Ever since the Beatles, we have had to play second fiddle to Britain when it comes to setting cultural trends. (After all, “American Idol” was their idea, too.) And now, those forward-thinking Brits have done it again, as a public school for early adolescents in Brighton, England has put an etiquette and manners class on its lesson plan. Not only will kids be instructed in how to defer to the elderly on buses and trains, but they will also be advised on practical skills like putting up a tent, sewing, cooking, formal letter-writing and monitoring heart rates. Oh, and of course how to waltz and tie a bow tie. This is Britain, and you never know when Lady Agnes Mannering Smith-Smythe-Smith might turn up for an afternoon of clotted cream, scones and early Baroque music.
Of course, I applaud this decision to give kids grounding in manners and basic skills, but the question arises: why does a school have to teach it? And that question is not confined simply to England. Goodness knows, when I read this story the first thing I thought was “you mean someone might one day actually TEACH my daughter not to mouth off? As part of the curriculum?” But, before I got too caught up in my vision of a Shangri-La, where the children know how to take care of themselves and even, Lord help us, treat adults with respect, I had to admit that it’s my own crazy life that keeps me from taking the time to impart wisdom on these subjects. The fact that Britain is now teaching such basic things in a classroom environment only demonstrates that we grown ups have completely succumbed to the rat race. To such an extent that we’ve left our offspring in the maze, sniffing around for crumbs of cheese-like wisdom.
Okay, maybe I’m being too hard on myself. Most of us did not grow up in a Pepperidge Farm commercial where a white-haired old man with a Maine accent passes on the art of baking butter-topped bread to us while we sit rapt in the golden glow of the midday light filtering through the barn slats. And, to be honest, I’m not sure that even if I had the time I would show a kid how to put up a tent or waltz a minuet. But maybe we should take a look at what messages the little one’s AREN’T getting if they need an education professional to tell them that the elderly deserve a seat on the bus.
There was one thing on that list that I might take some time off work to teach my daughter. That bit about monitoring heart rates. If she could learn how to do that, she could really gain practical knowledge in what happens to Daddy when she stomps her feet and refuses to do her homework.