Are Our Children Prepared to Stand Before Kings?

Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men. Proverbs 22:29

The place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The event: The Republican National Convention
The year: 2000

George Walker Bush had just received the nomination to run as the Republican Party’s candidate for President of the United States. In celebration, thousands of balloons poured down from the nets that had held them, covering the floor sometimes up to several feet deep. Some of the delegates climbed on their chairs to keep from being covered entirely by the red, white, and blue orbs.

Mr. Bush waved and smiled at the cheering people, turning slowly from side to side, scanning the crowd. As he faced the Texas delegation, he stopped, apparently recognizing someone in the crowd; a delegate standing on his chair took off his cowboy hat and with it saluted the man that would soon become the country’s commander-in-chief. Mr. Bush raised his hand and returned the salute of this familiar person.

Was this some famous person who had caught the eye of the nominee? No, it was not a legislator or ambassador, not an actor nor a wealthy donor. It was the son of an oil well supply store manager from West Texas, an average person who, because of a desire to have an impact on our society, had first met and visited on several occasions with Candidate Bush when he ran for governor. Who would have ever thought that one day the President of the United States would know his name?

Many home schoolers have focused on teaching their children about the importance of having an impact, of making our country a better place for future generations. With our children at our side, we work for candidates who support our values and strive to keep home school freedoms in place. We take our children to rallies and dinners and introduce them to legislators and their staffers. Who knows? Have they had the opportunity to rub shoulders with a future President?

Many home educators, though, are focused on academics. We are very proud of the fact that many of the winners of national competitions have been home educated. For example, the winner of the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee was a home schooler from California. The student’s picture, with him standing beside the President in the Oval Office, is posted on the White House Web site.

Parents want to prepare their children to be successful in whatever endeavor they pursue, yes? Even if a student is not interested in politics or winning a national academic competition, it is probable that he will someday be in the business world in one capacity or another.

We want our children to have an impact, to be able to “stand before kings,” so to speak. My question is this: Will they know how to behave when they get there?

I am not a football fan; I am one of those people who watches the Super Bowl to enjoy the creative commercials. During this year’s game, there was a commercial showing a man interviewing for a job, but he had a large stain on his shirt. As he spoke, the stain was “speaking” so loudly that the interviewer could not hear what the man was saying. Have you ever heard the saying, “What you do is speaking so loudly that I cannot hear what you say”? I think that commercial was a very good picture of what happens when a person does not practice good etiquette.

Etiquette: What is that? Many think that it is some list of stuffy rules and regulations that someone like Emily Post created just to make most of us miserable. Actually, it is “the forms, manners, and ceremonies established by convention as acceptable or required in social relations, in a profession, or in official life” (Webster’s).

I like to think of good etiquette as exhibiting the character quality of honor. Our society, unfortunately, is full of self-centered people who seem to be much more concerned about good self-esteem than good etiquette or honoring theotherperson. Philippians 2:3-4 speaks of the embodiment of etiquette: Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

When we studied the character quality of honor in our home school, we learned that George Washington as a young man transcribed the Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation. (You can find this list on several Web sites.) He apparently lived by these rules of etiquette and was well respected, at least in part, because of this commitment. A couple of our favorite rules from his book were, “At Play and at Fire its Good manners to Give Place to the last Commer.…” and “… bedew no man’s face with your Spittle, by approaching too near him when you Speak.” It is true that nowadays giving the seat closest to the fire is not an issue like it was in Washington’s time, but not spitting on someone while you speak to him is still very much appreciated!

Granted, there are some of the rules of etiquette that I do not understand and have a hard time following. I feel that I should be able to cut my salad with my knife until all the chefs have read the books on etiquette and they prepare my salads in small enough pieces that I can get salad into my mouth without getting dressing all over my face. My daughter at one time told me that she had decided that she would no longer eat salad in public, because she could not eat it without a knife. (Now that I think of it, maybe that was just a ploy to get out of eating her greens!) I was once attending a breakfast at which several legislators were guests. I was feeling pretty proud of myself and my manners, until I realized that the female representative next to whom I sat was buttering HER bread one bite at a time (like you are supposed to do), while I had buttered my WHOLE roll at once! For shame!

As our children’s teachers and parents, we are responsible not only to train our children to “excel in their work,” but also to know what to do when they “stand before kings.” Many of us were not taught what constitutes good etiquette as we were growing up, so we do not know the rules for proper decorum. How can we pass along what we do not have?

One of the many benefits that I experienced while home educating my children was one that I did not expect: I found that I learned (and retained) much more as a teacher than I had ever learned (and retained) during my own seventeen years of formal education. I learned many things while teaching my children that I had not known (or, maybe, just not retained) before doing so. If I wanted to teach my children something I did not know, I determined that I would learn it along with them. (A clarification: that really did not work so well with physics. I found that I did not have the knowledge base to teach at that level, nor did I have time or inclination to go back and acquire it. At that point, if that is an important course for your child, it might be time to consider a tutor!)

So, I did what any good home schooling teacher would do: I bought some books, and we began to learn about proper behavior. These days, you can find a wealth of information on the Internet. Start with the basics. Perhaps start with etiquette for children, for that will include the most basic of the rules. I keep a good etiquette book on hand, to use during those times when we need to know how to behave only once or twice in a lifetime (for example, how to address a wedding invitation).

Just a word to the wise: you are going to have to require your children to practice in your home what they learn. Behaving well needs to be a habit—second nature—to your child. The only way that will happen is for it to be required in the home. A friend of mine once told me that she allowed her children to lick their plates after they finished eating; imagine my chagrin! Picture them forgetting which rules applied “at home” and which ones “in public”! Argh! That could definitely bring their mother shame!

Yes, we want our children to excel. Yes, we want them to have an impact on the world around them. We must equip them not only in their brains but also in their behavior, so that what they do will not speak so loudly that they are unable to accomplish all that they can!

Read some helpful online tips about teaching our children good manners.