What the Heck

posted in culture, parenting on by with 5 Replies

A story on NBC’s Today Show yesterday highlighted an area in which I believe so many of us are falling down –  it’s as if we’ve forgotten that it’s our job, our responsibility, to teach respect, honor and integrity to our kids.

Here’s the story, an Oklahoma high school valedictorian, Kaitlin Nootbar, submitted her written graduation speech to her principal for approval. In the speech she had this line, “They’re gonna ask us what we’re gonna be and we’re gonna say, who the heck knows”. The problem is she was pretty sure she was going to say “Who the hell knows” (a line from the Twilight movie, Eclipse). She said in the Today Show interview that she discussed this with her partner with whom she wrote the speech, and then again with classmates right before giving the speech, all encouraging her to stray from the written, and approved, line. So she did, and now the principal is holding her diploma certificate until she apologizes ~ a reasonable request.

In the Today Show piece Kaitlin says she won’t apologize; she says she’s not sorry and that she doesn’t really need her diploma anyway. Matt Lauer turns to her father at one point and says that he (Matt) is a parent and was wondering what he would do; would he want her to give in to the school, or would he want to teach his child the lesson of standing his or her own ground. (Personally, I don’t think it’s either of those lessons) He then asks the father how he feels. The father said he wanted her to stand her ground, that he is a veteran, she has freedom of speech and why should she “bow down to this man”, and give her rights away.

Oh my goodness. “Bow down to this man”, really? How about a lesson that goes like this, “You were under the authority of the school, you purposely used a word in a commencement speech you knew you shouldn’t use, but you did. You knew this would cause a problem, so now, show some level of respect, go apologize and move on with your life.”

Instead she gets to fly to New York City and be highlighted on a national news program where many people applaud her for “standing her ground”. The ground that supports her decision to defy the authority over her, because she wanted to swear at a commencement ceremony. No wonder our kids believe the world revolves around them.

Kaitlin says the lesson from this whole thing is to “always stand your ground…that whatever is in your heart you should stand up for it…” (Unless you’re the principal, I guess she doesn’t believe he should stand his ground.) NBC conducted a poll and 88% of respondents said she should not apologize, 12% said she should. Really, a poll was conducted for this?! But the results are revealing.

Some will say this a freedom of speech issue, I believe it’s a character and lack of self-discipline issue. When we glamorize and jump to the defense of the kids in situations like this, we just cannot be surprised when they function as if they are the center of the universe, or when they have a hard time with authority in their lives, or when they come to job interviews and ask questions like “How long can I be on the internet before I get in trouble” (This question was actually asked by a college student during an interview at my husband’s company).

There is such an emphasis in our culture about doing what you want, when you want, no matter what, and then defending it. I just believe we should also be emphasizing building integrity and honor, within our kids. What do you think?

You can see the interview here.

5 Comments on “What the Heck

  • Sheri,

    You are so right!! This has become the mentality of this generation and it is because we are allowing it. There are consequences to our actions and we need to teach this to our children The next time we are treated disrespectfully by someone, we need to ask ourselves the question, “Would my child treat someone that way?” How would I feel if my child disrespected someone, whether it is one of their peers, or an adult? It’s one of the reasons we have so much trouble with bullying. Respect has to be taught – not by the school or the church – but by parents who have the privilege of raising children and teaching them to be a responsible adult. That is OUR job.

  • We had something last year with Eli, not entirely similar, but a respect issue the nonetheless. He had a minor consequence from the teacher and I didn’t entirely agree with her reasoning, but I had to decide whether I was going to teach him to question his teacher, or respect her authority. I never let on that the former was an option, I just sympathized with him over the consequence. I will never tolerate disrespect from my kids, for me or others. And I am careful not to vent in front of them so they don’t hear disrespect modeled. I know they’ll get plenty of that elsewhere!

  • Pat and Janna, thanks for reading this post and taking the time to comment.

    Balancing questioning and standing up to authority along with respect can be, and should be, taught by us. I loved when my oldest questioned a teacher (she was in middle school and felt she had a good argument) and she did it in a manner that was respectful and she got a new result. Teaching, guiding, molding, leading….this is our job.

    Thanks Janna for modeling respect for your kids in your home – as they will be (and are already!) student leaders and eventually leaders in our communities.
    Good stuff, ladies.

  • I could not agree more. As an employer, I can tell you I would not hire this girl. Why? She was given a position of influence and responsibility, yet still under authority. She reviewed and agreed with the decision of that authority – then decided to “do what she wanted to do” – even though she personally agreed to not use fowl language during the speech.

    Now she won’t apologize for going against her own word?! What?! Where is her integrity? How can she be trusted to not abuse her influence and responsibility in other areas? Her actions, her response and now her “standing her ground” speak volumes about her vs. her grades. I would not even consider her for an interview – unless it was for the sole purpose to try to help her understand just how wrong she was.

    I guess offering her some grace on her maturity is in order; however her parents – they are not setting the right standard and expectation. I hold them accountable as well.

    It’s sad to see our youth with this idea of such “entitlement” and their lack of appreciation for others that are standing their ground for what they believe is right (now don’t get me started on the outrage re: Chick Filet!)

  • If the person, student or otherwise, has a problem with a teacher or principal, and can prove their ground with evidence, then there’s no reason they should back down. The faculty member is human and subject to error just like anyone else.


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