Etiquette: exclusion or level playing field?

case study 8UK Education Secretary Michael Gove’s proposal for free schools has not thus far been met entirely with enthusiasm; but 16 groups which presented propositions are nonetheless intending to open academies in September 2011.

The rationales offered by those behind the ‘free schools’ are varied, but, The Guardian reports, include

…. the King’s Science Academy, a free school due to open in Bradford, [which] is driven by a vision of liberating inner city children from “ghettoisation”. Sajid Hussain, a science teacher and assistant head who hopes to lead the new secondary school, said: “We hope to teach good manners. We’re looking at a sense of responsibility, social conduct, sitting down and dining. Independent schools are quite good at this kind of stuff.”

What are good manners?
But what are ‘good manners’? What messages do good manners of the sort described here send?

It’s laudable – and virtually universal – that, as Sajid Hussain says, teachers (and parents) should want to provide young people with a sense of responsibility and the social skills to conduct their future lives effectively and decently; but where does positive social competence end and behaviour which excludes others begin?

‘Good manners’ comprise both verbal and non-verbal behaviour. The fundamentals in either instance are however the same. The idea is surely to achieve mutual respect and make communication easier and more comfortable.

Guidelines and principles, or rules?
If ‘good manners’ migrate from general principles of consideration, towards the ‘rules’ of etiquette – a mode which can arise quite easily when applied to activities such as dining (does it actually matter which way peas are attached to your fork?) and which we might infer from the quote above is emphasised by independent schools – things can become rather complex.

At that point ‘social responsibility’ can be lost and the rules of ‘good manners’ can also become ways to exclude those who are not adequately primed.

Are good manners / etiquette sometimes modes of communication intended to create an elite, rather than a way to ensure that everyone can participate equally?
How can the latter be distinguished in learning from the former?

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Posted on September 8, 2010, in Real-Life Examples and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. If a person is taught to act in a particular way, and especially if they are told that that is the ‘right’ way to act, they are going to excluded from some social realms and provided with access to others. There are many different ways to act in many different situations.

    For example, as a bartender I would not have neen able to calm violent drunks and convince them to leave the bar if I had acted as I would at a dinner party with my North London dwelling parent.

    What would be more useful would be to teach people that variety exists, it is a good thing, and that they need to watch, listen and learn in order to know how to act in any given situation.

  2. Interesting blog today by Rick of Flip Chart Fairy Tales: http://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/manners-and-calculated-rudeness-can-be-devastating-weapons/#comment-6697

    I think he makes our point rather nicely.

    And of course he is right that being aware of the divide in responses (cf Dan above) is half the battle…

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