Social Graces & Manners in the USA

What is the state of American social graces and manners?


For background, see The American Upper Class, Etiquette Training, Put those Hands where I Can See Them, Please Pass the Manners, Character Education, Hope in a Rude World, Raising Well-Mannered Kids, Parents Kids & Character, and Was a Harvard President fired primarily for Bad Manners?


Someone close to me was born in New Jersey so that I was quite interested in a controversy which recently erupted over some events which occurred in connection with the New Jersey state high school football championship game between Don Bosco and St. Peter’s, which Don Bosco won this season 41-0 after having lost against the same team the previous year.

Mike Farrell of at Yahoo Sports who writes:

The behavior of Don Bosco quarterback Matt Simms during and following his team’s state championship win over St. Peter’s has come under some scrutiny. Simms, who has been the target of much verbal abuse by the St. Peter’s fans over the years, taunted the sidelines and the fans following his team’s blowout win. Simms has the talent to be a very good college quarterback, but some question his maturity.

Social Graces, Manners, Class and Maturity in the USA

We googled the above story, which led us to the Auburn Football Blog at the AOL Sports NCAA Fanhouse and a posting by Charles Rich titled Not Your Daddy’s Simms, a posting which has numerous comments touching upon various class-related issues in American society, including manners and social graces.

In defense of Simms, several commentators to Rich’s posting point out the social nature of the squabble between the two high schools and the prior events which precipitated Simms’ actions. Other commentators give us some interesting social glimpses into issues of class structure in the USA at the high school level.

As an American living in Europe, it would seem to us – as an educator – that there are several partial solutions to the problems at issue, which derive in part from American history and development as well as from a person’s own particular background, education, family income and social training (i.e. such things as manners and social graces).

Environmental Influences Form Our Behavior
but Can Be Changed by Education and Personal Relationships

Whether we like it or not, each of us is a product of our environment, and we are
– for better or worse – formed by that environment.

Education and our personal relationships are the main means by which we can improve upon that forming environment – or, in some cases, make it worse, if our education and/or personal relationships are bad.

Educational Systems are Inadequate in Teaching Young People Essential Skills

One problem with elementary, junior high and high school education in America, however, is that there are generally few courses taught on subjects which we find to be important to young people when they get out in “the real world”.

Knowing how to behave in certain social situations certainly tops our list, and behavior by players and spectators at football games (or in the period prior to them and after them) certainly falls into that category. When are people taught how to behave in such social situations and who does the teaching? What are the rules of behavior and how are people to learn about those rules? What role do schools play, if any, in transmitting these rules to their young people?

Specific Skills Not Adequately Taught by Our Educational Systems

Other important areas often not covered adequately in early education (so our opinion) are:

1) personal time and money management and financial savvy
2) personal and family health and wellness management
3) successful parenting
4) rights and obligations of citizens generally
5) personal relations between spouses and partners, and
6) essential matters of conflict resolution, i.e. how does one deal in a mature and successful manner with disputes, differences of opinion, etc.

Parents are Assumed to Teach Such Specific Skills but Often Do Not

These are FUNDAMENTAL skills of great importance required for living in any human community and yet these are often precisely the skills which young people are not taught or are inadequately taught in our modern educational systems, systems which presume that the parents can and will provide this training to young people, which is often simply not the case.

Better Education Also Means Teaching Courses More Relevant to Real Life

Those who clamor for more or better education usually do so in the sense of the needs of the educational establishment rather than the needs of the students: bigger schools, more money, more teachers, more supplies and equipment, etc.

But better education also has greatly to do with the issue of WHAT is taught in those schools, by whatever means are presently available. In our view, not nearly enough attention is paid in schools to actually PREPARING young people (pupils, students) for their life in the real world. In fact, do most schools even have a clear idea of WHAT they are preparing their customers for?

When I taught law at the University of Trier here in Germany, I was absolutely flabbergasted at the then unexpectedly limited knowledge among the student body about computers and the internet. I had presumed they had learned that all in high school or at home, which turned out not to be true. Somewhere along the line, the entire establishment of the family and the schools had been asleep to the realities of the world. In my view, that should be changed. What we are teaching our young people in our schools must be updated to keep pace with the development of knowledge and state of the art learning.

More Questions for Modern Education

Here are some other important questions concerning modern education:

Are young people being prepared to be employers, entrepreneurs, inventors or employees, and is there an awareness of this on both sides of the teaching and learning equation?

Example: In their courses, are young people reading biographies of entrepreneurs, leaders and inventors, or are they predominantly reading books about the problems of the working classes or the complaints and views of minorities or similar materials.

At the least, there should be a balance in the materials being used, so that all levels of society, low AND high, including failures AND successes, and problems AND solutions are included.

You are what you eat. You become what you read. Learning materials are mentors in media form, whether as books, websites, videos, or whatever. Every exposure of the brain to certain kinds of materials is a programming of that brain in a given direction. Each stage of education is PREPARATION and the selection of teaching materials determines what exactly is being prepared for. Workers reading about workers will remain workers. People enamored of their plight will remain in their plight. People who read about success will tend themselves to reach for success.

Are young people being prepared for college or some other kind of institution?
and if so, are they learning the skills they need for success in that endeavor?

Example: Some years ago, we taught legal writing at the law school level and discovered that numerous students had substantial deficits in writing – an ESSENTIAL skill far more important for future success than formal grades in selected courses.

What is taught in school about what employers expect from employees?

Most people will work for others during their life, or perhaps be the ones to employ them, yet little is apparently taught about the many and varied important details of this often life-long relationship. The employer-employee relationship should be a required course of study.

What is taught about the responsibilities that attach to independent professions and activities and are these responsibilities known and understood?

Those who enter independent and self-employed professions have different responsibilities than persons who become employees. More should be done in schools to encourage entrepreneurship and to support the needs of people in the professions.

What is taught about the nature of and responsibilities that attach to the benefits of any and all human relationships – especially the most important such relationships – spouses, parents, children, relatives, friends, and professional, business and job associates?

Various courses in human relationships should be required in our schools, in which we would include:

1) Human Relationships: Benefits and Responsibilities
2) Spouses: Life in an Alliance
3) Successful Parenting and Childraising : Problems and Solutions

Are young people taught to design a successful life in early school years ?

Everything in life is planned in one way or another by the powers that be, and yet, we do not require courses in Life Design for our own lives, which generally would profit the most from sensible planning. A course in Life Design should be required.

Are young people made familiar both with their IQ and EQ and the useful applications of each?

We know someone who was told by chance at the end of their college career at one of the largest universities in the United States that they had obtained the highest score on the social skills aptitude part of the entrance examination that had ever been obtained. The key phrase is “at the end of their college career”. No one gave that person this information for their career planning at the time that it should have been communicated, which was at the start of their college career.

All young people should be made aware of their individual intellectual and social skills and talents as early as possible so that they are guided in the right direction of life design rather than floating about in the ocean of chance and serendipity opportunity.

Are young people given mentors and are they taught why mentors and mentoring are important?

Nothing has changed as regards mentoring in thousands of years. You best “learn the ropes” from someone who “knows the ropes”. 50% of all Nobel Prize winners were somehow affiliated with previous Nobel Prize Winners. Everyone needs a mentor or coach. Indeed, those who can afford one, such as world champions in various sports, have a mentor or coach FULL TIME. Even if someone is the best in the world at what they do, they still need coaching and mentoring. Imagine how great the need is if you are not the best in the world at what you do.

Don’t Blame the Young People – Blame the Educational Establishment

In any case, whenever we read about controversies such as above at the high school level, we regard them to be indicative of failings of the educational establishments to do their job properly – in the above case – at both schools.

Facebook and Social Networking Online is a Blockbuster Success

In case you have never heard of Facebook, you ought to take a look, because this social networking website is a blockbuster success. As written at Wikipedia at the entry Facebook:

Facebook is an English-language social networking website, popular among college students. It was originally developed for university students, faculty and staff, but has since been expanded to include everyone, including high school, corporate and geographic communities.

As of December 2005, the website had the largest number of registered users among college-focused sites (at over 7.5 million US college student accounts created with an additional 20,000 new accounts being created daily).[1] It is the number one site for photos, ahead of public sites such as Flickr, with 2.3 million photos uploaded daily[2], and is the seventh most trafficked site in the United States, according to comScore‘s Media Metrix.

The name of the site is based on the paper facebooks that colleges give to incoming students, faculty, and staff depicting members of the campus community.”

One thing that makes this site popular is the necessity to have some kind of an official connection to the organization or institution whose network one wishes to join.

Through our Stanford alumni email address, for example, we have been able to join the Stanford network, which includes students, alumni, staff and faculty.

We are not sure that there is any benefit to us through this network at the moment, but just imagine what a powerful tool this is – or could be – to get the word out about something to a specific target audience of any kind. Just imagine if you were a college fundraiser, for example, and had access to this kind of a university network. Many things would quickly become easier.

One can argue about whether or not the new digital age is – as some allege – actually creating “new” communities. But for already existing communities, there can be little doubt that online networking sites are vastly increasing the opportunities for better communication among members of those communities in the future.