Parents will do anything for their children. Anything, Miss Manners has observed, short of actual childrearing.
It's not that parents don't realize that their children need to learn manners, morals, and how to refrain from repulsing those in a position to give them degrees, riches and happiness. They simply do not see teaching these as being their job.
Anyway, they have their hands full complaining and protesting that others are not doing it.
Concerned parents are especially vehement about the failure of the entertainment industry to exhibit well-behaved role models to inspire children to follow them into the magic land of decorum. Of course, they also expect television to entertain their children while they have other things to do. Conflict being the essence of drama, how long do they expect those children to be mesmerized by the spectacle of characters being polite to one another?
But then couldn't the actors and athletes who are known and admired on television conduct their personal lives so as to provide the young with examples of dignity, honor and restraint?
Never mind that the public has already taught them that modesty and sportsmanship, far from being admired by their audiences, are considered dumb, if not actually unhealthy.
Fortunately, the public does admire philanthropy. So it is not uncommon to see entertainment and sports figures touting, and perhaps even supporting, causes and charities. It is just that when it comes to the exemplary private life, young people who have made sudden, vast amounts of money are not the likeliest candidates for practicing financial or romantic restraint.
Politicians should be more responsible, parents have charged. Surely they should be examples of upstanding citizens. How is it that so many of them get involved in scandals for love or money? And how is it that the ones who have not morally transgressed have such poor manners, insulting and cursing those who disagree with them?
Miss Manners has to point out to whom those politicians are responsible. As long as voters mistake belligerence for high-mindedness, they will keep putting rude people into office.
This leaves teachers to do the job of civilizing children. They, at least, are undistracted by money and adulation. And goodness knows they try to do the job.
So when even they give up, parents are outraged. News reports that it was not uncommon for schools to expel 3-year-olds produced general shock. Of course they're unruly, people responded indignantly. What do you expect of small children? Isn't preschool supposed to teach them to behave?
Not from scratch. In three years, parents were supposed to teach them respect for authority and not to hit and scratch others. Lapses will occur, but they need to know and accept the principles.
If not, serious, one-on-one remedial work needs to be done before any other socialization can be taught -- let alone the beginning academics that parents now want in the curriculum. Now that there may be more than one such child in a preschool class, teachers -- who hate to give up on any child -- can no longer do that job.
Parents are just going to have to find someone else to blame for not parenting their children.
Dear Miss Manners:
I was wondering the proper order of events, pertaining to an engagement. Does the groom ask her father for her hand in marriage, then ask her and give her the diamond? Or does he ask her to marry him and then her father?
He should not ask her father to marry him. Proposing to two members of the same family can only end in strife or bigamy.
If, however, you wish to ask the father's permission to ask the lady to marry you, you must do so first. However, Miss Manners warns you not to attempt this before being reasonably sure of a favorable reply from the lady. "Your father is okay with your marrying me" is not a persuasive argument these days.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
(c) 2005, Judith Martin