My daughter, an educator for children, recently asked me how I feel about the move to reintroduce “good manners and right conduct” as a subject in school.
No, I didn’t roll my eyes. I think I sighed a little.
We heard something about it not too long ago. But nothing happened.
From what I am told, the Department of Education (DepEd) is still deliberating on the measure. I am not sure where it has stalled or why, but I remember reading a few months back about its possible reappearance as a required course in school and becoming part of the K-12 curriculum focusing on Kindergarten, and Grades 1 and 2.
Recently I was discussing “growing up back in the day” with a friend, and she suggested I create a primer of sorts to illustrate what was then known in Spanish as urbanidad. In English, it means courtesy, politeness.
I remember the older people described a child having good manners as bien educada or de buenos modales.
I think that teaching a child starts early. My friend insists it is “mixed with the mother’s milk.”
Saying: Please and thank you. Hello and goodbye. I love you. Good morning and good night. Yes and No.
The child needs to hear it, be around it, and see those words in action.
Soon enough, they learn not to speak with their mouths full, about no elbows on the table; that the napkin is to wipe a messy mouth, and that hands must be washed. They must be taught that whining does not get them anything, and screaming is not acceptable.
In school, whatever the child has been taught at home is honed and reinforced. There the child experiences what it means to share; learns not to interrupt, to wait their turn, and to speak the truth. They develop people skills and become aware of “others.”
In my book, you don’t wait for a kid to be of school age and then leave it all up to the teachers. It is never too early to start building character. God forbid that it becomes too late.
My heart aches with deep regret when I see how dismally remiss we have been in raising our children.
Our mistake was to have listened to the gripes and newfangled ideas of the next generation. We were terrified by cries of child abuse over our old way of discipline.
My harmless tsinelas became a lethal weapon.
We were overwhelmed by the loud howls that demanded freedom of expression for our young ones. We succumbed to a “no harm-no foul” mentality. We stepped aside, turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to radical changes in our children just to “let them grow,” never mind the consequences.
Today we are appalled at what we have become.
But it was our generation that removed the boundaries. It was during our watch that new “toys” overruled the joy of close family.
Oops, sorry. We were talking about character. I got sidetracked.
Bringing back the basics
Allow me to take this new government policy to a higher level.
The P20 million earmarked for House Bill No. 6705 may be a pittance compared to the budget for these new audacious government projects, but I hope the DepEd takes very seriously this attempt at bringing the very basics of character building back to school.
What builds character in our children? You will find some answers in “Character Matters,” a book written by famous psychologist and educator Thomas Lickona.
The author presents over a hundred strategies to help kids build “a strong personal character as the foundation for a purposeful, productive and fulfilling life.” He lists 10 essential qualities: wisdom, justice, fortitude, self-control, love, a positive attitude, hard work, integrity, gratitude and humility.
Lickona says character is having “the right stuff.” “As parents and educators we labor to teach kids this—that it’s what’s inside that counts.”
He blames the world condition on the absence of integrity, describes today’s society as “bereft of character,” and throws the burden of moral corruption in the “laps of parents and teachers.” “The solution,” he says, “is to awaken the children’s social consciences.”
I wonder how this can be done. Will it matter? I feel that nothing can heal the travesty caused by our own permissive indifference. But we can hope.
I ask: Will the return of good manners and right conduct in our schools mean the return of delicadeza and civility? Like in a lifetime past, will obscene language be relegated to the gutter, and will respect and honor be given only when deserved?
When he was asked why it matters, an old headmaster tells about words engraved above the door to the classroom building where he went to school as a boy: “Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your deeds. Be careful of your deeds, for your deeds become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.”
In the words of Cicero, “Within the character of the citizen lies the welfare of the nation.”