Bremen (Germany), Nov. 12 (AFP): Today’s lesson at this German secondary school: how to go to the front office for chalk, knock politely on the door —without battering it down — and say: “Hello, please, thank you and goodbye.”
Hardly a subject in need of inclusion on the school curriculum, one might think. But after countless interruptions while he was on the telephone, fights in the corridors and student racketeering, Karl Witte had had enough.
“We reached a critical level. I've been teaching here for 20 years and things degraded substantially. We got to the point where we couldn’t work normally any more,” said Witte.
The sports and geography teacher decided the young teens at the Bremen Schulzentrum were not being taught basic manners at home and so, with the approbation of parents and teachers, he began giving formal lessons.
Pia, Jason, Tim and Maik are four 11-year-olds among around 110 at this “sensitive area” school in the northern city who are being shown plain, good manners -- respect for each other and respect for themselves.
There are no marks and no grades for a class that takes about an hour of school time, but parents are told every two weeks if their children are failing to meet the standards of good etiquette.
His initiative is the only one of its kind in Germany, where control over education lies in the hands of each of the 16 states and differs widely from region to region. But it is being closely watched for results.
Many Germans deplore the bad behaviour of adolescents and blame the problem on what they consider to be a system of education that was too indulgent in the late 1960s.
According to one survey conducted on 550 people by the Infratest institute in August, 77 per cent are in favour of etiquette classes in schools.
An online poll set up by Germany’s Der Spiegel news magazine at the beginning of September has so far gathered 6,538 votes in favour of teaching good manners in the class room.
In Bremen, Witte’s programme is under close surveillance. “For the moment, the behaviour of all the students has improved. Classes given to the youngest students are even having an effect on the older ones,” said the school’s director.
“They say hello to me more often, but we’ll have to see if the courses bear fruit over the long term,” he added.