Sunday, January 12, 2014

Teaching Social Decorum

In a better world it wouldn’t just be limited to the service academies. But, we don’t live in a better world, so we have to settle, for now, for the Air Force Academy’s effort to produce graduates who are officers and gentlemen.

All things considered, the Academy is teaching undergraduates many of the skills that I, as one among many, believe are basic to a successful life. They begin with etiquette, because what does it mean to respect another individual when your table manners ruin his appetite. Then they move on to the art of conversation, comprising how to be tactful and diplomatic and how to function under stress. Can anyone have a good relationship, of any kind, without knowing how to conduct a conversation.

Time Magazine can only wax whimsical about it all, but the effort is decidedly serious:

That’s because being an Air Force officer is not all tarmac, cockpits and ready rooms. According to the academy, it’s also “table etiquette (settings, seating, decorum, conversation), the art of conversation (tact and diplomacy, small talk, use of proper language style, body language and non-verbal communication), social conduct in stressful situations, leadership roles outside the military structure, and ceremonies.”

What the academy calls its “social decorum” curriculum has been under development for “several years.” Following this single-year contract, the academy says such training will be done by academy employees.

Social decorum… it’s been lost over the years. Regaining it would be a boon to young people. Time described the curriculum:

Freshmen training “shall emphasize courtesies and standards of behavior, proper hygiene, how to be a guest, social conversations, and writing thank-you cards.”

Sophomores “shall be taught etiquette in small group situations, proper civilian dress standards, table etiquette (settings, seating, decorum, and conversation), receiving line etiquette and military dining-in/out etiquette.”

Juniors “shall be taught social introductions, how to behave when alcohol is available, how to plan social events, and how to communicate standards of behavior to their peers and subordinates.”

Seniors will get “Formal Decorum Training,” which means they’ll receive “experiential, semi-formal dinners to teach first-class cadets the do’s and don’ts of formal dining. The events will also be used to teach proper invitation and RSVP procedures, proper semi-formal civilian attire standards, and social event planning.”

Imagine a world were other college students received the same training, perhaps on a voluntary basis. Wouldn’t it be far better than forced sensitivity training and week-long seminars on multiple orgasms?


Anonymous said...

Perhaps we should start this social decorum with consideration of proper blog comment etiquette?

Ah, found something!
1. Be specific
2. Don’t leave a link to your blog
3. Stay on topic
4. Be nice
5. Keep it brief

1. Don’t be promotional.
2. Actually read the post.
3. Be polite.

Okay, now I can reply!
Specific: I'm interested in the question of "what does it mean to repect another individual?"
On topic: I'm concerned about the idea that there are no universal standards for etiquette or social decorum, but I do see ideally good social decorum is in part "self-teaching", and the "host" has the responsibility for leading by demonstration and offering gentle corrections.

So I'd say the value in learning etiquette isn't to "certify a single form of correct behavior" but by learning in detail one "language" it should encourage people to pay close attention and become faster learners when they are in someone else's domain, and can learn on their feet to follow the behavior demonstrated by any host of any culture.

One idea I like - if a commenter oversteps, I believe it fair for a host to delete a comment, BUT ought to write a new comment explaining the failed tone or quality of the comment that caused its deletion, at least for certain offenses, like being over passioned, versus just trollish baiting, which needs no explanation or evidence.

Sam L. said...

This was standard at the Canoe School back in the '20s and '30s, according to the biography of Robert A. Heinlein. And, Mr. Mous, or may I call you Anon?, that was an excellent comment.

JorgXMcKie said...

I was at USAFA in the middle 60s, and we sure as heck were taught "social decorum" then. I remember being ordered to teach another 4th classman [freshman] how to properly use his knife to cut steak. I was amazed that an 1-year-old didn't know how.

We also had lots and lots and lots of training, formal and informal, on all of the social niceties. Formal gatherings began to be mandatory in the second semester of the first year and continues d until graduation.

I don't know when that quit happening, but the idea that it has to be "re-introduced" is shocking.

Anonymous said...

I teach in a public high school. I have my sophomores undertake a week long assignment based on Washington's Rules of Civility. At first they laugh. At they end of it they can see the difference. What can be shocking (but also fun) is reading their journals, and reading how they often act at home. What is nice to read how pleasantly surprised their family is as the assignment progresses. I wish it didn't have to be such an eye opening lesson.