Student Writing Prompt – “Respect”

“Respect” – The syllabus talks about respect. What does showing respect to someone look like? Should you always show respect to other people? Why or why not?

The idea behind this prompt is that I want to get students to think about being clear and precise in their word choices. In the syllabus, “respect” is used as a synonym for courtesy. “Showing respect” therefore means doing things such as listening to what others have to say, thinking before you speak, considering others’ attitudes and desires, sharing, waiting your turn, that sort of thing.

However, there is also “respect” in the sense of “esteem.” The prompts I receive from students often take the position that “respect has to be earned.” I’ve had some go so far as to say that they don’t respect anyone, because everyone is flawed in some way and therefore no one really deserves it. Examples of people who have earned this sort of respect range from political figures and skilled celebrities (like musicians and athletes) to usually-older relatives or acquaintances, such as siblings, parents, grandparents, or even former teachers.

When used in this way, “showing respect” becomes much more deferential – holding the door for someone or offering them your seat, saying “yes sir / yes ma’am,” or doing what you’re told to do.

Students’ responses tend to fall into one of three categories: some feel they have an obligation to be respectful to those in positions of authority; others seem to think someone must prove themselves “worthy” of respect in some way; and still others are willing to extend as much respect as is given to them.

I enjoy collecting statements from the different responses and then having students review them and discuss them as a group. We talk about words being used in different ways depending on context, and how to facilitate clarity and understanding.

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