An Education Idea
Education is one of my passions. I am so high on teaching that I spontaneously come up with lesson plans for no reason at all. But what could be done that would affect all levels of education? What initiative could prove beneficial for not only students and teachers, but even for administrators and parents?
I choose Etiquette. As I read the newspapers and talk with teacher friends, lack of self control and simple respect are the common complaint of teachers who want to teach but who are plagued by students who don’t want to learn. Sometimes “the Equalizer” walks in, namely, the administrator who requires discipline and order. And this method works up to a point. But when it is not consistently enforced or the scale is too large (read “not enough resources”), things devolve back to the status quo.
It is well worth pondering how a privileged society can have allowed things to sink to this level. I’ll blame our prosperity and entertainments (TV, movies, and video games)(I’ll also blame our silly, self-serving use of the internet as well). Reforming these is beyond the scope of this proposal. But, just as knowing that the involvement of parents can improve student outcomes, so too can knowing the influences that must be counteracted be helpful in composing any solutions. True education reform must necessarily involve swimming against the tide. The “tide” in this case is the disrespect and familiarity that have now become endemic to our society. There is no respect for position, no respect for education, no respect experience. Alas, what to do?
I believe a sneaky approach is called for. Something that appears innocuous on the surface, but that is in fact actually potent and far reaching. I think “Etiquette” might supply us with the subterfuge we are looking for. And note, it also has the benefit of being far less controversial than other paths. If we teach morals, where will the consensus come from to agree on which ones to endorse? Religion is verboten (as well it should be in a society that separates Church and State). But Etiquette? (And I do mean Miss Manners, Emily Post, Amy Vanderbilt, put-your-knives-on-the-right-side-of-the-plate Etiquette.) “Well, how quaint!”, the typical parent say. And that’s just the reaction we want. The thoughtful will see the implications. The incredulous will need to be sold. But the outworkings of a pervasive program of Etiquette may just get us where we need to be, namely, back to listening politely, answering when called upon, being courteous to others, and a return to civilized behavior in general. Not such a bad goal, that.
Now I do envision a pervasive curricula, something that can be taught and tested for every day. To come up with that much material is a lot of work, but it needn’t be a whole period’s worth of information, just an extended Homeroom’s worth. One could teach and discuss for 4 days and test on Friday. Then test again once a month for all the material covered so far. Then test again at the end of the term. Yes, grades will be given. Yes, it will affect GPA’s. Yes, you don’t want to slack off on your Etiquette class.
At the same time there will be established a school wide “Etiquette Code”. This again can affect grades and warrant punishments. I would prefer that the teaching staff create this. It will more likely be enforced if they do. Top-Down policies oftentimes only get half-hearted support. Bottom-Up policies become a personal thing. I would suggest developing a check list from which the teachers could choose, amend, discuss, and vote upon. Infractions result first in punishments, then in grade reductions, and lastly in detentions or being transferred to “problem student” academies (I don’t believe in expulsions).
Of course things will have different ways of being conveyed depending on the age group. K thru 3 will have drills and games; 4 thru 6 will have simple textbooks and tests (Did I mention that there will be textbooks?); 7-9 will get homework and have competitions; 10-12 will do essays and have research assignments.
Now as for the curricula, there will be an ever ascending spiral that touches all the intercourse of human interaction: Home and Family; Work Place and Business; Sports and Recreation; Religion and Culture; Military and Law Enforcement; Vehicle and Public Transit; Civil Marine and Air; Politics and Government; Weddings and Funerals; and whatever else we can throw in. Remember, this is a means to an end, not the end itself. I am not concerned so much as to how many rules of etiquette one can recite as I am them being exposed to a world that has rules of conduct that it requests its citizenry to comply with. A Master’s Degree in Etiquette is not the goal. The goal is a respectful human, made so by being shown the many courtesies society is built upon, and, by being required to observe some of them.
By the time the student reaches 12th grade, they will have knowledge of both international norms and culture specific codes (like how low to bow to a superior in Japan or the politeness of bringing a gift when visiting a European home). They will have traveled the globe as well as know how to begin a resume for a new job. They will see foreigners with new eyes and will see their fellow students as endowed with dignity.
Researching the various sources for curricula is the task at hand. A lot of work, I know, but I would also like to see a collaborative venture tried as well, something like a Wikipedia of Etiquette. One could solicit various authorities and societies, as well as businesses and foreign embassies. I would suggest to have bulletin boards for discussion and an online quiz. This is being done already on the internet, but it should made it clear that this ultimately will be transferred to the classroom. The benefit of doing this is so that there can be a place for teachers to go to review resources as well as critique and refine lesson plans.
Eventually it will become the website for which the Etiquette textbooks can be linked (another initiative of mine). Then it can be a student resource as well as a teacher resource. Moreover, I am hoping there will be some people out there in cyberspace who will emerge to suggest and develop new materials that have not been thought of (in the form of tests and curricula and lesson plans). If so many people are willing to write extensive blogs about nothing special, then maybe some people might happily contribute a thing or two about Etiquette if they know it will be used for a good purpose.
Such an “electronic” desire reflects the need for achieving “sustainability”. It can be that textbooks go out of print. It can be that there is not enough volume to print them, or enough money in a school system to afford them. But PDF files and e-tests are forever affordable and infinitely scalable. And should laptops become as common in the classroom as calculators (my prediction), textbook integrated websites are the next logical step. So this is preparation for that future as well as being a present resource for this initiative.
Then there is also the question of evaluation. Without benchmarks and qualifications, Etiquette Classes are just so much sentimental musings. I should think that teachers will be the first line of inquiry as to effectiveness. A problem I foresee is how to quantify behavior improvement. Less trips to the principals office? Higher scores in Conduct and Cooperation? It has to be more than, “Do you think your students are behaving better?”
Although there are probably statistical models and methods out there for evaluating student behavior, I would prefer something that is as least intrusive as possible. Something that a teacher needn’t spend too much time reflecting upon or filling out. Perhaps it would be profitable to inquire of the teachers themselves as to what would be the best method. And definitely, as the program in the testing stages, it will be necessary to refine and simplify any forms or questionnaires.
But perhaps we can turn the tables. This IS a class. There will be tests and grades. Maybe we should include a weekly or monthly Fellow Student Evaluation, namely, have the students pair-up with 2 or 3 other students and fill out questionnaires about their impressions of each other. I am sure that objectiveness will be a problem, especially if one pairs up with a friend (or a bully)(or someone of the opposite sex), but there may be ways around that (like asking open ended questions like, “What have your seen this person improve most at?” or “What does this person need to improve more in?”). The grade for this evaluation will not be given based on right or wrong answers, but for completeness and thoroughness. In grading these, all the teacher has to do is concur or disagree or abstain. Tabulate the positives and negatives… instant feedback.
Then there is always the good old GPA. Better test scores can be interpreted a lot of ways. I’ll interpret them as reflections of a more attentive student body (and I’ll compare them with non-etiquette class control groups). I sense that there will be quite a bit of adjusting and recalibrating of any method to be used for evaluation and these likely will be worked out in the testing stages.
But I know a sure-fire method of evaluation… other schools and principals asking to be part of the program based on crosstalk from other teachers and administrators. Popular demand is a hard statistic to deny.
The Bad News (from a position paper I wrote last year)
• According to the National Association of Elementary School Principals, a lack of good manners is a growing problem in classrooms and
playgrounds. The average-sized school of 450 students loses $1 million a year due to problem behavior. 1,5
• Students who demonstrate significantly inappropriate behavior often develop progressively more serious antisocial behavior (Smith, 2005)2.
• Students who demonstrate positive social skills often experience success within and beyond the school setting. Those who are socially capable often experience greater academic outcomes, including increased academic engagement time (Lane, 2003)3.
• Social skills have been identified as necessary prerequisites for academic success (Sugai & Lewis, 1996)4.
• Studies at Harvard University, Stanford Research Institute, and the Carnegie Foundation support this statement, finding that 85% of future success depends on social skills. 1
Social skills? You mean things like addressing persons by their last names and giving up your seat when an elderly person gets on the bus?? Yes, just that. And the above described Etiquette Initiative’s purpose is to educate, test, and require social skills. Compelling? What is more compelling than saving money, cultivating successful students, and alleviating teachers who spend too much time disciplining.
Recent studies suggest that teachers spend up to 40 percent of their time in the classroom on discipline issues; that 43 percent of public school teachers spend more time on managing class behavior than teaching; that 30 percent of teachers know a colleague who quit the profession because of discipline problems. 5,6
More than three out of four middle and high school teachers surveyed by the non-partisan research firm Public Agenda said they could be more effective in the classroom if they weren't spending so much time dealing with unruly students. 7
It’s not like no one admits that there’s a problem. EVERYONE knows children and teenagers are becoming more unmanageable. We can blame tons of sources, but no one wants to relinquish the “Future Shock” world that has become our modern society. So where will the remedy come from?
“It’s almost unanimously accepted among teachers (97%) that a school needs good discipline and behavior in order to flourish, and 78% of the parents agree. / Most teachers (77%) admit their teaching would be a lot more effective if they didn’t have to spend so much time dealing with disruptive students.” 6
Maybe we should re-make the entire public education system. Charter schools don’t seem to have as many difficulties. “In a study by Bomotti, Ginsberg, and Cobb (1999), teachers from charter schools and public schools were questioned about how they perceive their levels of empowerment, school climate, and working conditions. It was indicated that charter school teachers most appreciated the smaller class sizes, the lack of discipline problems, and parents who were active and supportive. Conclusions also showed that public school teachers were most concerned about issues such as student apathy, discipline problems, and large class size.” 8
But in a study by Fanning (1998), occupational stress levels of elementary school teachers in public schools were evaluated. The major conclusions of this study showed that class size did not significantly add to teachers stress levels whereas the number of disruptive students did increase teachers stress levels. 8 If class size is not a determinant, and parent support is an intangible, then discipline is the issue at hand. This need not require draconian tactics nor reinventing education. Social skills are behaviors that are learned and can be taught (Gresham, 2001). 9
Based on the research of Gresham, (2001)10, the social skills programs that are most effective comprise direct teaching (emphasis added), modeling, coaching, and effective instruction. To help students develop positive alternative behaviors, educators can integrate skills into the daily curriculum and provide students with opportunities to demonstrate those skills in various settings (Gresham, et al., 2001). 9
The NEA concurs and intensifies: “… modeling excellent etiquette always is important, (but) these educators say that focusing on manners in the classroom is not an option -- it's a must.” 11
However the issue is addressed, the problem is not going to go away. It will likely become worse. Teachers, under new pressure to focus on raising standardized test scores, seem more frustrated with unruly conduct. 7 Moreover, attrition could be avoided if behavior problems can be remediated. Attrition? “We lose somewhere between 30 (percent) to 50% of teachers in the first five years, and this is one of the gigantic reasons why,” said Jerald Newberry of the National Education Association. 7
Perhaps it is an over-simplification to think that improving manners will result in less behavior problems, less attrition, and better students. But is there any other overarching paradigm for empowered teaching more persuasive than getting students to respect their teachers and respect each other?
Will Introducting Etiquette in the Public School System Improve Standardized Test Scores?
2 Smith, S. W., Lochman, J. E., & Daunic, A.P. (2005). Managing aggression using
cognitive-behavioral interventions: State of the practice and future directions. Behavioral Disorders, 30, 227–240.
3 Lane, K. L., Wehby, J., Menzies, H. H., Doukas, G. L., Muntont, S. M., & Gregg, R. M. (2003). Social skills instruction
for students at risk for antisocial behavior: The effects of
small-group instruction. Behavioral Disorders, 28, 229–248.
4 Sugai, G. & Lewis, T. J. (1996). Preferred and promising practices for social skills instruction. Focus on Exceptional Children, 29, 11–26.
5 Palm Beach Post / Thursday, January 27, 2005
Starting to teach manners at an early age pays off
By Mark Schwed, Staff Writer
6 May 2004 Report prepared by Public Agenda
Teaching Interuppted Do Discipline Policies in Today’s Public Schools Foster the Common Good? (go to publicagenda.org to download)
7 USA Today / May 11, 2004
Study: Pupils pay academic price for unruly classrooms
By Fredreka Schouten, Gannett News Service
8 University of Michigan / Dept. of Psychology
web article: The New York City Public Vs Charter Schools Debate - Classroom Etiquette
9 Georgia State University / Beyond Behavior – Spring 2006
Social Skills Training for Students Who Demonstrate Poor Self-Control
D.S. Patterson, K. Jolivette, and S. Crosby
10 Gresham, F., Sugai, G., & Horner, R. H. (2001). Interpreting outcomes of social skill training for students with high-incidence disabilities. Exceptional Children, 67, 331–344.
11 National Education Association
“Manners and Etiquette” by Cara Bafile, EducationWorld.com