Friday, July 18, 2014

Etiquette and Grade Schools


"Table manners are not an overriding priority. 'Adults care whether a child talks with food in his mouth,' Mr. Scott said, 'but the child's peers don't - unless the food happens to shoot out of the kid's mouth and land on somebody else's clothes.'"

FROM THE AGE of 4, most children can recite the litany of good table manners: 

  • I won't talk with my mouth full. 
  • I won't play with my food. 
  • I won't put my elbows - or feet - on the table.

"Are they really models of comportment, or instead smaller versions of Bluto, the food-throwing churl in the movie 'Animal House'"?

But do children actually mind their manners, especially away from home? How do they function in the school lunchroom? Are they really models of comportment, or instead smaller versions of Bluto, the food-throwing churl in the movie ''Animal House''?

In 2011, China Set Classes in Good Manners for Schoolchildren 

The Chinese government is making schoolchildren take classes in what it calls "civilised manners". The education ministry says the aim is to enhance the ethical quality of the nation and China's influence abroad. Before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, authorities launched campaigns against things like spitting and littering to avoid offending foreign visitors.  

The new classes range from basic table manners to the art of holding conversations and delivering speeches. According to the education ministry's website, teaching courtesy should combine "the traditional virtues of the Chinese nation" and "the salutary achievements of civilizations in other parts of the world". Detailed guidelines have been published, with classes tailored to the age of the child.
Chinese children will also be taught to respect their elders and the customs of ethnic minorities
Among key lessons for primary school students are using courteous language, observing traffic rules and respecting the elderly. Children a little older will be learning about phone and correspondence etiquette, how to dress properly and how to hold polite conversations with both Chinese and foreigners. High school students are expected to master the etiquette of debate and delivering speeches, but they should also know how to keep a proper distance from other people when they are queuing or using a lift. "The campaign is very necessary for our society now," Xin Tao, vice director of the National Assessment of Education Quality, told the Global Times. 
Younger children will be taught about traffic rules, table manners and using courteous language
Abigail Mawdsley, from the BBC's Asia Pacific desk, says the campaign reflect two things. Firstly, they signify a concern - with the waning of communist ideology - about the values underpinning society. But they also show an awareness that the behaviour of citizens affects a country's image, she says, and that commanding global respect involves more than simple economic and military might. Authorities have shown concern in the past about the habits and behaviour of some of their citizens.  But the goal now appears to be to drill manners into people from an early age.


In 1988, visits to four New York City schools and interviews with several principals around the country revealed that for most students, lunch is, first, a chance to be convivial, and only second a time to eat. To encourage a merry but civilized lunchtime, and keep the noise level tolerable, schools enforced an assortment of rules. Depending on the age of the student body, the kind of restrictions and the location, rules varied from Draconian to nonexistent. As for manners, they improved in direct proportion to age.


The strictest rules were for the very young. At Manhattan's Trinity School, Public School 3 and the T.A.G. School (for talented and gifted elementary-school students), all the children had to follow the same standards of etiquette - don't yell and don't leave the table until excused. But each school ran its lunchroom differently.

Children need limits and need to know the consequences of their behavior.

On the block adjacent to the T.A.G. School, in East Harlem on East 109th Street, a panhandler hustled for change. At midday, idle men passed time drinking from whisky bottles badly disguised in paper bags. Amid this harsh scene, T.A.G. was a strictly run, yet cheerful oasis for 265 children, all of whom had I.Q.'s of 130 and above. Uniformed guards stood watch at the entryways and directed visitors down the school's brightly decorated corridors. Classes ranged from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade.



''I believe children need structure to learn, whether it's math or respect for themselves and others,'' said Renee LaCorbiniere, director of T.A.G. and ''Miss LaCorbiniere'' to her students. ''They need limits, and they need to know the consequences of their behavior.''



At T.A.G., the rules were spelled out. Lunchroom behavior was based on a commendation system. Alternating, Miss LaCorbiniere and Carmen V. Pizarro, assistant director, supervised the lunchroom and gave commendations for good behavior. Three times a year, the classroom with the most of them won an ice-cream or pizza party.



Siobhan Carter, 8 years old, briskly itemized the rules. ''Don't fight, don't run. When they blow the whistle, you can't talk and if you talk, you have to stand against the wall and you can't go out to play.''

If a class cleaned its table (everyone had a seat assignment), it gets a commendation, but if a student ran from the cafeteria, the class forfeited it. Asked why students generally behaved so well, Natasha Jones, Natasha Lewis and Aixa Moran, fourth-grade students, chorused, ''The party is what makes you clean up!''

If students understand the basic rules, some also know the subtle niceties of etiquette. ''My mother and father make me eat nicely,'' Natasha Jones said.
If students understood the basic rules at the time, some also knew the subtle niceties of etiquette. ''My mother and father make me eat nicely,'' Natasha Jones said. ''They say: 'Don't waste money. Eat what you're given because some people don't have food. Don't talk with your mouth full, and don't chew with your mouth open.''

Niceties, however, sometimes perish in the face of unrestrained playfulness. In line to choose between grilled cheese sandwiches and empanadas, one little girl grabbed 12 ketchup packets, laughed at her greed and happily foisted six off on a friend. One 4-year-old eating a melted cheese sandwich separated the bread, pulling out the cheese and licking the long, gooey strands off her fingertips.
  
Shrill whistle blasts told the children they could put on coats and queue up to go outside to play. Others remained behind, eagerly eating and talking - not necessarily simultaneously. Ifetayo Abdus-Salam, 4, held a bunch of grapes aloft and with Bacchanalian relish licked the bottom grape and then bit it off with glee.

At P.S. 3, in Greenwich Village, students called the principal by his first name, uniformed security guards were absent and lunchroom rules were comparatively lax. The principal, John Melser, wanted the kindergarteners and first-graders served at the table, so they wouldn't have to wait in line or grapple with trays. ''The Board of Health insists that the serving of food be done by the official servers, and not by the teachers,'' Mr. Melser explained, ''Since the servers couldn't possibly serve the little ones at the table and the rest of the student body standing in line, we're back to the line.''
In 1988, visits to four New York City schools and interviews with several principals around the country revealed that for most students, lunch is, first, a chance to be convivial, and only second a time to eat.
CHILDREN were not to sit on tables, stand on seats or leave tables littered. Teachers either patroled the room or sat with their students. The major concern was keeping the noise level down.

''Noise breeds confusion,'' observed Steve Scott, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher. ''That's why they can't kneel on the chairs, because that makes them edgy and lunch becomes just another nervous event of hurry, hurry, hurry.''

To keep the children calm, teachers asked them to lower their voices and stay in their seats. Table manners were not an overriding priority. ''Adults care whether a child talks with food in his mouth,'' Mr. Scott said, ''but the child's peers don't - unless the food happens to shoot out of the kid's mouth and land on somebody else's clothes.''


From the NY Times, 1988 and BBC Asia Pacific, 2011