Society of Negligence--Manners lacking
For a country that has been built on propriety and social graces, we're doing a terrible job of practicing such decorum in this high-tech and impersonal existence during a time when we most need courtesies and consideration.
What ever happened to the old prescribed code of behavior?
Protocol Lacking Everywhere
Protocol is found lacking in a number of situations. Children today eschew going through proper channels to register a voice, often demonstrate rudeness to friends, parents, teachers and relatives, and seldom have the grace or respect to greet an adult in passing, and rarely, if ever, defer to any authority. Of course, there are exceptions, but overall, we are raising and educating a classless class of people.
Yet, how can we expect our youth to display acceptable deportment when those in position to illustrate proper behavior don't practice refinement themselves, don't demonstrate an ounce of polish or gentility? How can we serve as fitting models for children when we ourselves are guilty of neglect? How do we demonstrate to a nine-year old that writing a thank you note for being invited to a dinner is the decorous thing to do when intelligent, savvy adults don't even respond to R. S. V. P.S.? Equally bad is the contempt for writing consolatory, get-well, and congratulatory notes. Good breeding, it seems, has gone the way of the fountain pen.
Not Limited to Writing
But print material isn't the only medium of reproach; gross omission of good manners is seen in a number of daily situations, from imprudence in dress, speech, and customs, to absolute scorn of something as essential as table manners. Even something as basic as proffering a firm handshake escapes today's young people, especially women, who for some inane reason think it's more feminine to extend a limp hand. Who wants to squeeze wilted celery?
It's important to spare civilization from turning into a culture of the coarse and crude. Countless reports circulate of how college grads--those who are supposed to be representative of society's literate and elite--missed getting a good job because they committed a number of social faux pas when put into social situations. If we limit teaching--whether by parents or educators--to pedagogic topics, then are we not doing only part of our job? Isn't it both parents' and teachers' conscious duty to show our future leaders the proper way to conduct themselves in public? If so, then somebody's goofing up because our society's breeding a boorish populace of pigs.
Something needs to be done and some schools are doing it. If today's parents aren't teaching or can't teach their children better, then it falls upon educational institutions to do so. For centuries, schools have extended to students what the homefront has lacked: erudition and models of societal practices of civilities. It would take little to continue this tradition by formalizing a course on protocol in order to ascertain that students are at least exposed to the right way to do things. Arming them with the knowledge of what is standard allows them to make choices; if they remain ignorant of the matter, then how can we blame them for any remiss on their part? Isn't teaching the appropriate way to publicly present oneself on a par with demonstrating how to program a computer, dissect a frog, diagram a sentence, solve a mathematical equation?
So why not develop a course required one semester per year that offers three major areas of content: study skills, survival skills, and social skills. The first is obvious and many schools are already doing it; the second can be discerned as a course that gives students insight in how to live safely in the kind of world we exist in today; the latter, however, is the new piece to the triad. It includes but isn't limited to the teaching of how to make proper introductions, when and how to write acknowledgements, knowing which fork to use at formal dinners or where to place one's napkin, how to go through proper channels, how to write memos, to whom to send invitations and how to address them, how to contact congressmen, and so on. The course should include critical thinking challenges, oral presentation skills, as well as the development of basic appreciatory faculties in art of all kinds. Too, the course could also incorporate skills for existing in, and dealing with, a global society. Since high technology has made the world an international neighborhood (no longer are we a country confined to our own boundaries), young people, then, need to learn how to survive in such an order, to be able to handle any number of situations when going overseas, or when those living overseas come here.
Such a course could be fashioned and constructed in any format; its limitations are only those of its creators. Team- teaching, internships, videotapes, fieldwork, projects, could all be incorporated. So why not do it?
Whose Duty Is It?
Naysayers will no doubt counter with, "How can we implement such a program when we don't have the time (space, money, etc.)?" Not doing it, though, results in propagating a society of impudent, disrespectful citizens who will be tomorrow's leaders.
If educators and parents aren't going to teach social and survival skills, then whose duty is it? Or should we just not care and go on thinking that our students, through some osmotic process, will learn and practice them when they're out "in the real world?"
But then again, who wants to sit next to a belcher and nose-blower in a restaurant?
Gianni DeVincent-Hayes, Ph.D; All materials are copyrighted.
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