Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Respect, Motivate, Achieve
The respectful mind is another of the Five Minds for the Future that Howard Gardner writes about. Respect is an awareness of and appreciation for differences among human beings. With six billion people living in hundreds of countries and speaking thousands of languages it would seem the most important thing in the world to be able to live peacefully together. Respect goes beyond mere tolerance, just being able to live alongside each other and ignoring or putting up with differences. Respect involves accepting differences and learning how to value them. In an international school, especially one in a non-Western part of the world, respect is essential.
Gardner writes about the "kiss-up, kick-down" mentality of many people - those who behave in a respectful way when they have something to gain by it or in a public setting in order to appear respectful. Others want to be politically correct so appear to act in the same way towards everyone without distinguishing anyone at all - yet that too is not real respect which acknowledges differences.
Living in Thailand gave me many lessons in respect - in fact the whole society is based on respect (which may sound strange after the events of recent months in Bangkok - but don't mix up political divisions with a lack of respect). Living in a country where I was so obviously a minority was also an eye-opening experience and something I learned a lot from. In Thailand teachers are VERY respected so in some ways it was a bit of a shock to return to Europe.
Gardner addresses the issue of how schools can encourage respect. He points out that it's possible to have high standards of achievement in subjects such as maths and science, even in environments that are very intolerable. Therefore the responsibility for teaching respect falls more on the social sciences, humanities, arts and literature. In the early years of schooling respect can best be fostered by encouraging the students to work together on projects where they may have different perspectives. Books, movies, games and so on can also encourage discussion and respect for individuals or different groups. Perhaps in international schools it is easier to have some of these discussions as there are often many diverse opinions and even values. For example a friend of mine was once asked by the father of one of her students not to talk about her partner with the students (he was also a teacher in the school) as his daughter had picked up the fact that they were not married. This man, who was from the Middle East, said it was against his family's religion to live with someone out of marriage. This teacher, however, was able to point out her values and expectations of a relationship. She respected his point of view, but it was not hers.
In many national systems there is now debate about issues that really are not important in international schools where they are just a given. Politicians in England, France and the Netherlands have debated whether or not to allow the wearing of headscarves, turbans and crucifixes, whether girls should be allowed to wear trousers if this is not part of the school uniform, whether Sikh boys have to be clean shaven and so on. I've never had to deal with these problems in international schools, as it seems just part of the climate of respecting and celebrating the differences of others. I think, therefore, that respect is probably the most important of the three words of our school motto. If we are caught up in situations of disrespect then clearly we will not be so motivated and therefore our achievements will be limited.
Photo Credit: Shy Wai by Wanderinghome