The new Children's Secretary, the appropriately-named Ed Balls, has announced plans to have children in schools across England being taught "social and emotional skills" by 2011. Classes in these "skills" will involve pupils learning "to understand themselves, manage their feelings, and [will promote] social skills and the understanding of others". In other words they'll be taught to behave in a manner that isn't offensively anti-social.
Now, the government claims that these classes lead to children being better-behaved, and to a concomitant improvement in results, and I have no reason to believe that this is anything other than true. And, if these classes do have the effect of making schoolchildren better behaved and more respectful, then that is obviously beneficial.
But I do feel that it is a sad indictment of what has happened in our society in the last fifty years or so, that schools now need to set aside special classes to teach children the basic standards of decency the existence of which should really be taken as read. After all, fifty years ago classes of this kind would have been deemed completely unnecessary for the vast majority of children. Because in those days, we had a society in which respect was instilled in children from an early age, by their parents in particular, but also by society at large. Maxims like "respect your elders and betters", and "mind your manners", were drummed into children from their earliest infancy, and if a child did behave in a disrespectful manner to an adult, then it wouldn't have been thought odd for that adult, whether related to the child or not, to give him a good clip round the ear.
By contrast, today, "respect your elders and betters" is seen as corny and old-fashioned, even parents can be arrested for administering discipline to their children, and the only smack most children are likely to see is the kind you have to smuggle through customs. To a large extent society has stopped caring about manners and respect - indeed, among many of the younger generation, it is fashionable to positively reject such traditional social norms. And it is just because society has stopped, and in some cases has actually been prevented, from teaching and enforcing respect, that we arrive at a situation where the government assumes the responsibility for doing so, and where we have to have classes of the kind described above.
Personally, I prefer things the way they were.