Living as ladies and gentlemen

Published 8:31 pm Thursday, June 10, 2010

Today’s public school teachers have more on their plates than ever in recent memory. At the same time that class sizes are on the rise because of budget cuts and the resulting drop in teaching positions in school systems around the commonwealth, teachers find themselves struggling to meet ever-stricter testing thresholds set under Virginia’s standards of learning program and the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The combination of stresses has many teachers wondering how to find time to explore the depths of their subjects with their young charges. If they’re going to be evaluated by how well their students can do on the SOL tests, the logic goes, then why would they spend time teaching concepts and facts that will not appear on the test, regardless of their importance.

In such an environment, chivalry — or at least its development in the youngster — could truly be dead. America’s often-vulgar culture demonstrates just how sick chivalry has become here, and its continued neglect can only result — finally — in its expiration.

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A QVC employee whose children used to attend Mack Benn Elementary School has stepped in to help save chivalry — and grace and manners. For the second consecutive year, Necole Salley worked with fifth-graders at the school to teach them how to be young ladies and gentlemen. The special program wound up recently with a formal dinner and dance, where the youngsters had a chance to demonstrate what they had learned. Boys in tuxedoes pulled out girls’ chairs for them, and perfectly coiffed, but demure young girls sat with napkins in laps. And it’s about far more than just good table manners, as Salley makes clear. “I wanted them to know that they are worthy, know that they are special, know that they can do all things,” she said.

There was a time in America when parents could be expected to teach their children about chivalry and manners, but that time is largely past. There also was a time when teachers could be expected to help impart such lessons, but the stresses they find themselves under today tend to narrow their focus.

Considering how important common courtesies can be in society, it is refreshing that a citizen would take such an interest in teaching the next generation a little more about how to live as ladies and gentlemen.