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High Fives (and Respect) For All

Last week, an opinion piece in the Omaha World Herald got a lot of traction after the author (John Rosemond) declared that adults should not be high-fiving children. My sister-in-law, an Omaha native, made sure to send the link our way, largely because it’s central tenet was absurd. (If you haven’t read it yet, you should). In short, because children and adults aren’t equal, high-fiving is inappropriate and gives the child the idea that, as the adult, you are subordinate to them. Rosemond goes on to say that the happiest kids are the most obedient (he claims this is backed up by research, though he fails to cite his sources) and nicknames himself “the Grinch” for his views.

I don’t feel a need to take on Rosemond point by point, largely because he doesn’t have a great argument. His main idea is that children are subordinate to adults and anything that doesn’t signify an adult’s importance over a child’s is leading humanity into a (further) downfall. When someone lays out their thinking in the way that this author does, it's clear to me that we are not going to agree about virtually anything related to kids. My colleagues and I have articulated before that we hold the deep belief that kids are people, like anyone else, and have their own wants, needs, likes, and dislikes; furthermore, they are all worthy of dignity and respect because they are people. It’s not that young kids should arbitrarily get respect when they turn 18. Instead, kids should grow up knowing their intrinsic worth.

What did feel important to me was to talk about how this kind of thinking directly impacts classrooms in a harmful way. If a teacher believes that kids are not inherently worthy of respect, they will make any show of respect for kids performative. They might use language like, “I’ll respect you if you respect me” or otherwise indicate that the way in which the teacher treats the students is entirely dependent on student behavior and compliance. The only thing that this demonstrates to a student is that they are not worthy of respect unless specific criteria are met. I worked in a school where students called teachers by their first names, and the relationships between those groups were some of the most respectful I’ve seen. The idea that an honorific is what brings respect is untrue. Treatment, not titles, yields esteem.

Earlier, I wrote that it was clear to me at the beginning of Rosemond’s piece that we’d agree on virtually nothing. There was one point he made that I thought was spot on. He writes, “Boundaries in relationships are essential to their proper functioning.” I agree that boundaries are crucial in relationships. I think Rosemond chose the wrong word for his purposes, though. I imagine that he means “rules” instead of “boundaries.” He would advocate for a system in which there are rigid ways of behaving and doing things to preserve a particular order. I would argue that we need to set and observe limits on what we can do and on what we can expect others to do. That each of us needs to be able to set boundaries that help us navigate our world. We can only do that, though, after we have learned that we are worthy of respect, just as we are. And is there a simpler way to show warmth, congeniality, and admiration than a high five?

Do you have another take you want to share? Let us know in the comments!

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