The rules of good behaviour

Manaswini Sridhar

I have been in the education field for more than 25 years teaching various subjects and am trying my best to ‘give back to society’ by educating children even outside of the school curriculum. I am dismayed by the behaviour of children even from the elite schools and more so by the misbehaviour and total callousness of most college students not only in the classroom but also in the outside world. Surely there is something that we are totally disregarding in our approach to educating the future generation. What can we do to ensure that our children are refined and learn to co-exist with others in a dignified fashion? Is no one complaining about our plight?

There are hordes and hordes of complaints and the view held by most educators is that the education system has to be totally revamped because it is neither beneficial to the student nor to society. There are qualified teachers to teach students how to play music, how to read, to draw, to write, to play cricket… name it and the student can learn it, for a given price of course. When it comes to behaviour, there is a definite yardstick but no one seems to be taking the responsibility of teaching students ‘good behaviour’ because they are so caught up in the syllabus of the academic year. So the short cut lies in meting out punishment to students in the hope that they comprehend the consequences of bad behaviour. Instead, schools could give teachers the time to teach the rules of good behaviour by talking about the rules, reinforcing them and by demonstrating them in practice, not only at the elementary school level but throughout their school life.

Students must be taught that physical space outside of their homes is not their sole territory but also belongs to others who may not welcome any kind of invasion.

Standing in line without touching one another by leaving adequate space in between each student is very difficult for children, and therefore for adults! Yet, it must be done repeatedly from pre-primary so that students fall into line automatically without jumping the line, squeezing in or roughing someone out. Students must be made to understand that their position in the line has nothing to do with their personal status. Teachers must explain that the person standing before or after them may be their friend or classmate but they do not have the right to infringe on the other person’s space by pushing against them or cramping their space. A line up every day and an inspection of the line up allows the teacher to offer comments on the correctness or incorrectness of the physical space between students. Re-runs of this throughout their school lives will help them see clearly that when the gap between two students is minimal, it causes discomfort and a sense of claustrophobia. As adults, forming a line anywhere without the urge to cramp someone’s space will become a necessary habit. Hence, there will be a safe distance in banks between customers when they are at the teller’s counter. One can transact without someone breathing down their necks and without a stranger having access to their financial status! It is because we have not been taught about the sanctity of such lines that banks too do not insist that there be a healthy distance between customers.

Similarly, we would no longer have frenzied crowds at ticket counters and the angry, restless mobs at temples. People getting into trains would then be more disciplined instead of bandying about their luggage in the faces of the passengers already seated. We would have fewer customers at a shop saying, “I have just one product to buy, so could I cut the line?” Wouldn’t this make life more easy and livable?

Gathering students every day after class to make sure that there is no litter in the class, either on their desk, chair, or in the classroom is another fine way of training students to be intolerant of littering. By playing music or singing a tune, students will enjoy the chore because it will no longer seem a chore. Teachers need to explain that the school is their very special place, but it is not like their home because it does not exclusively belong to them. Since it is public property and belongs to everyone, they need to treat it with respect. Teachers need to stress that buses and trains are not their property. They may pay for a seat on the bus, but the bus does not belong to them. So they have to follow certain rules on the bus by not messing up things and by not disturbing fellow passengers. They cannot play loud music and expect their co-passengers to tolerate it. Nor can they litter the bus after eating and drinking, because it is not their property. If such lessons are taught again and again in the course of their school years, students will come to understand that a lot of things in society have to be shared. A particular swing in the park will not become their exclusive property…it has to be shared with everyone who comes into the park. They can only take turns on it. Learning such lessons makes life less stressful and more peaceful.

Talking to parents about these activities and getting their help in reinforcing these rules will be twice beneficial because there may be some parents out there who also need to learn and understand that we can be civilized and environment friendly and still get our work done! Isn’t this the kind of education we want to spread? It is possible…it will take time and an enormous amount of effort, but with the help of a dedicated team of teachers and an administration that makes a conscious effort to help teachers spend those extra minutes on things that are crucial to society, we can make it happen. This is just the first step.

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at manaswinisridhar@gmail.com.