Etiquette: exclusion or level playing field?
UK 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?