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Published August 18. 2012 09:01AM


It's a rainy afternoon, and we're watching old television episodes of Leave It To Beaver.

My, how things have changed 'twixt 1959 and now.

The episode we saw involved the series of events set in motion when Beaver and his best friend, Larry, stopped on their way to school to watch a construction project. Fascinated, they lose track of time, and are late for school. To make matters worse, their books and lunch boxes are run over by a bulldozer.

Fearful of the consequences of being late, being responsible for the destruction of their books, and having no lunches, the boys decide to skip school. The scheme falls apart when they walk into a supermarket to buy food for lunch and are caught up in a live television broadcast, which is seen by their parents. The boys learn a valuable lesson: Lying and trying to elude responsibility for one's mistakes creates even bigger messes.

We're touched by the episode's message of honesty and personal responsibility. We're also struck by the good manners the characters display so matter-of-factly. (That children have so quickly lost their freedom to roam is a subject for another column).

Then, civility was the societal norm as much as incivility is today.

The devolution of respect and courtesy is nowhere more evident than on the Internet, where people who shouldn't be trusted with a box of crayons in a locked room are free to verbally spray paint their opinions on an infinite number of subjects on the walls of public forums.

Children no longer have proper behavior modeled to them on television shows, each one of which seems to compete with the other to be the most vulgar, sarcastic and thoughtless. Televised competitions have become mean-spirited. Sportsmanship is lost: It's now not enough that I win; others must lose.

Many parents aren't much better, belittling coaches and refusing to make their children take responsibility for their own behavior. Family mealtimes, once a touchstone for manners and interaction, are rare, given the demands of sports and other activities.

We won't even get in to current political discourse.

Thus it falls to the classroom to teach children to be civilized.

Both the Panther Valley and Jim Thorpe school districts are tackling the challenge through a program called Positive Behavior Support. Teachers, administrators and others are using the program to help children build foundations of good manner, respect and civility; a common ground of values.

While the bulk of the program involves "catching students being good," it also incorporates a baseline of expectations: That children will treat themselves and others with respect, even when they disagree.

Administrators in both school districts have said the program has led to a more positive atmosphere and fewer disciplinary referrals.

It sounds so simple, to expect good behavior as a matter of course. But manners and courtesy have become lost values in our 24/7, me-first society that parents no longer see them as routine components of child-rearing.

While Leave It To Beaver never was reality, it did reflect a common core of values that propelled us forward.

Thank you, teachers and administrators of Panther Valley and Jim Thorpe, for doing your best to weave those values back into students' everyday lives.

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