04 Oct Will Education Improve if Etiquette Doesn’t?
Recently, President Obama spoke about the plight of education in the United States and how spending more money will improve it. I agree that there are many schools which are underfunded and additional capital will improve the facilities and number of available resources for the children. However, it is my opinion, that schools will not succeed across the board until the kids are taught to respect their teachers and what they are learning. When I was growing up, respect for our teachers was utmost. We curtsied (yes curtsied) to them, we moved out of the way as they walked down the halls, we always said ” hello”, Miss or Mr. or Mrs. So and So as we passed. It would never have occurred to address our teachers or administrators by their first name. We respected that they had authority and that we had to defer to that authority in order to make our education process work.
I recently visited a public high school in Washington, DC and that deference to authority – the etiquette of respect – was missing. A teacher was walking down the hall with me when two children – one boy, one girl – brushed past us bumping into my shoulder. Neither said “excuse me”, neither seemed to notice or care. I watched the same pushing and shoving and bumping among the kids as well. No “excuse me”s, no, “I’m sorry”s, could be heard. I did see lots of frowns, disgusted looks, and borderline hostility on the faces of those who had been bumped.
From my observation, the etiquette of getting along in school with both other students and with teachers and administrators has deteriorated over the past 30 years. For that reason, I started the Etiquette in School Foundation which has the mission of bringing etiquette training into the schools as part of the curriculum rather than as an optional after school activity. To that end the foundation provides outlines, syllabus support,resources, and teach-the-teacher programs. We want the children to learn to write a letter properly, to write an email properly, to greet everyone the proper way, to make a proper introduction, to learn small talk and how it is different from debate, and how to think socially. Ultimately we want the skills of negotiation and tolerance to be practiced by the students and teachers.
It isn’t just the schools which are dragging their feet on implementing this type of in-classroom social education, it is also the parents who constantly tell us that their kids are fine and this is silly stuff on which to focus our attention. I disagree that the kids don’t need this type of education every day in school. But, after all, I teach etiquette for a vocation and I would rather see the children learn how to get along with others than have to teach them remedial etiquette when they are adults trying to get ahead in their work life. We as part of a society that includes these children need to make some effort to share the good manners we already know with the kids who don’t. If the parents won’t teach these skills at home, maybe we need to step in as the “village” to help.