A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.

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Next entry: The jaws of bias
Previous entry: Musical compulsion
Wednesday January 09 2008

From the BBC today:

Pupils are being taught which cutlery to use and whether to remove their jackets at dinner at an independent school in Brighton.

Brighton College introduced the classes in etiquette after a survey of company directors said graduates displayed impoliteness and poor table manners.

Headmaster Richard Cairns said exams were “only part” of preparation for adult life.

Strictly speaking that’s all about etiquette rather that manners, but the two things overlap, rather as, on the grandest educational scale, “training” and “education” do.  Teach the particulars, and while doing that, smuggle in and draw out the underlying principles.

The survey last month by the Institute of Directors said a quarter of company directors believed recent graduates showed impoliteness and poor table manners which could project an unprofessional image.

There you go.  Impoliteness.

In my tiny career as a part-time teacher I have found myself also trying to teach Ps and Qs of the politeness sort as well as of the merely alphabetical.

With younger children, I find that the key skill they need at least to know about is simply paying attention.  “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” is something you hear a lot in many classrooms, often – alas – in a very impolite tone.  The way I sometimes phrase it is: “Please at least pretend to pay attention”.  Because a lot of good behaviour does start as pretence, projecting the wrong “image” as the quote above says, just looking as if you are listening, just going through the correct motions.  (This is why etiquette elides into manners.) Later you get into the part, as the actors say.  Pay attention, or look like you’re paying attention, and the person you’re talking too won’t get angry, and is more likely to do what you want.  I try to sell good manners by explaining what they accomplish, rather than merely demand them.

Sometimes I like to demonstrate what if feels like not to be listened to by talking to them while looking away.  “Not so nice, is it?” Close to the heart of good manners is being able to see things, and in particular yourself, from the other person’s point of view.

Another particular thing I find myself trying to teach children is hellos and goodbyes.  Hand shake, eye contact.  Young boys like to get in on the lesson by teaching me their much more complicated hand-shakes, which involve things like high fives, and they then take great pleasure in doing them when we meet again, correcting me until I get it right.  Basically, my lesson about hellos and goodbyes is: do this.  It helps.  The people you deal with will feel less taken for granted.