The Ghana Files: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

In Ghana, the notion of respecting one’s elders still prevails. When you see an older person carrying something, you are expected to take it from them and carry it to their house before continuing on your way. You should never express disagreement with your teacher or superior (it seems, even if he or she makes a blatant error.) I have heard many Ghanaians express that this is slowly changing as younger generations are becoming “less respectful” but it seems that “respect your elders” is still the rule of thumb ’round these parts.

That being said, my students at the teacher training college cannot believe the stories I tell about my experiences with disrespectful students in the American school system. Granted, I worked in the second-most “persistently dangerous” school in New York  so my examples are a bit extreme. For instance: my first day as a brand new teacher when an angry student urinated on my floor, or on my second day when one boy strangled another until he passed out. These events are extreme even by American standards, but they are unfathomable to Ghanaians.

Even things that teachers would encounter in less extreme American schools; students refusing to do their work, students refusing to pick their papers up off the floor, students giving “sass” to a teacher. These are things that just would not happen in a school here. It was interesting for me to speak with my students who are about to go out and become teachers in the Ghanaian school system. I asked them to come up with a list of behavior issues they might have, their answers were much different than I would have come up with. Perhaps a child forgets his homework, one rebel might even forget his ruler. Oh, the unimaginable horrors of forgetting one’s ruler!

I am really glad to have this experience. It is interesting for me to see how some cultures still hold onto the notion of respect.

That being said, I think sometimes this notion of “respect” can go too far. For instance, when a student is afraid to voice his or her opinion in a classroom setting because they are afraid of disrespecting their teacher. When a student is afraid to ask questions because it might imply that the teacher was imperfect (when perhaps he or she is just not explaining well enough). When a student is afraid of making a mistake in his or her assignments, so they regurgitate exactly what the teacher has shown them. This sort of environment can rob a student of his or her creativity, independent thoughts and questioning mind.

That’s not to say that American students are somehow better off because they are less respectful! American students can go to the other extreme; outrageous behaviors and attitudes of entitlement just to name a few.

I guess in the end, I am conflicted. While I think that American students could certainly use a dose of respect, I feel like here it seems to go to another extreme.

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