A few months ago, I read a news story about a fourth grade teacher who, once each month, set up her classroom like a fancy restaurant, complete with real tablecloths, silverware, and dishes. Parent volunteers came in to help, and the whole class spent about an hour practicing good manners and etiquette. In the “comments” section below the article, many commenters voiced concern that teachers should be focusing only on the academics, the things that they’re paid to focus on. While I can’t imagine there’s a line for “etiquette” in the report cards in 2013, I could imagine this counting in a classroom participation and cooperation sense. But does this kind of thing really matter anymore? Should we still be teaching kids etiquette?
In my opinion, yes.
Etiquette does still matter in life. In many ways, being well-versed in proper etiquette can help land a first job through mastering polite small talk and basic business dinner dining rules, and it can undoubtedly help socially as kids graduate from college free-for-all house parties and enter the awkward “first date dinners” of the early 20’s and beyond. I’m not talking about the kind of etiquette that involves knowing your snail fork from your oyster fork, but simple, napkin-in-your-lap and please-pass-the-pepper kind of etiquette.
Etiquette schools are still alive and well, and many private schools still teach etiquette as an important part of the curriculum. In our own state, there are many venues offering etiquette lessons, some for children as young as three years old through adulthood. Topics include everything from how to behave during a formal occasion such as a wedding to how to “take the high road” and respond to bullying when you see it happening. Should these things be taught and reinforced at home? Absolutely. But for one reason or another, parents are still worried about ensuring their children know proper social etiquette enough to pay for it as an extracurricular activity.
In fact, one could argue that there’s even more to learn about proper etiquette in the modern world than in previous years. E-mails, texts, and video calls are now fair game for communication in the business world. We need to make sure our kids know when it’s ok to send out a “thx–c u soon” and when a more formal “Thanks for confirming. I’m looking forward to meeting you on Friday” is required. This is somewhat unchartered territory for both parents and teachers. Where does it fit in? Should parents be the only ones worrying about etiquette, or should schools return to ensuring that their students know the social graces that will surely help them in life? Does your child’s school teach etiquette?