Diana Kugel: Decoding classroom decorum

Most of us have been attending some kind of learning institution since we were 5 or 6 years old, so the concept of education is ingrained in us. So well ingrained perhaps that we fail to acknowledge just how lucky we actually are. Especially as college students, we are absolutely privileged to be able to just learn for four solid years, exploring areas of thought that will shape not only our future careers but who we are as human beings.

Yes, we all have our jobs and activities which fill up our time, sometimes even filling time we do not actually have, but when push comes to shove, learning is our only concrete responsibility right now. Most of us would not come into our internships half an hour late or arrive at a job wearing what we woke up in. So why is it that we do not show the same courtesy to our classes and especially our professors?

Yes, waking up on Monday mornings for an 8 a.m. class is hard, but none of us are doing our professors a favor by gracing the class with our presence when we show up. On the contrary, the professor standing before you probably knows more about the topic at hand than anyone you have met before or are likely to encounter in the future. Take advantage of that fact. While the semester may seem to stretch out endlessly, we really only get about 13 short weeks to pick the professor’s brain about his or her area of expertise.

GW has a fairly casual learning environment, which often works for the best, putting both professor and student at ease for their exchange of ideas. But where do we draw the line? Is it appropriate to bring a full meal, complete with silverware, to class? How about failing to put on clothes that your mother would have let you out of the house in? Is constantly showing up 20 minutes late and strolling in as though you have done nothing wrong acceptable?

Many of my friends that have studied abroad in the past or are currently in another country agree that while it is usually still a case by case basis of what each professor prefers, students abroad still seem to show more respect towards their educators then do American students. Since many GW students plan to study abroad at some point during their college careers, the way they view the concept of education and classroom decorum should be put into perspective before they even start flipping through the application forms. There are professors that will not allow a student to enter a classroom after the class session has begun and who take the presence of a laptop as a personal insult. Even in the U.S., as I have recently learned from a friend who is transfer student, there are smaller colleges that do not allow students to wear anything as casual as jeans to their classes.

Of course there are always exceptions. Some professors could not care less what you wear to their class or whether you send text messages to half of GW, as long as you learn the material. And there are always cases where you are late due to circumstances beyond your control. I know that I personally have been guilty of many of these transgressions and have not really thought twice about it. But once I stopped to analyze what our collective breach of classroom decorum implies about our educational system, it made me think twice about sleeping in for those extra ten minutes when it meant I would have to come into class late.

I am not suggesting that students be required to dress in formal business attire to attend classes or that a cup of coffee should be viewed as an instant symbol of disrespect. However, as the semester is reaching its end and as the start-of-the-year eagerness has worn off for most, students must evaluate how they are treating their classes and professors and make sure that a cup of coffee in class does not turn into a three-course meal. After all, most of our classes offer plenty of food for thought.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in psychology, is the Hatchet contributing opinions editor.

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