It takes two to tango, or not – 4. Applications.

What would this look like in real life? How we would actually go about teaching the four steps of rejection would vary between settings. I’m going to use the example of a partnered dance activity, and go step by step.

  1. Tell students clearly that they all have the right to ask other students to dance, regardless of gender. This is not Victorian England. If we want to address the issue of men being overpredatory and women being overmeek, how about we stop endorsing the whole man-the-hunter-woman-the-prey thing?
  2. Tell them the appropriate formula for asking for a dance. Do you ask by mutual looks and nods? Do you walk up to someone and ask verbally? What is the protocol in this particular setting?
  3. Tell them that they all have the right to decline a dance by using the magical words “thank you, but no.”
  4. Tell them that, if they are rejected, the correct response is a swift “thanks anyway”, followed by backing the hell up and leaving the person alone. Explain that nobody has the right to demand an explanation, plead, insist, persist, make sad puppy eyes, or do anything else to try and push another into dancing.
  5. Tell them that if they are turned down three times on a row by a potential partner, to take the damn hint and stop asking. If that person ever wants to dance with them in the future, they can ask themselves.
  6. Tell them that if they believe they are being rejected overmuch, they should talk to a teacher. There may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
  7. Tell them that if they habitually reject a lot of partners, they might find themselves sitting out a lot of dances. And that’s entirely their call, if that’s how they want to play it.
  8. Actually make them go through both asking and rejecting at least once every session. Point out to them how the world did not in fact end either when they rejected, or when they were rejected. Make rejection a normal, everyday fact of life, rather than some kind of climactic event.

 

What we are doing at the moment also gives women an inaccurate sense of their level of responsibility and power over the overall interaction. By teaching people that rejection is a two-person, multi-step process, we can stop putting an undue burden of responsibility on the actions of a single party in a single step. By looking at the entire process, we could accurately identify where the misstep took place, and what it indicates about the people in question. Ultimately, teaching only one half of a two-person script that routinely fails – and teaching that to the person who is often enough not the cause of sad failure – seems an exercise in futility.

The only way for everyone to be on the same page – and the only way to weed out for definite those people who are not – is for everyone to know what the damn page is. Yes, we could rely on the fact that people should know… but, let’s face it, we’re doing that now, and it isn’t working. By actually telling everyone what’s what we can make sure that everyone is adequately informed. This will eliminate the possibility of people misbehaving because “they don’t’ know any better”, or pretending to do so. It will also enable a fast and uncompromising response to misbehaviour when appropriate, and save everyone a lot of bother along the line.

 

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7 thoughts on “It takes two to tango, or not – 4. Applications.

  1. Excellent, most excellent!

    Tell them that if they believe they are being rejected overmuch, they should talk to a teacher. There may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

    Absolutely. And also:

    Teachers need to understand that it is their job to step in when they see problems — even before they are asked for help.

    Given both Dunning-Kruger and the inherently ambiguous (not to mention misattributable) nature of social failures, precisely the students who most need help are the least likely to ask for it — let alone do so before major, long-lasting damage has been done.

    In lay terms, someone who can’t grasp, say, Maths, at least knows he can’t get what’s in the textbook, has trouble even following what the teacher is saying and regularly gets low grades on objective quizzes. And even then he may not feel able to ask for extra help.

    How much harder is it for people who follow all the written rules but could piss off a monk?

    A teacher has no more right to just pass along a student failing social skills any more than a student failing academic skills. (Indeed, I could think of ideas I like much less than that of including social skills on report cards, or even giving separate social skills report cards.)

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  2. “Teachers need to understand that it is their job to step in when they see problems — even before they are asked for help.”

    That’s arguable. Unless otherwise specified, taking up a teaching position does not necessarily make one responsible for anything beyond teaching the assigned curriculum and ensuring the smooth running of classes. Unless students’ behaviour is interfering with those goals, it remains the students’ personal business.

    Furthermore, what I may class as someone’s “problem” may be simply their way of being or behaving. We’re hardly in a culturally homogeneous society, and not everyone wants to be or behave like everyone else. To volunteer unasked-for advice to third parties who are just doing their thing because we think their behaviour is substandard is hardly likely to endear them to us. This could be akin to a jolly and well-meaning extrovert trying to drag introverts into the social limelight “for their own good”, while they’re perfectly happy not socialising.

    I for one would not like a person I’ve hired to teach me, say, flamenco, to start volunteering their opinion on any other subjects. They may be absolutely convinced that if I only ate this or read that or dressed like this or spoke like that my life would be better, but it’s not their place to force that information upon me. In fact, I would say that anyone doing so is manifesting either an impressive degree of social awkwardness, or a shocking level of arrogance.

    “A teacher has no more right to just pass along a student failing social skills any more than a student failing academic skills.”

    I would say that’s very arguable, and potentially a dangerous slippery slope. Teachers are responsible for performing the job they’re hired to do – in most cases, this covers solely teaching a given subject. They are not only not responsible for extra-curricular subjects or issues, but also not necessarily in a position to provide any assistance with them. They may not be any better at the issue at hand than their students. For instance, we can expect a math teacher to be qualified, trained, and capable at teaching maths. To expect them to be able to provide lifestyle advice seems both uncautious and unfair. To rely on them for lifestyle advice without checking their “credentials” is simply foolish.

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  3. Good points.

    I’d say it depends on what kind of teacher you’ve been talking about. A completely grown person like you attending, say, a flamenco class — you’re absolutely right. That kind of teacher has no business butting in to try to help you with your other problems (assuming they’re not affecting the class anyway).

    But with regard to those who help us learn and grow up — what we in the U.S. call K-12 and, yes, even into — in my view they’re teachers, not subject matter experts. That’s why — at least, again, in the U.S. — teachers have broad discretionary powers to discipline students. Not quite as broad as a few decades ago, mind you, but still plenty enough to show we not only trust teachers but also expect them to do a little more than prepare lesson plans, lecture, write and grade assignments.

    Alongside that I believe in “See something, say something.” If you say nothing and let something awful happen, you might or might not be to blame (depending on your specific professional and legal obligations). But I’d say you bear quite a bit of responsibility.

    [Teachers] are not only not responsible for extra-curricular subjects or issues, but also not necessarily in a position to provide any assistance with them. They may not be any better at the issue at hand than their students. For instance, we can expect a math teacher to be qualified, trained, and capable at teaching maths. To expect them to be able to provide lifestyle advice seems both uncautious and unfair. To rely on them for lifestyle advice without checking their “credentials” is simply foolish.

    Then how could they help even if, as you urged, students came to them?

    If they’re competent enough to help when asked — and notwithstanding cultural heterogeneity, you’ve rightly pointed out that there are certain* standards of behavior, at least within a given locality, school, etc. — they’re competent enough to step up to the plate in the first place.

    [*] In both senses of the word.

    Keep in mind that if something becomes serious enough you (a teacher, not necessarily you the blog author) may eventually feel that you have to act. How certain are you that neither you nor anyone else is going to get fed up and maybe even blow up? How much will you bet that the behavior in question isn’t going to impact the organization — say, by offending important outsiders who weren’t briefed about this Missing Stair?**

    [**] A Missing Stair is someone with a behavioral issue which everyone decides to work around but nobody ever directly addresses. For example, if a manager is, shall we say, hands-on then women may quickly get the word never to be alone with him.

    As the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine. Including for the problem person himself (or herself). I have had multiple teachers say nothing and do nothing…until they felt they had to do something like ask me to leave an activity, refuse to be a reference for me, etc. And that was the very first information that there was a problem.

    Yes, I understand being the bearer of bad news isn’t fun. If it were fun they wouldn’t have to pay you to do it — and last time I checked, teachers and bosses in general are supposed to deliver all kinds of unwelcome news.

    Putting that aside, I might be grumpy if I’m given some negative feedback. But if I get it only after it’s too late to use it? And the person giving it is also punishing me for a situation that could have been avoided if s/he had given me that very same heads-up earlier? How cranky am I going to be then?

    Conversely, I still remember fondly a dean from my first semester in college (she had hand-picked a small group, including me, for her year-long*** Political Science Honors seminar — personally taught by her). A few weeks in, she saw I was clearly struggling to relate to the rest of the seminar. So she called me into her office, and told me how I was behaving dysfunctionally.

    If anything, if I were she I would have laid out a list of non-negotiable, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound) expectations for me to fulfill before the end of the semester — on pain of removal from the Honors course at semester’s end.

    [***] Unfortunately, at the end of the first semester our School of Government and Public Administration merged with the School of Justice (both within the university) to form a School of Public Affairs. Now we had one dean too many…and ours was the one to go. (She went on to become provost — in the U.S,, a couple of steps above dean, and answering directly to the president — of another college.)

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  4. It seems that what’s happening here are:
    1. the conflation of a mish-mosh of different learning settings
    2. a level of belief that what’s good for the goose, will be good for the giraffe.

    My original blog covered an adult dance class: a specific learning setting with a specific audience, specific challenges, and that creates very specific issues because the nature of the activity demands physical contact. Teachers who manage that setting need to be both aware of and be able to manage the resulting problems, because managing the problems in THEIR class is THEIR job. The reason I used this setting is because it is the type of situation where, if we accept anecdotal evidence, much creeping is happening.

    You’re bringing in other situations including other subjects (e.g. maths), the education of young children, personal tutoring, etc.. Apples, oranges. The responsibilities and scope of a teacher in one setting cannot be translated into applying to other teachers in other settings. We do not expect a postgraduate math lecturer to wipe food from the students’ chins. A kindergarten teacher may well have to wipe bottoms. For that purpose, the word “teacher” is way too broad and non-descriptive.

    “Me: [Teachers] are not only not responsible for extra-curricular subjects or issues, but also not necessarily in a position to provide any assistance with them. They may not be any better at the issue at hand than their students. For instance, we can expect a math teacher to be qualified, trained, and capable at teaching maths. To expect them to be able to provide lifestyle advice seems both uncautious and unfair. To rely on them for lifestyle advice without checking their “credentials” is simply foolish.

    You: Then how could they help even if, as you urged, students came to them?”

    Again, I was talking about dance teachers handling the problems of dance students within a dance class. I was telling dance teachers to tell dance students to approach them if they had a specific problem. You were talking about teachers in general being responsible for proactively offering their students life skills.

    I would expect a dance teacher to be able to instruct a dance student in ways to improve how they relate to other dance students in a dance class. I would not expect expect them to be either able or willing to provide any extraneous advice. Whether the advice they provide is helpful in other settings will depend on both the advice and the settings. I would also not expect a maths teacher to be necessarily able to instruct maths students in ways to improve how they relate to other maths students: maths is not that kind of subject. It is precisely because it isn’t that kind of subject that some people pick it – and that may include higher-level teachers.

    Frankly, at my university course the people with the least developed set of social skills were often the lecturers. And that wasn’t a problem, because they weren’t there to teach or even model social skills. They were there to teach their given subject.

    I would absolutely not expect an adult teacher of any subject who does not have a specific responsibility towards a given student to volunteer unasked-for lifestyle advice. I would expect them to intervene if the student’s behaviour is impacting the rest of the class. In the example you brought up, both factors were into play: you were “a hand-picked student”, and you were “behaving dysfunctionally”. That’s more than “awkwardly”. Furthermore, Political Science, I am drawn to believe, is the kind of subject were one’s ability to interact with others is a significant factor. So there are three things at play here: subject relevance, specific personal responsibility, and the needs of class management.

    Furthermore, you do not know that your teacher was acting proactively. They may have been asked to intervene by affected students. And just because you found her intervention useful, and you wished for more measurable expectations, it doesn’t mean that every single socially awkward person would have felt the same.

    It pays to bear in mind that social awkwardness can stem from a variety of issues, and also from some non-issues (they may be problems to those at the receiving end of them, but they are not to the bearer). To treat someone with Aspergers, someone with social anxiety, an introvert, a narcissist, a sociopath, and someone who’s just sheer antisocial in the same manner is unlikely to yield good results. The chances of the entire thing backfiring, harming not only the teacher-student relationship but potentially negatively impacting the student’s welfare, multiply if our intervention is spontaneous. Also, some social skills issues stem from very specific problems that are best handled by experts. Special education tutors, psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors… there’s a damn good reason we have these experts: they have training, skills, and resources that “normal” people, even “normal” teachers, aren’t expected to have.

    We should also bear in mind that sticking one’s nose in other people’s issues when they fall outside of our remit IS a socially awkward behaviour. “See something, say something” is an anti-terrorism slogan. It was never meant to apply to personal lifestyle advice.

    Re. Missing Stairs: I know. I blogged about them.

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  5. Hello Anna,

    First off, let’s keep in mind that it was you who decided to use a dance class as an example to extrapolate to social teaching in general. As I began my previous reply, it depends on what kind of teaching is going on. I think we agree that one approach is much more appropriate for teaching primary, secondary and tertiary/university students, and quite a different approach is called for when teaching specialized subjects to full-fledged adults — say, The Minion on up.

    You may well be right in that much creeping is happening in dance classes. A significant amount of it is also happening in many other places — especially in school but also on the job and elsewhere.

    Meanwhile, let me make one thing perfectly clear. I don’t expect teachers or other superiors (managers, etc) to give in-depth counseling or other treatment which, as you rightly pointed out, is the proper domain of people like special education teachers, therapists, social workers, etc.

    What I’m talking about is a sit down, with a brief discussion of what the teacher has seen and heard (including heard from other students/employees), hearing what the individual has to say and giving advice about problematic behaviors.

    And I’m not talking about lifestyle questions any more than you are when you’re discussing creeping; I’m talking about out-and-out dysfunctional behavior. Things that affect the group anyway either directly or indirectly (eg, could be perceived as harassment — which at least in the U.S. could result in the school and even the individual teacher getting in big trouble if it’s not addressed right away).

    On the other hand, the teacher certainly would be out of line in giving, say, a diagnosis. (Once, a Government professor actually called me a sociopath to my face. And while he has quite a distinguished record in, say, rural economics and politics, I have no reason to believe he has any kind of background in Psychology.)

    I’m thinking more along the lines of, say, a referral to people who may be able to diagnose and then treat what might be the problem. Whether it should be a voluntary referral “Here, you might want to check out the Student Health Clinic, they may be able to help you out,” or something mandatory, like after the student has left “Hello, College Alert Line? I have a student, John Doe, who seems possibly unstable. I’ve seen him do X, Y and Z, several different young women have felt afraid around him and when I spoke with him he argued about every little detail and didn’t even address the thrust of what I was talking about….”

    As for my example…I think I know a bit better than you do about what happened to me. The dean gave me every impression that she was stepping in based on what she had observed — keep in mind that this is a seminar which she personally taught. And she responded very early in the term; in my experience it takes at least a little time for discontented peers to find each other and raise a collective stink. Not to mention Occam’s Razor suggests assuming the dean did this on her own; why would it be easier and quicker for students to decide to push their dean on something than for said dean to act on her own?

    In any case, even on the off-off-chance her intervention was my fellow students’ idea and not hers, I was pointing out how such an intervention can pay off, to inspire other teachers to do likewise.

    And no, I wasn’t guaranteeing that every such student would appreciate it. Who can guarantee that every recipient of anything would appreciate it?

    Last but not least, an important part of primary, secondary and yes tertiary education is giving unwelcome news that isn’t always appreciated. Everyone who’s ever given grades knows what that’s like. Giving students what they need, even if it isn’t always what they want, is part of the job. As is, I might add, reporting abuse and neglect (at least in the U.S.) — and that’s another thing which even abused and neglected children themselves don’t always appreciate at the time.

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  6. This is going to be something on which we’re going to have to agree to disagree – or just disagree.

    I felt compelled to respond to your original post because I strongly disagree with it. As this is my blog, which I’m pushing towards the public, if comments are posted presenting notions I consider incorrect, inadvisable, or dangerous, I feel compelled to address that. I cannot however dedicate the time to engage in lengthy conversations via this comment section. I believe I have made my point, as you have made yours, and I hope any readers will get a balanced view of the pros and cons of both of our approaches and make their own minds up accordingly.

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