Thursday, February 16, 2012

Teachable Moment? I'll Give You A Teachable Moment.

A few days ago, my friend Jim wrote a post about the brouhaha over a group of USMC Sniper Scouts who posed with flag consisting of what  appeared to be a stylized Waffen SS symbol. I haven't commented over there because frankly, I don't really care very much.  I just can't find anyone in the narrative who is either fully in the right or fully in the wrong.  Rabbi Hier brought it to peoples' attention, he made his point and, IMHO, that should have been enough.  The marines who claimed they didn't know it was a loaded symbol are either disingenuous or seriously ignorant. (I'm voting for disingenuous since I'm pretty sure you don't get placed into an advanced specialty without just a teensy bit of exposure to military history and I'd be shocked if the chapter on WWII was completely omitted.  But that's just me.) I'm not sure exactly what action the Marine Corps took, but since I don't think the offense rated a firing squad or a dishonorable discharge, I'll trust that it was adequate.

No, the thing that gets me most exercised is the phrase "teachable moment".  It shows up in Jim's post and repeatedly in the comments.*  I swear I'm not picking on you Jim, and this is not specifically a reaction to that story, but I hate that fucking phrase.  I'm all for adult education, but I'm pretty sure your "teachable moments" have expired by the time you can't get a case heard before a Juvenile Court Judge.

Teachable moments are great for great for 3-year-olds.  When the kid manages to open your refrigerator and pulls the carton of milk out and...Ooops...manages to pour the whole damned thing out over his head?  Yup, teachable moment. (If your kid is reaching for a lit burner on the stove and your teachable moment comes before grabbing the kid and hollering, you might be doing it wrong.)

When your 8-year-old and her friend rip her stuffed bear into two pieces because neither of them want to share it?  That's probably a teachable moment.

When your 12-year-old is loud and demanding and rude to someone in public, I bet there's a teachable moment in there.

But if you're a 23-year-old in your first real  job and you think it's a really cool prank to piss in the breakroom coffee pot your ass oughta get fired.  That'll learn ya!  How's that for a teachable moment, asshole?  If you're a cop and you keep beating on a suspect after he's been subdued and cuffed, you should be welcome to all of the teachable moments you can find in prison.  You're supposed to have learned a little self-restraint before they gave you a gun and a badge.

Look, every bad act should have a consequence proportional to just how bad the act is.  Punishments should fit the offense. But most people tend to use the phrase "teachable moment" when they want to excuse bad behavior.  They want a bit of education to take the place of a bit of punishment.

I'd like to think that those Marines' punishment consisted of a week or two of latrine duty, some other loathsome duty and the promise that if that flag made a reappearance there would be real consequences.  And the "teachable moment" hopefully was when their superior screamed into their faces that the flag wasn't "appropriate" because the SS "was the enemy, you shit-for-brains, dickhead excuse for a Marine, that's why!"

Just because some people have a lot to learn doesn't rate them a "teachable moment".
*Jim put the phrase in quotes, so I'm not sure whether he was referring to something USMC said, or if he was using the phrase sarcastically.  And in the comments, every time I saw the phrase, my eyes glazed over and I skipped to the next comment, so I have no idea whether or not they were using it seriously.

P.S. The original title of this post was "Fuck You And The Teachable Moment You Rode In On". I decided the "humor" in that might have been lost on fans of Teachable Moments, so I went another way.  :)

1 comment:

Eric said...

A great post, Nathan, and I'm with you: "teachable moment" has become a cliche that should be retired with prejudice.