Why Disagreeing or Challenging an Idea is Not “Incivility”

Posted by on February 13, 2011

The latest politically-correct buzzword of the day, incivility, sounds good on the surface.  After all, who could be against a more “civil” society?

The Resurrection of “Civility” and the Push for Kumbaya

The problem is that the issue has been pushed to the forefront in a political context.  The buzz started with the Obama Administration and Democratic-controlled Congress.  It rapidly accelerated with the horrific shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and others in Tucson.

More narrowly focused to the topic of this blog, the word “civility” (or “incivility” and its associate, “anti-bullying”) was permeating the Obama Administration’s federal school safety language, policies, and proposed funding  far before the Tucson shooting.  In fact, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools redefined school safety policy and funding by largely ignoring violence, school security, school-based policing, and related issues to focus on “civility” and “bullying” and of course, “climate.”

Now there is nothing wrong with teaching kids to be civil, promoting anti-bullying, and fostering a supportive school climate as a part of a comprehensive approach to school safety.  But this has become the total focus of the Department’s public speeches and political rhetoric, and the bulk of its policy and funding emphasis. 

It is as if to the U.S. Department of Education, violence, school security, school-based policing, and other issues no longer exist.  Kumbaya is in, both in federal school safety and in federal politics.

What’s Wrong With Civility?

The problem is that federal school safety policy and funding must be balanced and comprehensive.  It cannot be disproportionately skewed any more to “incivility” and “bullying” than it can be disproportionately skewed to “violence” and “security.”

But another problem is the broader political spin where “incivility” is used as a political tool to attempt to silence those who disagree or challenge an idea, policy, or other practice.  We see this play out almost daily in the media. If one political party disagrees with their rivals, they are slapped with the label of being “incivil.”

I have also seen this for years in the K-12 education community.  If you disagree or challenge a policy or practice, and you push the matter with facts supporting you, often the party on the other end who cannot rebutt with facts instead challenges your “tone” or “unprofessional manner.”  

It’s a nice diversion tool, especially when the challenging person lacks the position or courage to refocus the conversation back on the facts and issues at hand.  I have seen many people who are spot-on with their arguments tuck their tails and whimper away — which is actually what the challenged party hopes to accomplish with this ploy.

Is Yelling “Incivility” Just a Way to Dumb-Down Challenges to Policies, Practices, and Ideas?

Personally I have never been, nor do I plan to be, one of those tail-tuckers.  I do professional work, but I will challenge a process or an individual if the facts show they are wrong, lying, or trying to run a game over me or someone else. 

While some call this “unprofessional” or “incivility,” I call it disagreeing and challenging ideas or practices.  The problem is, some people don’t like being called to task for blowing smoke, running a sham business process, or trying to spin their way out of a screwed up mess they are responsible for creating and/or overseeing.

I see this often, for example, in the RFP and purchasing process when school districts are required to take proposals for school safety consulting services.  Many of the RFPs are so blatantly steered to a pre-determined preferred vendor I do not even waste my time going through their sham process. 

Every now and then, I do submit proposals if the RFP process looks fair after I do some basic due-diligence to reduce the risks of wasting me time.  Unfortunately, too often than not, I still run into illogical, flawed, and/or intentionally steered processes regardless of my best efforts to weed them out.

So I question people:  Purchasing agents, superintendents, school board members, whoever.  I ask pointed questions and refer to facts, but pull no punches.  And I am persistent.

What I have learned is that people don’t like having either their ineptness (on the best end) or their facade of a fair process when they have not had a level playing field all along (on the other extreme) being challenged.  They also don’t like the fact that some people just don’t go away when they try to blow them off.

Do We Want “Sheeple” or Critical Thinkers?

So what does this have to do with the rest of our society and the broader issue of “civility”?  The answer is simple:  We not only have some people in powerful positions who think they are above reproach, we also have some people who try to stifle disagreement and the challenging of ideas by slapping the label of “incivility” or “unprofessional” onto those who disagree or challenge practices.

Sadly, I find more and more that we have a society of “sheeple” — sheep, not people.  The current flavor of the day is to try to stifle legitimate challenges and disagreements by spinning such challenges as claims of “incivility” when the heat gets turned up in the kitchen.  And many of the sheeple just go away.

I, for one, do not want to spend my elder years in a society where our future leaders have been dumbed down under the guise of “civility” and a false pretence of kumbaya which we all know will never exist.  I want the next generation, unlike too many already in our current generation, to be able to think critically and challenge thoughts, ideas, policies, and practices which are unsound, illegal, immoral, unethical, or just plain ignorant.

If that is defined as “incivility” — then I’ll take more, not less.

What say you?

Ken Trump

Visit School Security Blog at:  http://www.schoolsecurityblog.com

One thought on “Why Disagreeing or Challenging an Idea is Not “Incivility”

  1. David R. McConnaughey says:


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