Hannah, my most frequent dress code questioner, had a valid question: “Why is it wrong for guys to wear hats inside the building?” I told her I was sure that once upon a time there was a good reason, but all I knew was that it was tradition, a form of courtesy that isn’t always observed anymore. I told her -and the class – how sad it is for me to see men with their hats on in restaurants and even in church.
I went on to discuss how much of what used to be common courtesy has gone by the wayside, which in turn has led to strangers screaming at each other in public, road rage, and bad sportsmanship at basketball games, among other unpleasant displays.
My students were curious about what other traditions have disappeared or are disappearing. I told them that men used to stand up whenever women entered or left the room (it happens in almost every episode of Downton Abbey!). In fact, I said, there was a day when students would rise to their feet every time an adult entered the room. They were intrigued: “Can we do that?” I told them they could and cautioned them that it would have the most impact if they were silent as they did so.
They started it about a week ago and have kept it up, delighted and surprised at the reaction of teachers when they experience such a show of respect. On Friday a parent volunteer came in and seemed embarrassed at the attention. As I do with all astonished guests, I murmured, “Invite them to be seated.” She did, and they sat, pleased with themselves.
I don’t know how long it’ll last, but secretly I hope it will become such a habit that they will forever be known as “That really respectful 8th grade.”