I hate the phrase ‘inappropriate behaviour’. It is one of those mealy-mouthed modern terms which relativises principles which have traditionally been considered universal.
When we say that a pupil’s behaviour is ‘inappropriate’, we are stating that it is not fitting to a particular context, which implies that in a different one, it would be absolutely fine. This connects to the pragmatic approach to morality, where a teacher explains that certain rules are needed in order for the classroom to run smoothly, just as a certain type of oil is needed to grease a particular kind of engine. No-one is being judged. It is a purely functional matter with no definite moral content.
Let’s take the example of calling out in class, one of the most persistent items on the list of ‘low level disruption’ (another phrase I hate; how can disrupting a lesson ever be described as ‘low level’?). When a pupil shouts out without asking permission to speak, they are interrupting, and demonstrating that they do not consider it necessary to keep a control on their tongue for the sake of the common good. When would such arrogance and such a lack of self-discipline ever be ‘appropriate’? Developing self control, particularly control of the tongue, is vital in every situation, if we do not want to become slaves to our passing emotions and do all kinds of things we will later regret. So let’s call this behaviour by its traditional name. Let’s call it intemperance, and contrast it with one of the four cardinal virtues, temperance. Let’s help our pupils develop this vital character trait, so that they can refuse to eat the marshmallow, as they say in the KIPP schools.
My loathing of this commonly used phrase doesn’t end there, however. I also dislike the word ‘behaviour’ because it is not sufficiently specific to the human race. We can talk about the behaviour of ants and bees as they follow their instincts, but human beings are different. They make free moral choices. We might admire the intricate organisation of a bee hive, but no one has yet written an epic poem with a bee as its hero. Words such as ‘conduct’ are more fitting, as they are applicable only to humans.
In the end, wouldn’t life be simpler if we abandoned the mealy-mouthed modern jargon and talked about right and wrong, praising pupils when they make the right choices and punishing them when they choose to do something that is wrong? This is truly fitting to human dignity. But maybe there are teachers out there who really do think they are dealing with bees in a hive? Nevertheless, to educate human beings effectively, you really do need to believe in their existence.