THE IDEA that children should be heard, as well as seen, has been abroad in the land for some time, and just look at the place. Miss Manners believes that civilized society as we know it will end the day the present fourth graders are let loose upon the world.
If the wise adage needed amendment, it might be added that some children should never be seen, either. Most, however, merely need to be taught to listen. Miss Manners has noticed many well-meaning parents doing their children a disservice by encouraging them to express themselves, particularly when the adults are trying to talk. It would be more in the children's interest if they were encouraged to listen to adult conversation. They might pick up something to use against their elders later.
The current school of child-rearing is based on two mistaken notions: That children are naturally good, and that they are naturally creative. If children are naturally good, why do they teach themselves to walk by holding on to the edge of the dining room tablecloth? If they are naturally creative, why do they all draw alike?
Miss Manners is not, however, advocating switching to suppressing rudely the spontaneity of small children. It can be done politely. (Miss Manners is a nonallied power in the war of the generations and plans at some future date to attack adults who are rude to children.)
Rather than zipping up their wee mouths, Miss Manners suggests adults stun babbling children into silence by asking them nicely to explain what they mean. If they are being truly natural and creative, they have neglected to figure out this point. One hopes that the more promising ones may therefore be shocked enough by this question to rummage around in their minds, sort out the mess and endeavor to express themselves with clarity and supporting evidence.
This should not only allow the adults to hear themselves think, but for foce the children to think.
As a byproduct, we may get some creative adults from these children. Haven't you noticed that all artistic people brag about having been suppressed as children?
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: What can you do after accidentally calling your present lover by your former lover's name?
A: Seek a future lover. Such a mistake is easy to do and impossible to undo. Why do you think the term "darling" was invented?
Q: Can you suggest a graceful way to call a friend's attention to a word that has been egregiously mispronounced? I am thinking especially of a well-educated person with a reasonably good vocabulary who makes this kind of gaffe.I recall someone saying "reticent" as if it were "re-tie-cent" with the accent on the "tie." Just recently a friend spoke of "maniac-depressive." Trying to be objective, one would like to help a friend, to help avoid a repetition of the mistake, but at the same time one would not want to seem to be putting on airs.
A: Nobody knows better than Miss Manners the joy of "helping a friend" by graciously indicating how much more one knows than he or she. For example, Miss Manners would adore pointing out that your "someone saying 'reticent'" ought to be "someone's saying 'reticent,'" but is reticent about doing so because of the unlikely chance you may then catch Miss Manners in a tiny error and the whole thing never ending, with each of us becoming increasingly bitter. At best, you may inquire of your friend, "Oh, is that the way you pronounce that? I've always heard . . ." However, you do this at your own risk."
Q: What is the proper way to eat corn on the cob?
A: Left to right.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white letter paper) to Miss Manners, Style Section, The Washington Post.