Last week I referred to the well-known Robert Fulghum essay about how life’s most important lessons and skills are often learned in kindergarten. In his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Fulghum reminds us that “wisdom is not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sand pile at [school]”. He believes that, in the end, any real success we experience in life will be based on how we act, how we think and how we treat others (in spite of our very impressive resumes, prestigious professions, and educational achievements).
I am not suggesting that the purpose of school should be all about “sunshine, lollipops and rainbows all around”. Schools have a primary duty to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for future academic, social, and workplace success. To that end, reading, writing, and arithmetic will always be the foundation on which intellectual development rests. That being said, anyone truly interested in galvanizing these “basics” in children will also place a high priority on the civilizing arts of good manners.
Think about all the people you hold in the highest esteem. I bet each of them has lovely manners and enviable social skills. I bet they have the knack of putting people at ease and lowering the temperature in a room. I bet none of them is loud, aggressive or vexatious to the spirit. In short, I bet they are examples of how a person ought to act.
Fred Astaire, that icon from Hollywood’s golden age of musicals, once remarked that “the hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any”. If good manners can open doors that even the best education cannot, schools and teachers then have a responsibility to model good manners and expect them from their students. If we are interested in the long term success of our children, we also need to support this important educational aim.
Out of respect for our children and for their own good, we must agree on this priority. Researchers from Vanderbilt University have identified ten basic social skills that are just as important to student success as the high marks they seek to earn on their report cards – listening to others; following instructions; abiding by the rules; ignoring distractions; asking for help; taking turns when speaking; getting along with others; staying calm with others; being responsible for your own behavior; and being considerate of others. Students can and should be learning these skills in the classroom. Teachers and parents should be modelling them at school and at home.
As we approach the final weeks of term, our Class of 2019 will be excited about the challenges and new experiences that await them in high school. If we have done our jobs well, they will meet these challenges and learn how to make the most of every opportunity and privilege. How they treat others will be a decisive factor in their long term success.
Good manners are a way of showing others that we have respect for them.
And it is possible for everyone to earn an “A” in that subject, if they want to!
Ric Anderson, Head of School