Etiquette, Civility, and Citizenship

Recently I came across an article on modern etiquette (or lack thereof) that, at first glance, might seem to have Cranky Old Journalist written all over it. As in, “Kids these days . . .” with a disappointed shake of the head. But I found it substantive and interesting.

Go take a look:  The Etiquette Gap (Christian Science Monitor magazine, March 4)

One basic idea of the article is that disregard for the traditional rules of etiquette, civility, and good manners in public discourse–undeniably increasing in recent decades–results in younger generations learning fewer of those rules. Which, as a communications consultant notes, gives those generations less potentially helpful guidance and fewer options for interactions:

“Those rules [of etiquette] free us. They create order and prevent chaos,” she says, likening them to signs on a one-way street. “And they also provide a forum for skepticism and dissent…. Once you understand them and respect them, you learn how to operate within them, and when to break them.”

(Quirky sidenote: as an editor, I feel exactly this way about rules for grammar and usage. Break ‘em as much as you want, but do it with a purpose!)

Personally, I also see good coming from the changing social norms—I’d say they encourage honesty and openness. But at the heart of the etiquette issue seem to be the values of respect and consideration for others, values that everyone young and old would probably claim we still hold dear. It does seem that if students are going to learn how to follow the street signs of etiquette, with fewer and fewer examples to follow in national media and in daily life, those lessons will have to be more and more intentional.

The article brought to mind some of Lerner’s First Step Nonfiction – Citizenship books. This is another one of those times that I’m amazed at how relevant books on our backlist remain—the series is from 2003, but the topics are certainly as salient as ever.

These books are great primers for young students on being polite and considering others in learning to work together. No matter how Facebook, texting, and public figures continue to change the norms, these ideas and skills will remain important to students’ success.