Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Talking down to people

I’m no official student of sociology and class, but it is a topic of serious concern for me.

At the former jobhouse, I got a front-row seat to class-culture shock. In so many ways, the social dynamics of that job reminded me of the social dynamics at the urban high school I was assigned to. It reminded me of the Pedagogy of Poverty – post graduation style. I even thought my employees behaved very much like my high school students. Despite their ages, they behaved so much like teens, or rather immaturely or inappropriately in the given professional contexts. But as I was alerted to by a reader, perhaps my own “class prejudices” interfered with my ability to interact with them.. I accept this probability.

I was working with adults, grown people, many of them with children and real-life issues that rivaled my own. Some of them were older than me. My internal reaction to them was WTF?, but I made deliberate efforts interact with them as an adult to an adult. But I was tempted to publicly call them out and reprimand them, like I would a child. I felt uncomfortable telling adults to sit down, stop talking, quit cursing, and get back to work. I gave non-verbal cues and talked with them privately explaining why what they may have done is considered inappropriate and encouraged them not to do it again. Reprimands (of some sort) were in order, but I admit I was professionally naïve. But eventually, I got overwhelmed and disenchanted. I left. Not because they weren’t worth it, but because I learned that micro-managing people isn’t comfortable to me. I’d rather work with (teach, volunteer with, lead, or whatever) people who want to be there. And if you don’t want to be there, then please let me know how I can help you get to where you want to be. But I also left because I was disgusted my how others, even my superiors regarded my employees. They often referred to them as kids or children. They spoke down to them and didn’t take their social services needs seriously. They treated them like children.

Curious. In many urban school districts, teachers and administrators talk to students and parents similarly. In fact, that’s a common complaint among struggling people from lower SES, that civil servants or professional people treat them poorly – are condescending. I’ve observed that people from lower classes (or less educated people) are often regarded, treated, and talked to like they are simple children – no matter their age or title. Is that what it means to talk down to someone, because they are on a lower rung than you? Like a child, you would look down (literally) to speak to them. Has that become the figurative way we react to people from lower SES levels?
What’s up with that?


Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

doing such is foul

Anonymous said...

People acting that way ARE inappropriate. How long and how much of this nonsense are people with manners supposed to tolerate. i think this is leading to the degradation of society. No one is standing up to nonsense.