By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
Recently, my family and I chose a restaurant’s small, outdoor patio for a weekend dinner. Shortly after seating, three boys from an adjacent table began running around, as boys will do before being reined in by their parents. One was about eight years old … another nine or ten … and the third, pre-school it appeared.
No “rein” occurred that evening.
As my children looked on with interest at the tag-playing and hoopla (with probably a desire to join in until they caught my eye), the boys’ parents, two couples who appeared to be in their mid-to-late 30’s, simply sat nearby, a blind eye to the antics and enjoying each other’s company – quality adult time.
At numerous points, the preschooler stood aside our table, crowing for all he was worth, while the others darted around some large cement pillars, crayons in hands, arms swinging. This activity continued non-stop, from the point of our ordering to the arrival of our pizza.
My wife, Wendy, then said, “Oh my goodness; they’re writing on the cement.”
One of the boys, the others aside, was using the crayons provided by restaurant staff to draw on the large, cement pillar on the outdoor patio. Parents continued to enjoy themselves.
I’ll spare you my response, as that’s not important, but let’s just say it was “old school.”
The couples eventually left with their children, neither informing the wait staff of the crayon use nor making any attempt at redress.
My son told me later than one of the boys often misbehaves at school.
It’s no wonder.
He has been taught he can behave unbridled, irrespective of how it affects others or their property, as long as his parents are left to do what they wish at a distance.
My heart went out to him.
I believe what my children and I witnessed last Friday was an affliction I call AAE, “Abject Adult Entitlement,” a growing phenom bringing indirect challenges to our schools and especially to our leadership.
AAE allows parents to commiserate with other adults around kitchen tables on any given school night, while their children stay up late, run hither and yon around the neighborhood, and learn things from older children that they should be learning from their parents. [Because … it’s all about “them” (the parents).]
In schools, AAE is not limited to the parents of our students. AAE blames assistant principals when children are disciplined … yet blames them again, when children are not. [Note: Those “inside” can exhibit AAE, as it can be all about "them," as well.] AAE results in two- or three-way finger pointing if children fail assignments. AAE makes a delicate circumstance for anyone expressing in staff lounges, “If children are not learning, it is my fault.”
As leaders, how are we handling AAE? I hope not through denial.
Our work in addressing AAE demands first that we recognize what it is … how it has afflicted our society … and why. Leaders must ask ourselves, “What do we look for in symptoms?” “What conditions make AAE communicable?” “Can we inoculate?”
This is a difficult subject for me, as I must distance my strong personal feelings regarding AAE from my position as an educational leader (requiring more temperance). In doing so, I am beginning to develop an perspective on how we can do just that … “inoculate.”
I strongly believe that the first booster leaders must give to themselves is a healthy dose of unconditional, positive regard and the ability to forgive others in advance for what they have become. We must be all right with this, and with ourselves for doing so.
Follow-up treatment involves our efforts as leaders in creating, nurturing, and maintaining positive, sustained relationships that can withstand a treatment regimen of critical conversations, authentic boundary setting, and through such, over time … trust.
It’s a comprehensive prescription that will address AAE when it must be addressed, while creating school wellness.
Probably the most important thing to remember in AAE is never to express our concern directly about an adult’s AAE in front of an audience (especially his/her children). Going in through what I call “the front door” is errant enough, let alone, doing such in front of others in a way that can cause embarrassment.
A “side-door” approach takes a bit more time, focuses on relationships, and uses story, where we share vignettes that contain elements of AAE in other settings with the person we are trying to treat, working to plant a non-confrontational seed from which later thoughts can grow.
In considering the demands of our school leadership roles and their importance in saving lives – We must humbly consider that we are only as good as the partnerships we create between school, home, and community. Recognizing this, we must ensure that our teaching of students will not be undone each evening by those, who themselves, were left many years ago running amok in restaurants, staying out way-too-late, and defacing others’ property while their own parents paid more attention to AAE than they did, to parenting.
Dr. Ryan Donlan is continuing his investigation into how American school wellness can be nurtured and preserved. Will you help him in this venture by sharing your thoughts, observations, and perspectives, contacting him at (812) 237-8624 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, so much, for leading!