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Beverly Hills Plan to Add Etiquette to School Curriculum Draws Both Sneers, Cheers : District Finds a Place for the Social Graces

November 24, 1985|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

Beverly Hills school officials, convinced that good manners breed success in life, are preparing to teach their students about the little things that mean a lot.

What clothes to wear, what fork to use, how much to tip and how to address dignitaries are just a few of the social graces that will be part of a new etiquette program that is in the planning stages in the district.

The program is being written by Judi Kaufman, president of Communication Development Associates Inc., a Los Angeles-based consulting firm offering seminars on executive etiquette to businessmen.

Kaufman, who teaches a seminar called "Good Taste Is Good Business," said good manners are essential to success in life.

"Beverly Hills children are leaders in many ways," she said. "They have the best of education and training, but unfortunately, good manners have not been a part of that."

Officials on the Beverly Hills Board of Education asked Kaufman to develop the curriculum after concluding that many children do not know proper etiquette and that parents often do not have the time to drill their children in many of the fundamentals.

Saying 'Please' and 'Thank You'

School board member Jerry Weinstein, who proposed the idea of developing an etiquette curriculum, said that Beverly Hills is not unique.

"Children generally are woefully inadequate when it comes to manners. They are lacking in all the basic social graces--(knowing how to talk) on the phone, saying 'please' and 'thank you' and eating properly.

"These things used to be taught in the schools, but they were given over to parents to do at home and parents have fallen down on the job. Their kids are growing up to be a bunch of bores."

School officials said that the new lessons will not be taught as a separate course but will be emphasized in home economics and English classes. The district plans to begin the instruction with eighth-grade students. Meetings with teachers will be held in coming months.

Kaufman, who has two daughters in Beverly Hills schools, said she would develop the curriculum at no cost to the district. She said she intends to write a book and produce a videotape about the experience, and share the profits with the district.

"The word etiquette is just coming back into vogue," Kaufman said. "It was put aside during the '60s. The divorce rate was high. Families stopped eating together and people wanted to do 'their own thing.' Now it is coming back . . . but people who grew up around the TV and not in formal family structures . . . find that they don't know how to behave in social situations."

Most parents have reacted positively to the proposal, but there are some critics too.

"I think it is a wonderful idea," said Ruth Golod, president of the Beverly Hills PTA Council. "I think our children are lacking in manners and etiquette because a lot of parents think more about themselves and their own time than they do about spending time with their children. The children may laugh about it in the beginning, but they will realize how important it is."

But Rhea Kohan, an unsuccessful school board candidate in the November election, denounced the plan.

"I think its stupid. Next, they will be giving the kids a bath and putting them to bed," she said. "Teaching manners should be done in the home. This is not something for an educational system.

"I would like them to concentrate on academic areas and leave the teaching of manners to parents.

"What happens if I don't want someone else to teach my children manners? Whose manners will be taught? Manners differ all over the world."

Kohan's daughter, Jenji, 16, agreed. "It is not their place to even suggest that," she said. "It just adds to the negative Beverly Hills stereotype that we are all snobbish, little brats who go out for dinner every night and drive Mercedeses."

Kaufman said, however, that good manners "make people feel comfortable and important in every situation. (They are) the final polish in becoming a successful adult." She said her program will focus on developing the skills of a small group of children who will become role models.

School officials said they hope that student role models will improve manners in the school cafeterias.

"For many children, eating lunch in the cafeteria is not a pleasurable experience. They race through their meals and go out to play," said Carol Katzman, the director of educational services for the district. "We want to teach them that dining is an appropriate activity, a time to meet and talk with friends. . . .

"It seems foolish to think we have to teach children to say 'thank you,' but we do. They don't take the time to say 'hello' or 'how are you.' It is a sad commentary on society."

Supt. Leon Lessinger said that Americans should consider the importance of manners to Japanese society.

"Were it not for the (system of) etiquette of the Japanese living on their crowded island, they could not have survived (as a culture)," he said.

"The most successful people have one thing in common--they all know how to say thank you," said school board member Frank Fenton.

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