does so to all its members, who are members not because of what they offer but because of who they are. They don't have to do anything to maintain membership, since they already qualify for it. In other words, membership in a tribe is not contingent upon performance but rather upon birth, a marriage tie, residence, or some other such quality.

At birth in such a tribe, the family supports the person, and it continues to be central to the child's survival until adulthood comes into view. However, in adulthood the person detaches from primary allegiance to the family and transfers it to the tribe. This transfer can be observed in high schoolers whose joy knows no bounds when they are accepted into a clique, while their opinion of their parents declines. In adulthood it is tribal, not family, membership that assures survival.

In our day, the happiness that comes from tribal membership can be seen in many places - the workplace, clubs, fraternities and sororities, neighborhoods, towns and villages, religious groups, alumni and alumnae groups, groups of old friends, ethnic groups, support groups, and high society. Members of these modern-day tribes enjoy the same happiness that held together the tribes earlier in human history. Our makeup is the same. Think, for example, how you feel when you are far from home and you run into someone from home. Your enjoyment is the enjoyment of seeing a tribesperson.

Teachers who use scorn, ridicule, and contempt toward students are generally effective disciplinarians. The victims don't like the rejection and tend to conform.

Sensitive students can suffer greatly from a teacher's scorn, ridicule, and contempt. For this reason, indiscriminate use of scorn, ridicule, and contempt is certainly inadvisable.

However, with hostile, aggressive students, scorn, ridicule, and contempt are sometimes the best remedy. It would be giving up too much to forsake them altogether. There are times when rudeness does have its rewards. Certainly, it is superior to getting angry, which reveals a lack of more self-confident responses.

There are hundreds of comments that teachers use to reveal scorn, ridicule, and contempt. Here is a sample:

Is that the best you can do?
You've got to be kidding.
How many years have you been in school?
Is this how you behave at home?
Since when?
Who asked YOU?
How remarkable!
(softly) You should be ashamed of yourself. (said under your breath or barely audibly so as not to be too confrontational)
How original!
I've heard that one before.
Gary Hopkins, Editor-in-Chief of EducationWorld.com, would like other methods to be used to deal with disruptive students. He recommends these sites:
http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/strategy/strategy049.shtml
http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/strategy/strategy047.shtml
http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/strategy/strategy041.shtml
http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/archives/shore.shtml
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