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This isn't a JAWM but right now my emotions are pretty raw (I take things very personally when it comes to my classes/students) so deal gently with me, please.

I lead a class for Juniors/Seniors, all of whom have been students in my co-op classes for 3-4 years. The class topics are intense (Ethics) and we've had some amazing discussions. There were a few class sessions that got heated but in a good way as the students are learning how to argue/defend without being offensive or easily offended. I have really been impressed with how each student has "stayed the course" and my time with them is a highlight of the week.

Yesterday the topic was conspicuous consumption: Purchasing/owning status-symbol items and looking down on those who own cheaper items. We talked about character and helping society and how wealth/luxuries are not bad but what is the ultimate purpose in accumulating those things? I thought it was an excellent discussion! I had a friend who lived in Africa for a few years there to offer insights into a different culture which really made the discussion interesting.

Just minutes after one of my students left I received a message from her mom tersely informing me that her daughter would not attend the last Ethics class and that she (the mom) would not attend the ladies' event hosted at my home the next day either. Turns out the daughter grossly misinterpreted what was being said in class, conveyed a skewed message to her mom, and her mom had a shotgun reaction. The girl thought she was being told that having wealth was wrong and people who have luxuries are selfish and horrible. Um, no. I spent oodles of time crafting a lengthy response that was respectful, friendly, and gave the facts. The mom thanked me for the information and said she appreciates what I do. I went to bed thinking all was well...

This morning another message: My daughter is upset at what she heard, blah blah blah. So no finishing the class (ONE more class session!!), no talking with me directly, just a reaction and a decision. The ironic thing is that one of the essays we discussed yesterday had to do with parenting and a point was made that some parents allow their kids to drop a class because they don't like it. As a group we discussed that and this student was in full agreement with what was said. Yet she and her mom pull the same stunt minutes later.

This reminds me of a child getting angry and saying, "I'm taking my toys and going home!" Seriously, how old are we??? I cannot imagine allowing my high school students to tell me something and my not finding out the full story. Even then I would insist that my kids speak directly to the instructor and oh heck yes, they would finish the class! I suppose if the mom herself is stomping her foot and refusing to attend a ladies' event (which has nothing to do with the class her daughter is in!) then I shouldn't expect much from her daughter...

I should be able to shrug this off but years of teaching this girl and pouring into her (she's not the brightest or most driven student...) suddenly thrown in my face is hurtful. I'm thinking of what I will change when I present my classes for next year: If your student isn't willing to stick with this and talk to me if there is a problem, don't take my classes.

Gosh darn it, I'm so upset.

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Have you read The Coddling of the American Mind?  It speaks to exactly this situation.

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(Responding from my lens as a Christian)
I'm so sorry. That is really hard. When people react that strongly, I often think that perhaps things are hitting a little close to home in an area where God may be challenging them with respect to lifestyle and convictions. I do agree that her response to you does not seem to be a mature response where you completely disengage with someone rather than discuss things. It is something that I have noticed is increasingly missing in younger generations. They just don't know how to manage/resolve relational conflict. They just go dark and ghost you. 

It actually is a teaching moment for your daughter about how not to behave in life.

ETA: I am grateful that I am busy homeschooling for the next 20 years. I shudder when I contemplate returning to the workforce and having to manage what passes for young adults these days.

Edited by calbear
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Have you read The Coddling of the American Mind?  It speaks to exactly this situation.

I have not but will do so.

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Your class sounds amazing and I wish my daughter could participate. She would absolutely be in her element in the environment you're describing.

I'm so sorry you're in this situation and feeling raw and hurt right now 😕

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When people react that strongly, I often think that perhaps things are hitting a little close to home in an area where God may be challenging them with respect to lifestyle and convictions.

The girl's father builds homes for very, very wealthy people. Which is a non-issue, only the girl and her mom made it an issue. It's like a button was hit (as you indicated) that is personal for them. But nothing was said as a direct financial challenge to any student or lifestyle. So I don't know where this girl got the idea that we were saying that her parent's lifestyle is wrong.

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I agree with others: your class sounds amazing, and those are some lucky students.  Being able to have an intelligent discussion without taking things personally is a skill I have yet to master.  

I would only caution you against changing your course in response to this one student.  You can't please everyone, and if this resonates with all the other students, don't fix what ain't broke.

Enjoy your parents party with the ones who are truly grateful for your work.  You don't want the disgruntled mom at your home to ruin your event.  

 

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It is very interesting because I always think students should think deeply about these things. "To whom much is given, much is required" to paraphrase the Bible. I think it is a wonderful thing that you are challenging your students to do this type of thinking and discussing. One does not realize how much privilege you truly had until you actually stop and consider the possibility that you are privileged. Our society could do with a whole lot less navel gazing and a whole lot more soul searching IMO. Now, I am probably sounding cranky. LOL.

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56 minutes ago, BakersDozen said:

The girl's father builds homes for very, very wealthy people. Which is a non-issue, only the girl and her mom made it an issue. It's like a button was hit (as you indicated) that is personal for them. But nothing was said as a direct financial challenge to any student or lifestyle. So I don't know where this girl got the idea that we were saying that her parent's lifestyle is wrong.

There is an argument to be made that conspicuous consumption benefits the broader economy through creating jobs for people like this girl's father, the factory workers who manufacture luxury goods, the salespeople, etc., etc. If all of a sudden consumers with disposable income stopped spending, our economy would tank. Is there an ethical duty to consume rather than hoard wealth under a mattress? One could argue that there is (I personally think the situation is a bit more nuanced than just "money is the root of all evil" or "greed is good" but that's too much of a tangent)

It's sad that this girl lacks the critical reasoning and debate skills to make that kind of argument rather than just getting her knickers in a twist & complaining to Mommy.

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There is an argument to be made that conspicuous consumption benefits the broader economy through creating jobs for people like this girl's father, the factory workers who manufacture luxury goods, the salespeople, etc., etc. If all of a sudden consumers with disposable income stopped spending, our economy would tank. Is there an ethical duty to consume rather than hoard wealth under a mattress? One could argue that there is (I personally think the situation is a bit more nuanced than just "money is the root of all evil" or "greed is good" but that's too much of a tangent)

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That is actually a major point of our discussion: consumption vs. conspicuous consumption. Driving a very nice vehicle is not an issue. Driving a nice vehicle with the mentality that doing so makes you a better person than the person next to you at a stop light is an issue. Our time was focused on character - something the girl's mother said we should be focusing on and I pointed out that we did. At no point was the message that money/material possessions are evil conveyed. With this class I have tried to be very, very careful, knowing these topics could get me into hot water. It's crazy that we were able to navigate abortion, immigration, human rights, etc. and this is the topic that blew up in my face.

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That girl is in for a world of trouble in college. 

Sorry for the immature reaction and poor thinking from your student and her mom!! Your class sounds amazing!

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Your class sounds amazing! I'm sorry that one student and her parent had a problem. I'd love to have someone else teach/moderate a class where open/respectful discussion took place!

 

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My kids have  been in a class like this for several years and there's always someone who gets very upset about an issue each year.  The teacher will talk to them after class.  No ad hominum is allowed without a grade consequence, so they learn pretty quickly to stick to the idea at hand and not make it personal.  However, i'm not sure anyone has ever quit over anything.  I think this family is an outlier and there's more going on and has not much to do with your class,

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....it is possible that the student is frustrated in general with the worldview being presented and just never took the time before this to talk to you about it.  It could be that this was not her only issue....?

We found the Christian co-op wasn't a good fit because teachers were dogmatic and entrenched and because it was Christian, were sort of allowed to have strong opinions which they thought everyone else should have.  Being a student thinking differently, in that sort of environment can be very frustrating, so I am just putting it out there as a possibility that perhaps she is generally frustrated and it could have been going on for a while?

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3 hours ago, BakersDozen said:

This isn't a JAWM but right now my emotions are pretty raw (I take things very personally when it comes to my classes/students) so deal gently with me, please.

I lead a class for Juniors/Seniors, all of whom have been students in my co-op classes for 3-4 years. The class topics are intense (Ethics) and we've had some amazing discussions. There were a few class sessions that got heated but in a good way as the students are learning how to argue/defend without being offensive or easily offended. I have really been impressed with how each student has "stayed the course" and my time with them is a highlight of the week.

Yesterday the topic was conspicuous consumption: Purchasing/owning status-symbol items and looking down on those who own cheaper items. We talked about character and helping society and how wealth/luxuries are not bad but what is the ultimate purpose in accumulating those things? I thought it was an excellent discussion! I had a friend who lived in Africa for a few years there to offer insights into a different culture which really made the discussion interesting.

Just minutes after one of my students left I received a message from her mom tersely informing me that her daughter would not attend the last Ethics class and that she (the mom) would not attend the ladies' event hosted at my home the next day either. Turns out the daughter grossly misinterpreted what was being said in class, conveyed a skewed message to her mom, and her mom had a shotgun reaction. The girl thought she was being told that having wealth was wrong and people who have luxuries are selfish and horrible. Um, no. I spent oodles of time crafting a lengthy response that was respectful, friendly, and gave the facts. The mom thanked me for the information and said she appreciates what I do. I went to bed thinking all was well...

This morning another message: My daughter is upset at what she heard, blah blah blah. So no finishing the class (ONE more class session!!), no talking with me directly, just a reaction and a decision. The ironic thing is that one of the essays we discussed yesterday had to do with parenting and a point was made that some parents allow their kids to drop a class because they don't like it. As a group we discussed that and this student was in full agreement with what was said. Yet she and her mom pull the same stunt minutes later.

This reminds me of a child getting angry and saying, "I'm taking my toys and going home!" Seriously, how old are we??? I cannot imagine allowing my high school students to tell me something and my not finding out the full story. Even then I would insist that my kids speak directly to the instructor and oh heck yes, they would finish the class! I suppose if the mom herself is stomping her foot and refusing to attend a ladies' event (which has nothing to do with the class her daughter is in!) then I shouldn't expect much from her daughter...

I should be able to shrug this off but years of teaching this girl and pouring into her (she's not the brightest or most driven student...) suddenly thrown in my face is hurtful. I'm thinking of what I will change when I present my classes for next year: If your student isn't willing to stick with this and talk to me if there is a problem, don't take my classes.

Gosh darn it, I'm so upset.

Do you think your student might just feel too embarrassed about returning to class after her mom reacted so strongly to you? I would wonder if that is the case if the mom initially seemed appreciative of your reply to her. It would really upset me to be written off so quickly after years of teaching this student, but the mom obviously has a maturity issue and I wonder if she hasn’t mortified her daughter by shooting off such an angry reply. Just mentioning that because maybe the dd isn’t even upset with you at this point, but just embarrassed by what her mom did.

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4 hours ago, BakersDozen said:

 I cannot imagine allowing my high school students to tell me something and my not finding out the full story. Even then I would insist that my kids speak directly to the instructor and oh heck yes, they would finish the class! I suppose if the mom herself is stomping her foot and refusing to attend a ladies' event (which has nothing to do with the class her daughter is in!) then I shouldn't expect much from her daughter...

 

 

As far as this goes, it might be true of some ideas/conflicts you can think of but others would make you willing to drop. Maybe this one really hit a personal nerve with the family and they felt attacked for their socioeconomic class, and didn't want to continue in the way that you might not want to continue if you felt someone had led a class session attacking welfare recipients or Muslims or etc., esp if you were of the class you felt was being attacked.

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I'm very sorry about what has happened.  Your class sounds amazing and I so wish my daughter could take it.  For that matter, I really wish I could sit in on it as well.  Please don't let it change how you present the material, this has absolutely nothing to do with you or this class (in my humble opinion).

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I still think the daughter should have stayed for the last class, and the mom probably should have let the matter drop especially since there is only one class left...

and she should have given you the opportunity to explain ...

 

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....it is possible that the student is frustrated in general with the worldview being presented and just never took the time before this to talk to you about it.  It could be that this was not her only issue....?

I don't know...the girl has always seemed to enjoy the class and I've never heard so much as a negative word in regard to what we have covered. After we discussed the very emotional topic of abortion I contacted every parent directly to follow up; the girl's mom had no problem with what was said/debated and was, again, appreciative.

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Do you think your student might just feel too embarrassed about returning to class after her mom reacted so strongly to you?

I don't know...I've been thinking on this all day. The girl is...not exactly one with a lot of common sense. So I'm picturing her mom talking to her again and this girl going on about how upset she is (which is strange because it sounds more like the mom has the issue with the topic) and so the girl's reaction dictates the decision for her to not return to class. It's just so bizarre to me...

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As far as this goes, it might be true of some ideas/conflicts you can think of but others would make you willing to drop. Maybe this one really hit a personal nerve with the family and they felt attacked for their socioeconomic class, and didn't want to continue in the way that you might not want to continue if you felt someone had led a class session attacking welfare recipients or Muslims or etc., esp if you were of the class you felt was being attacked.

Absolutely...only there was no group or lifestyle attacked. Only the mindset of one who thinks they are better than everyone was up for debate. I pointed that out to the mom but I guess it wasn't enough.

I really appreciate the insights, ladies. This has really gotten to me (obviously). To think we were literally at the end of the year - made it through not just Ethics but some really controversial topics in Psychology as well - and this happens.

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12 minutes ago, BakersDozen said:

 

Absolutely...only there was no group or lifestyle attacked. Only the mindset of one who thinks they are better than everyone was up for debate. I pointed that out to the mom but I guess it wasn't enough.
 

 

Maybe it felt like an attack on a certain group b/c you were only discussing this phenomenon (thinking oneself superior) with reference to wealth and/or a certain type of consumption, and (presumably) the student's family identifies as wealthy or consumes in this way.  Maybe if you discussed other types of potentially promoting or feeling false superiority (virtue signalling, advanced education, church attendance, volunteerism, charitable contribution, the list is endless) she wouldn't have taken it personally (but maybe someone else would).

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I wonder if you could incorporate this into your last class if the daughter and mother were willing. I'm thinking somewhere along the lines of sometimes we discuss things in the class and it takes time for the conversation and personal opinions to sink in. When that happens, it can be good to revisit and/or clarify what was said. This would only work if the student and her mother were willing to be participants and say what they understood and why they disagreed with it in the class. I wouldn't do it if the student were not present.

It sounds like you have an awesome class. My kids would have enjoyed it, especially because disagreements would have been handled respectfully. I agree with the other posters that it may have hit close to home in some way, shape, or manner.

 

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As others have said, your class sounds amazing, and I wish my kids could have taken it!

Did you reply to the mother?  As frustrating/disappointing as her reaction was, it is what it is.  I'd probably write back, apologize that your message was misunderstood, and explain (briefly) what you've been telling us here about the points you were trying to make.  And in a friendly manner, tell her you'd love to have her dd return to finish the course, if she desires.  I like Wilrunner's suggestion of offering to incorporate their thoughts into your last class.   (I'm thinking you could do that anonymously, and of course in a positive/constructive way.)

 

 

 

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11 hours ago, BakersDozen said:

Absolutely...only there was no group or lifestyle attacked. Only the mindset of one who thinks they are better than everyone was up for debate. I pointed that out to the mom but I guess it wasn't enough.

 

My MIL and BIL’s wife would feel attacked due to the emotional baggage of class envy since their childhood. BIL and SIL would be quite oblivious to class envy and won’t be able to empathize. I have ex-classmates who would feel attacked because they aspire to certain “middle class status symbols”. However, all the people I know who would be upset would have given a diplomatic reason to not attend the class or ladies session. They won’t say because they think it is impolite to be blunt to a teacher or a host.

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What I am trying to wrap my mind around is this:

even if that is what you were teaching, why would that have been the response? Given the nature of the course, is the expectation that you are going to agree with everything taught? I would think that - in signing up for a course like this - the goal is to learn how to evaluate and discuss different perspectives, respectfully, even when you strongly disagree. Thus, strongly disagreeing with what she thinks the message was, is the opportunity to learn and practice standing in your beliefs, arguing your side, and respectfully listening to the other side, while strongly disagreeing with it - and formulating arguments for your side and arguments against their side. 

If you are going to split and run as soon as you don't agree with a perspective, why sign up for such a course in the first place. 

Appropriately, sit with the daughter and discuss that this is the view of some and this is how I think about it and how we handle it and etc... and maybe return to class with a rebuttal.

I don't see what you could have done differently because the nature of the course is to ruffle feathers. If you can't stand the heat (or aren't ready for it), stay out of the kitchen.

My grandma always told me: a guilty conscious speaks. It may not be the message you sent, but it is the message that was heard and there is a reason for that, that is beyond your control.

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I don't think these experiences reflect on you (other than you graciously tried to work through this). I think they reflect on them. 

You can't control how other people (irrationally) react.

Generally speaking, I've been surprised by how we seem to have lost, as a society, the ability to respectfully disagree with someone.  "We" seem to be reverting to tribalism, where we surround ourselves with people who are like-minded.  When we do so, we have even less exposure to people who think and live and believe things different than we do.  When "we" are confronted with information that doesn't conform to our mindset, "we" often reject it outright, without real consideration, and "other" the person presenting it.  It's a very, very troubling phenomena that I think it's indicative of some serious societal issues. 

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1 hour ago, prairiewindmomma said:

...Generally speaking, I've been surprised by how we seem to have lost, as a society, the ability to respectfully disagree with someone.  "We" seem to be reverting to tribalism, where we surround ourselves with people who are like-minded.  When we do so, we have even less exposure to people who think and live and believe things different than we do.  When "we" are confronted with information that doesn't conform to our mindset, "we" often reject it outright, without real consideration, and "other" the person presenting it.  It's a very, very troubling phenomena that I think it's indicative of some serious societal issues. 


Agree. I found this NPR interview with Irshad Manji (aired earlier this week) to be a very welcome step in the right direction -- her point: even if we disagree, we can still "make space to listen" and maintain relationship, even when we hold radically different opinions.

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I think the girl may just be too embarrassed to come back to the class after her mother made such a fuss. 

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Just tossing out the thought that the girl may not have been upset at all - you never heard from her directly, right? So this may all be on mom. She may not have liked what dd repeated to her, but that doesn't mean the dd was actually upset. Someone who struggles with a mature response in a situation like this is often also a person who deflects responsibility for decisions. 

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Your class does sound amazing and the situation would upset me too. I think that I would suggest arranging a meeting with you, the mom and the student. Even if they don't agree to meet with you, you have followed the right course and demonstrated the correct way of going about resolving differences. 

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In all likelihood, the mom was given very distorted "facts" by her daughter.  I totally understand being hurt, but I hope you can soon let it go and focus on all the people who did stick with you.

Not the same, but my kids have a friend who is a drama queen (according to teachers & all the kids I know).  I have always been nice to this family, as my daughter is good friends with Drama Queen despite the difficulties it causes.  I have invited DQ to do fun things with my kids & a few other friends several times.  The last time was at a professional basketball game, where my kid was performing in the pre-game show.  Tickets were $40 each (I paid).  This was the first time friend's mom said "yes" - and then they pulled out at the last minute.  No explanation, but I assume it was related to some school drama (DQ's fault) that involved one of the other attendees.  As time goes on, more and more I suspect DQ's mom is somewhat behind the girl drama, whether she knows it or not.  At this point I consider the mom a somewhat dangerous person to get close to.  And while there is hope of changing young people's views on life, I have little hope of changing their parents'.

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It sounds like you'll have to change the presentation if the family took it that personally.  I had a presentation like that in college; an Econ Prof who quickly surveyed and got personal with a person who admitted to owning many pairs of expensive jeans.   It was for conspicuous consumption..she was presenting that she was wealthier than she was - which everyone knew as she'd be at private school if she was truly that wealthy.  She had good points though and they all related to employability and social alienation. Not that any poor person cared, for them it was jeans/sweatshirts and save the one outfit of  'good clothing' for church and interview. and the other outfit of 'going out 'wear for Friday night....too poor to put on the false front. I think since then though, style is becoming a display of conspicuous consumption...you have leisure time and you are displaying that you have that leisure time to put together your personal display of artwork on your body as well as show the artistic knowledge you have acquired while ignoring or sneering at those that don't participate in style.    Did you include the observation from the Millionaire Next Door, that those who are truly wealthy don't seek the display of wealth, often buying used cars and wearing off the rack from the mall?  Its not an easy topic, I find myself biting my lip when the relatives who all have the latest status symbol (the pickup truck that will never carry or haul a load)  complain they can't afford food for bbqs.

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