Saturday, 16 August 2008

Are Schools Responsible For Good Manners?

I had the privilege of attending the Annual Old Boys' Dinner at my alma mater, Wynberg Boys' High School, this past Thursday evening. It was a wonderful evening spent reliving moments of school mischief, reminding each other of memorable moments inside and outside the classroom and being reminded of how fortunate we were to have attended such a great boy's high school with so many years of tradition (167 years old this year).

It was not however the tradition or the sense of history, recent or distant, that drew comment from guys seated around our table (all from the 1990 crop of matrics), but rather the manner in which each one of us was greeted as we moved through the school to the Old Boys' Pavilion where we met for pre-dinner drinks. Every boy, without fail, who we came across on the field, in the corridors, walking along the pathways greeted us with "Good evening, Sir" or "How can I help you, Sir?". This show of manners and respect left its mark on all of us and reminded us of the value of the education we had received.

Those who decry the youth of today and who lament the lack of respect among young people need to pay a visit to many of our country's schools. I have been able to visit a great many schools over the past number of years and in many I have been delighted at the show of manners by the pupils.

I must make one comment though that I know will upset some but it is borne out through my experience and observations in many schools across the country : it would appear that schools with a long history and tradition (both government and independent schools)are those in which emphasis is placed on producing young men and women of character and in which manners and respect are given high value.

This is obviously a generalisation but this observation is proved time and time again. On Thursday afternoon I was driving in the southern suburbs of Cape Town and was in the vicinity of a well-known large co-ed school at about the time of the final bell of the day. Scores of pupils were walking home and frequenting a local shopping centre. The abiding memory is ties hanging loose around necks, shirts hanging out, loose shoe laces and the vigorous chewing of gum by several pupils. I know that the education received at this school is good and that the staff are extremely dedicated to their pupils. Indeed I know several very fine men and women who attending this school - the fact is that the issue of dress and pride in the school and themselves is just not high on the agenda in the life of the school.

The question remains - why can some schools pull it off and other can't? Are schools of tradition and history guilty of producing snobs or young men and women who think too highly of themselves, or are they just successful at using their history to instil a sense of pride and honour in their pupils? Are single-sex schools more successful in this aspect of schooling than their co-ed counterparts?

As always, your comments are welcome...


Alison from Cape town said...

I think schools need to focus on self respect as a basis for respect for others.

That may well mean wearing your (school) clothes with pride, and not slouching around. It's an outworking of that self respect.

At the end of the day manners boil down to respecting and considering others and acting accordingly.

Arthur said...

@alison - Thanks for your comments. You are spot on. Respect for self is clearly the basis for respect for others. Perhaps this should not be left to chance in our schools?