Etiquette as the Great Equalizer

We are failing our children. We fill them with wonderful knowledge about the humanities, authors, history – even good sentence structure. They learn math, science – and maybe some teamwork playing sports. But we let our working class and low income kids down by not preparing them to navigate in their community – in the social arena – where access to opportunities is actually granted or denied.

THE SOCIAL GRACES. By high school, students and teachers already recognize those who appear to be at ease in their own skin – those who appear confident and attentive to those around them. The gestures of respect. The greetings. Eye contact. LISTENING. Kids in upper class families have early and frequent exposure to social situations where they can observe and practice these critical skills. They already have a leg up. Unfortunately, low income and working class kids feel like fish out of water. They feel – and act – awkward. They are already behind. 

ETIQUETTE – Making others feel at ease is the essence of etiquette. So much of our social dialogue revolves around caring for others. “How are you? How is your mom? I noticed this about you. What are your plans? Did you enjoy ….?” How to be a good guest – and host. This all takes practice, especially if we are in a setting that is foreign to us. We can feel intimidated and vulnerable.

IT’S JUST THEATER – IN REAL LIFE. We can give kids the litany of mini-scripts that get them through. They can learn the gestures and body language as easily as passing a ball on the court. All very teachable. So why aren’t we teaching it?

These are, perhaps, the most essential skills we can ever learn – and they are critically important for career success. 

In How Do We Show Belonging? Status and Class, I explore many of the ways that class and privilege is communicated – and reinforced.

Your thoughts? Do you see value in more routine investment in social skills development?

We are all socially awkward now

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