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Jewish World Review Dec. 8, 1999 /29 Kislev, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Modern manners

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
IN ANNAPOLIS, MD., parents who want their children to participate in intramural sports will be required to sign a pledge promising civility and good manners on the sidelines. The Department of Recreation and Parks was driven to this measure by years of obnoxious parental behavior. In the past year alone, according to The Capital newspaper, 19 of 109 referees have quit due to threats and verbal abuse from parents.

Al Patrick, a history teacher who has coached girls' and boys' soccer for 40 years is dismayed by the gross behavior of today's parents. "For those of us who have been in it for a while," he told The Capital, "it's hard to remember how fun it used to be because you know every time you blow the whistle, one side or the other is going to be screaming at you no matter how obvious the foul, no matter how obvious the violation." Patrick attempts to ignore the problem and "remember that the game is being played for the kids."

Patrick is no doubt one of the good guys -- one among millions of coaches across the nation who volunteers his or her time to help children learn soccer or baseball or basketball. But his statement that the game is "for the kids" actually understates what intramural sports ought to be about. It isn't just to let the kids burn off extra energy in the sunshine, or hone their skills. At its best, youth leagues teach teamwork, good sportsmanship and honor. In other words, sports leagues help civilize the little barbarians. Parents who scream at referees from the sidelines undermine each and every one of those goals.

But then, there are so many parents in America today who are not truly adults -- at least not in the way we used to think of adults. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently ran a story about cursing among the younger set and found that foul language is rampant -- starting with those as young as 2! Who is responsible for that? In Fairfax County, Va., a mostly wealthy suburb of Washington, D.C., the public schools have seen an epidemic of students cursing out their teachers. In Louisiana, the state legislature recently passed a law requiring that students address their teachers as "ma'am" and "sir."

If parents saw themselves as adults, and believed that merely being an adult entitles one to respect from children, the triumph of rude and crude among the young could never have happened. But so many people who have attained majority chronologically are so brainwashed by egalitarian ideas that they cannot enforce even necessary distinctions between children and adults.

The quickest way to determine these days whether someone is a liberal or a conservative is not to ask their views on the minimum wage or affirmative action, but rather to inquire whether they encourage children to address them by their first names. Whenever we introduce our children to adults, the adults are given their proper titles. But only the liberals will attempt to counter this training, interjecting: "Oh call me Sally. Mrs. Tuttle makes me feel so old ."

Well, get used to it. You are old, particularly from the perspective of a child. And one of the compensations of aging should be the acquisition of dignity.

Adults in this culture have great difficulty with dignity, as with authority. A case in point: The other day, at a local ice rink in my neighborhood, two 13- or 14-ish boys came flying off the ice. One was wearing a ski mask (which has no place at a skating arena in the first place). The two were clearly on the verge of a fight. Once off the ice, in the presence of at least half a dozen adults, they began shoving one another. The boy without a mask looked terrified. Summoning my most stentorian voice, I instructed them to stop it immediately.

"There is no hitting or pushing here," I scolded. The youngster who had looked so scared now looked at me with surprise and relief. The other kid ran off. Every other adult in the vicinity was silent.

That silence is what permits the obnoxious few to spoil intramural sports, and the vulgar few to poison the learning environment of schools.


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