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Washington's Classroom Civility Policy

Washington’s Classroom Civility


This fall we go back to classrooms that are polarized politically. Students have strong politic opinions, watch or listen to news stations geared toward their belief systems, and attend churches that are over stretching.  Our task is to create informed critical thinkers with open minds.  That is no small feat.  Just asking students to discuss in a civil tone, use legitimate sources, and research what they share is daunting.  We want our classrooms to be safe spaces where critical thinking and intelligent conversations are born.  Our freshmen students are coming from classrooms from high schools that limited their discussions or veered away from difficult topics.  They may experience the excitement of free discussion for the first time and need guidance.   To help create a civil classroom, this year I’m promoting civility through George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.  Who better to encourage proper behavior than the father of our country?   This first classroom discussion addresses behavior and how to read primary source documents.


Below is this semester’s, Civility Policy.




We will practice civility in this course.  Today civility is defined as politeness and courtesy in either behavior, speech or formal behavior.  Historically, civility comes from the Latin word civilis which means citizen and generally meant citizens working together for a common goal while remaining polite. George Washington would expand on civility by writing his 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.  We will practice many of these in class including the following excerpts:


1st Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.


2d When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usualy Discovered.


3d Shew Nothing to your Friend that may affright him.


4 In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.


5th If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkerchief or Hand before your face and turn aside.


6th Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.


7th Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Drest.


11th Shift not yourself in the Sight of others nor Gnaw your nails.


12th Shake not the head, Feet, or Legs roll not the Eyes lift not one eyebrow higher than the other wry not the mouth, and bedew no mans face with your Spittle, by approaching too near him when you Speak.


17th Be no Flatterer, neither Play with any that delights not to be Play'd Withal.


18th Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave: come not near the Books or Writings of Another so as to read them unless desired or give your opinion of them unask'd also look not nigh when another is writing a Letter.


19th let your Countenance be pleasant but in Serious Matters Somewhat grave.


20th The Gestures of the Body must be Suited to the discourse you are upon.


21st: Reproach none for the Infirmities of Nature, nor Delight to Put them that have in mind thereof.


22d Shew not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.


24th Do not laugh too loud or] too much at any Publick [Spectacle].


35th Let your Discourse with Men of Business be Short and Comprehensive.


79th Be not apt to relate News if you know not the truth thereof. In Discoursing of things you Have heard Name not your Author always A [Se]cret Discover not.


89th Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.


107th If others talk at Table be attentive but talk not with Meat in your Mouth.


You may access and read all of these at The Papers of George Washington


Fall semester starts soon.  Let’s share our ideas on class discussions and civility in the classroom. 

  • What is your discussion policy?
  • How do you promote civility?
  • Do you require discussion with research or opinion-based information?
  • Do you guide discussion or allow it to flow?
  • When and how do you intervene in discussions?