A Class Act


Dr. Henry G. Selby Headmaster All Saints’ Episcopal School Morristown, TN

Winston Churchill, best known for being twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (including during WWII), was also a linguist. He advocated the use of words with Anglo-Saxon roots when precision was warranted; Latin roots when flowery oratory was needed. Now few of us have a sufficient command of our language to make such a distinction, yet his observation has merit for anyone who cares to be understood clearly. Again, words matter. Beyond the obvious, they speak of our level of education, our valuation of good manners, and our place within society.

As Americans we are uncomfortable talking about social classes except in the broadest possible terms. The tapestry of our noble history is woven with threads of equality for all; our legal system is grounded upon this precept; our Declaration of Independence holds this to be a self-evident truth. Yet even young children recognize that clothing styles, diction, and one’s bearing reflect a personal code that can easily be noted as “classy” or “vulgar”. What makes our noble American system unique is that each of us can actually choose our social class! It is not assigned to us by religion or custom or government. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with money.

I must confess that it is difficult to urge young people to be gentlemen and ladies when the news reports contain images of unkempt and vulgar persons with the same descriptors. Difficult or not, I believe that there is enduring value in training our children to be well-groomed, to speak respectfully to others, and to engage in courteous conduct. William Butler Yeats, in his magnificent poem “A Prayer for My Daughter” says this:

“In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;

Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned

By those that are not entirely beautiful;”

I would urge all of us in the vocation to raising America’s youth to keep these ideals in mind. We are all familiar with the phrase “a class act.” It can begin in a class today.

“Henry G. Selby, headmaster of All Saints’ Episcopal School in Morristown, is a popular speaker at seminars, conferences, civic events, and professional development meetings. He would be delighted to speak at your next meeting. Please call the school for more information.”

Source: Dr. Henry G. Selby Headmaster All Saints’ Episcopal School Morristown, TN