Opinion: America needs new emphasis on civility

October 8, 2012


Civility — respect for the opinions and needs  of others — is a requisite for a healthy democracy. Unfortunately, it is in short supply in the United States, and our nation’s leaders deserve a good portion of the blame.

Exhibit one: The 2012 presidential campaign has been ugly on both sides. The numbers tell us that more than 70 percent of the ad money has gone to negative messaging. In one 14-day period in July, 90 percent of the ads criticized their opponent.

Another set of numbers gives us a related narrative: Americans see the lack of civility and don’t like it. They believe it is hurting the country and the tone is being set by our leaders.

Two-thirds believe that candidates spend more time attacking their opponents than addressing issues; 80 percent are frustrated by the tone of the political discourse; and 64 percent believe the negative campaigns harm the political process. That’s just background. The central points are that almost two-thirds believe this country has a larger civility problem and nearly 70 percent think that politicians have a negative influence on how people get along.

Exhibit two: At the beginning of the school year, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were closed for the first seven days of the academic year. The reason: a teachers’ strike that followed ten months of negotiations between the mayor and the teacher’s union.

To put the magnitude of the work stoppage in perspective, here is more about CPS.

It is the nation’s third largest system. It  enrolls 350,000 students, employs 26,000 teachers and support staff, and operates 578 schools. Almost 90 percent of the students come from families below the poverty level. The high school graduation rate is 60 percent. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress test (the nation’s report card), of CPS’s eighth-graders: Only 26 percent scored proficient or better in math; only 23 percent scored proficient or better in reading; and only 7 percent scored proficient or better in science.

The strike received national attention. Politicians at all levels weighed in.  Newspapers ran front-page articles and published editorials. The Internet, television and radio covered it extensively. Three stories emerged and were repeatedly explored, discussed and analyzed. The strike was a long-anticipated showdown between labor and management. The strike was a test of strength between factions within the school reform movement. The strike was part of the ongoing national battle (with a few interesting twists) between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans.

Here’s what’s wrong with this picture: Sadly, few in the political, policy or media worlds talked about the tragedy of children, primarily poor children, being locked out of the classroom. The needs of the students were treated with dismissiveness. While the leaders argued about compensation, health benefits, teacher evaluations and job security, students lost precious learning time. Both sides say the lost days will be made up, but no one yet knows how or when.

Coincidentally, on the second day of the strike, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development issued its 2012 Education at a Glance report. (This analyzes and compares educational achievement in approximately 30 countries.)

Here is one of the major findings: “In Italy, Portugal, and the United States, young people from families with low levels of education have the least chance of attaining a higher level of education than their parents.” In other words, when we fail to serve our students, the chances are that we visit that same failure on their children. In Chicago we may have harmed not one, but two generations.

This lack of civility is hardly new in America. There have been times in our history when elected officials have literally come to blows with one another. But the modern world has altered the dimensions of the problem. And the reason is technology. Lack of civility was once between individuals or among smaller groups. For the most part, it could be contained. Not so anymore. Messages can be sent to millions instantaneously. Virtually anyone can initiate or receive the information. And anonymity is easily kept.

Many of us were told as children that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” We should retire this saying. Unless our leaders rein in their rhetoric and start acting with consideration toward others, we run the risk that we will all follow their lead.  If that happens, the civility that binds will be replaced with the lack of civility that divides.

— Gene Budig is the past president/chancellor of three major state universities, including Kansas University and former president of Major League Baseball’s American League. Alan Heaps is a vice president at the College Board in New York City.


JayCat_67 5 years, 7 months ago

Both you and KL are exactly what the editorial is about.

Satirical 5 years, 7 months ago


I absolutely agree. Team (D) has a monopoly on honesty and truth. They are the only ones that care about America. Team (R) lies about the color of the sky, hates America, and eats babies for breakfast every morning (with milk of course). Only with this mindset --that one side is absolutely and unequivocally right, and the other side is pure evil-- can we ever reach civility, and stop this willful ignorance. Four more years! Four more years!

bad_dog 5 years, 7 months ago

And the word "bub" adds so much to the discourse...

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

If he were calling me a hypocrite, I'd say the same thing.

beatrice 5 years, 7 months ago

Well, I don't know about all of that Sati, but the Rs do call our President a Muslim, a Socialist, say he isn't a citizen, wasn't born in the country and personally created our debt problem, that he does nothing but ruined everything, and to top it all off, he is the Anti-Christ. But besides those minor triffles, sure, the Rs care about "their" country. That is why they keep wanting to take it back from everyone else.

Satirical 5 years, 7 months ago


I know you like to play the game of politics, but you should know better than to bring your B game against someone who also knows the game. Its politics 101 to characterize everyone in the opposition as being identical to the outliars (Leonard Pitts makes a living off doing this). There are just as many crazy Ds as Rs. I could just as easily cite a bunch of crazy liberals and claim all Ds are like this.

However, I do agree we need to "take our country back" to sounds fiscal policy and get away from Keynesian economics.

booyalab 5 years, 7 months ago

The socialist claims bug me too. He's more of a fascist. With the exception of GM, he doesn't want to own the means of production he just hates markets and wants to regulate them to death.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

He really can't be a socialist in America. That party would be stomped by the libertarians if every other party stayed out. OTOH, if the communist party was viable in America, I'm not sure Obama wouldn't be a member. Sure, he's not a socialist, but I think he would be if he could be electable as such.

You don't have to be a socialist on the outside to be one inside.

GM was meant to bail out labor unions. It wasn't fascism but done to prop out that outdated and socialist-inspired faction of the democrat party. They paid for it.

notaubermime 5 years, 7 months ago

As opposed to saying that GW Bush stole an election? Or that he was a racist because of the response to Katrina? Or that he was responsible for 9-11? Started a war for oil? Ruined the economy? How many images did you see that compared Bush to a monkey or a chimpanzee? I personally lost count.

This lack of civility has been brewing for a long time and both Democrats and Republicans have played their share of a role in it. Claiming otherwise is willful denial.

beatrice 5 years, 7 months ago

Not going to get any argument from me. By pointing out Republican incivility over the past three years in no way clears Dems of theirs in years previous. Both are capable of being boneheads. That was the point, in contrast to Satirical's satirical comment that one side was good and the other evil.

Satirical 5 years, 7 months ago

Kansas Liberal... "You're not being helpful."

Really? ; )

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

I like that dress.

Too bad the young lady has to endure leftist hatred and vulgarity for having an opinion. She can come rest her head on my shoulder and I'll handle the left-wing losers.

somedude20 5 years, 7 months ago

Tough kid, guessing you don't remember what the Dixie Chicks (Natalie Maines) went through when she expressed her opinion about ole George Bush and the death threats she (and her family) received. Trump it up all you want, but all sides do it

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

I don't really care if a person say's they like one guy or another, but if an American id in a foreign land they really shouldn't come out on stage in a politically neutral setting and deride our president. At home, say what you want. We can all bicker.

If an entertainer is overseas deriding Obama at a non-political event, point them out and I'll stop buying their product.

somedude20 5 years, 7 months ago

Keep on telling yourself that, you can't cherry pick!

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

It's a general test. I won't cherry pick. You post a list of entertainers that belittle the president in front of a foreign audience and I won't bother caring why. I just won't buy their stuff. You do what you want.

bad_dog 5 years, 7 months ago


Contraction or personal possessive?

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

I don't know. Are you that same woman that used to bug me about grammar 25 years ago?

To this day I'd rather be wrong than acquiesce to her insistence that family is plural.

bad_dog 5 years, 7 months ago

You should have reconsidered. Instead, you apparently got your wish.

I ordinarily wouldn't have commented, but that was such an unusual variant I just had to ask.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

OK, you made me think 2 seconds, realize it was a verb. and decide it should have no apostrophe. Thanks.

JayCat_67 5 years, 7 months ago

Hmmm... Original equipment or aftermarket?

Paul R Getto 5 years, 7 months ago

Civility and civilization have been a challenge for centuries. While there is no good excuse for present behaviors, our discourse used to be terrible back in the day. Remember "Apeman Lincoln?"

5 years, 7 months ago

LOL. To be sure. And in 1800, Thomas Jefferson was called a "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father," while his opponent (the sitting president and and later his friend) John Adams was dubbed a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." The idea that these words did not get around is laughable: they were printed in bold characters on the front pages of party newspapers.

Yes, while I would prefer that the "Muslim/commie" and "dog killer/Captain Underoos" whisper campaigns not exist, at least half of that reason is that we moderns wholly lack that creativity that made such name-calling a work of art.

Armstrong 5 years, 7 months ago

Careful you're in Tusch territory buddy

5 years, 7 months ago

I really hope I don't have to explain the joke.

5 years, 7 months ago

Linguistic. When Armstrong said, “Careful you're in Tusch territory buddy,” he was using a figure of speech. I was not literally in Touschahoma’s territory (ignore potential joke about Oklahoma being named, before statehood, “Indian Territory”) and he was not really claiming that I was. He used that metaphor to say that my words were crazy, as personified by “Tusch.” Being in "Tusch territory" is dwelling in the realm of babbling, crazy talk (not that I agree with that assertion, I’m merely explaining it).

I purposely interpreted his metaphor literally, meaning that my response was going to sound as if I thought he was saying that I ought to be careful for my person because I was physically in a dangerous place (we know “Tusch territory” is a dangerous place by the admonition to be careful). Now, if one finds oneself physically in a dangerous place, what is the best way to set one’s mind at ease or to be careful? It’s to have a good physical defense. Concealed carry is a good defense in a dangerous place.

Therefore, my response, “It’s ok, I carry” was meant to betray an ignoring of a metaphor with which I presumably disagreed by applying an unlikely literal interpretation to Armstrong’s words.

The joke may not have been funny originally, but now that it’s explained, it’s really not funny.

5 years, 7 months ago

lol. Yeah, that would have been funnier.

mom_of_three 5 years, 7 months ago

dont forget, the press and Andrew jackson's opponents attacked his wife, Rachel for her divorce, calling her every name in the book at the time.

tbaker 5 years, 7 months ago

Lack of civility is a bi-product of a deeply rooted sense of entitlement. With this in mind it is no wonder the Chicago teachers reacted the way they did when threatened with reductions in their compensation and benefits. The first and foremost characteristic of public service in all its forms used to be a strong commitment to selflessness, an awareness that one was serving a greater good bigger than his own self-interests, hence the term “public servant.”

That’s long gone of course and has been replaced by simple greed and the selfishness that drives it. The long list of the Chicago School’s dismal performance metrics is a stark example of this. A more compelling argument for the implementation of a school voucher system to empower the parents is hard to find.

riverdrifter 5 years, 7 months ago

I see. It's all Demos and 'libs' fault. Got it.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

It isn't really the Dems fault. Teacher's strikes happen because union scum have undermined the selfless desire to help others and replaced it with jigged-up greed meant to deepen the pockets of the thugs that make you pay to work.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

"That’s long gone of course and has been replaced by simple greed and the selfishness that drives it."

The GOP have even made them the core of their ideological framework.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

Civility would be very welcome, from where I sit.

But, it doesn't mean we can't vigorously discuss and debate things, and it shouldn't mean that people have to let lies and misrepresentations stand unchallenged.

So, for example, when Romney or Obama lies, they should be held accountable for that.

Without, I hope, unnecessary personal attacks/insults.

The truly sad thing about the Chicago situation is the comment that 90% of the families with children in public school there are below the poverty level. That's almost certainly a result of more well off parents taking their kids out of public schools.

How exactly teachers and the school system could get these kids to a higher level of achievement without significant costs, both in and out of classrooms is beyond me.

If we really care about these kids, then we should support not only the public schools, but also a range of programs designed to help the families, and help the parents be more involved with their kids' education.

Armored_One 5 years, 7 months ago

And, ironically, multiple posters have willingly demonstrated exactly what this article is stating. There is a distinct lack of civility in this nation, from the ground up. There are probably dozens of individual causes, none of which have any looming impact, but one that stands out in my mind is the lack of respect from younger generations for the older ones.

Yes, I know, that is a common complaint of ever generation that is no longer the "baby", but in all hoenst truth, there is more vulgarity, more bald-faced rudeness, and a general lack of acceptance for the older generations in the current 'crop' that is in high school than ever before. Granted, that is just my opinion, but have you ever stopped and listened to some of the conversations that they have in public? I admit my generation wasn't exactly what I would call poster children for Emily Post, but there is a limit, or at least there should be.

I made the mistake once, and once only, calling my mother a nasty word that started with a B. I promptly found myself sitting on the floor, the side of my face hurting pretty good, and my grandmother standing over me, flat threatening to knock either some manners into me or the attitude out of me.

A simple test.

Go into a grocery store, or better yet a gas station, and just listen to the customers and the cashiers. The interaction definately fails to cut the mustard in terms of politeness, what with people having phones surgically attached to their face these days. Even those that aren't on the phone still don't use a simple "please" or "thank you". I pretty much doubt that most any cashier truly appreciates being told thank you or being asked with the word please, but I do use those words.

Sadly, I have to remind my nearly grown children to use those words, especially if they have spent any amount of time recently with their friends away from my oversight. I admit that I had to be reminded a few times in grade school, but that reminder was usually followed with a silent threat of some form of punishment, and the habit stayed.

I am positive that there will be many that disagree with me, and I'll be honest and admit that I could truly care less if they agree with me or claim I've got bats in the belfrey. But I will still be polite about telling them to take a flying leap.

I don't want, in any sense of the concept, everyone to always agree. Bite me, b**w me, and other such endearing comments don't really accomplish much, though. All it does is torque the other person and people that are upset and/or angry rarely pause to give thought to what the other person has said. If you don't believe me, make your teenager mad than try to have a logical discussion with him or her about something. You'll get flat ignored, at best, nearly every single time.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

I hope you realize "Armored_One" is a puppet and you have the strings. You should first pull on the "brevity is good" string.

Remember this a fairly political web forum. The noise is good and let's you know it's working. Just be part of the noise and don't worry about what people hear.

Armored_One 5 years, 7 months ago

I intend no disrespect, but I would enjoy a direct answer, Liberty.

If I were to call you something fairly vile, especially to your face, can you, in good and honest faith, state that you would willingly discuss the very next thing I said dispassionately? Or would your emotions, which would likely be provoked by the expletive, get the better of you, so to speak?

That is the point that I am getting at.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

While it's cool to toss an insult, should it really be the entirety of your post? Add some substance by pointing out one or two things you disagree with then accuse them of stroking their egos.

And you don't really need to quote the entire previous post. You've been here long enough to know that is little more than annoying.

JayCat_67 5 years, 7 months ago

Too true. Think how long those reality shows would last without people being total arses to each other. Why should "news" be any different?

Flap Doodle 5 years, 7 months ago

Sesame St. pulls in some major bucks from character licensing. They could cover what the feds have been kicking in to PBS out of petty cash.

Liberty275 5 years, 7 months ago

They should send the obama campaign a bill. A million dollars should cover the ad and help PBS.

beatrice 5 years, 7 months ago

Interesting that a debate Romney "won," and the talk is all about how Romney wants to pull the plug on Big Bird.

The fact that PBS is the ONE cut Romney was specific about in his plans to lower the deficit and debt speaks volumes to undecided voters, particularly women.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 7 months ago

The current regime is striving to use Big Bird as a shield to keep from having to answer questions about Libya and the economy.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 7 months ago

In defense of Chicago's teachers, we know very little about the negotiations. I don't recall much information on the points of discussion. In Lawrence, we live in a protected suburban bubble. Many of you have no idea how stressful teaching in the inner city can be, except for Hollywood glimpses. What would you do to work a student riot, simple refusals to cooperate, fights, poverty and abuse issues? Have you ever thought about disarming a student? If the teachers were negotiating for smaller classes or resisting performance measures, take a look at the total picture. They're not talking about sports complexes up there.

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