The Line of Good Taste

In my earlier days of classroom management, I created a plane-flight analogy for my high school students on the first day of school.

You have just entered American Literature Airlines, piloted by Cheri Sabraw. Please find your seats soon because once the door is closed, you will be off on a fast-paced flight. Oh, and by the way, there will be no eating on this flight, no headsets, no gum, no magazines, no going to the bathroom, no arguing belligerently with the flight crew, which is made up of one person—me.

Kids enjoyed this creative way of delivering the First Day of School Rules.

I had to relinquish that sweet little analogy when airline travel changed from the upscale, classy, and exciting method of transportation it once was.

People now fly in dirty sweat pants, show no concern that their iPod music is being broadcast throughout the first 5 rows, push their seats back so quickly that your tray table leaves a crease in your gut, stand above you with smelly armpits and try to shoehorn their big piece of luggage into the overhead mini-bin (all while squishing your coat and God Forbid, you new spring hat), leave their garbage under the seat or in your magazine flap, and sloppily talk on their phones while boarding because they are sure we are dying to know about their colonoscopy.

Airlines-kaput! I needed a new way of delivering the rules. The Line of Good Taste emerged.

Any of my 4000+ students will remember this line, drawn so dramatically on the first day of school in Room N-9. Like the drum major in the University of California Marching Band, I marched up to the front with a thick piece of beige chalk in my hand. Leaning back, arching back, I then flung my arm down to that tacky linoleum floor and drew a thin line, about 7 feet long. This, I announced, is The Line of Good Taste. Don’t cross it.

How do we cross it? What will happen if we do?

You will cross The Line of Good Taste if you do any of the following:

1. Use crass language. Crass language includes not only the known swear words, but also those words that we ALL know are just boring ways to express anger or disgust. Remember, this classroom is the Holy Haven of our Spoken Language.

2. Are rude to anyone in the class. I defined rude behaviors as eye rolling, interrupting, snickering, muttering, and yawning with a big wide-open mouth.

3. Eat in class. Eating in class shows the teacher that what she has to say isn’t as important, as say, predicate nominatives or dangling modifiers, Jay Gatsby or Nick Carraway, plot or theme.

4. Dress inappropriately for an academic discussion. Literary analysis is serious business, especially to English majors. Girls with bellies flopping over and out of tightly buttoned jeans, body parts cascading out of halter tops, and rear ends emerging from low-slung pants are distractions.

Students seemed to appreciate this line. They would ask me if they were getting close to falling over this line. Were they dancing on this line? They also began to consider the words Good Taste, recognizing that in the world of their homes and classroom, having standards would help them lead an examined life, a life faced with one choice after another. Choosing to listen instead of to interrupt, to dress with some modesty instead of to flaunt for attention, to respect and tolerate instead of to condemn and gossip—such consideration began to emerge after a year wrestling with The Line of Good Taste.

As teachers and parents, you can draw your own Lines of Good Taste. And, it is never too late to do this. There is one hitch: you must live and work by the constraints of your own design.

Our kids and students want order and structure. What they don’t want is a new friend.

And of course, as the years pass by, your kids (or students in my case) will become some of your best friends.

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
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9 Responses to The Line of Good Taste

  1. Cindy says:

    Finally someone who too enjoys the “classy” side of life. The description of the airline is oh so true. Doesn’t anyone think about more than themselves these days? It’s a “me” existence and that has taken the classy respectful & tasteful demeanor out of many adults and children’s lives. My 19-1/2 year old daughter just shared a story with me yesterday about the speech she gave her sorority sisters regarding never “shacking-up” with a boyfriend. Always keep your respect as well as your independence”she said, “Keep some for yourself. Dress with good taste. They will respect you more in the end.” Here-here to bringing up your children correctly after all!

  2. ccsaw says:

    wI enjoyed the article very much as it poignently identifies the culture deterioration of basic lines that previously were bright and not crossed. The value in having standards in the way we communicate, appear, and express ourselves to one another in various venues, cannot be understated. And in my opinion, the growing lack of regard for these laudable virtues and rules, is affecting the health of our culture. Politics has become something that people do not want to discuss because it is now devisive and a tool of the politically correct fascists. Credibility in important settings based on the choice of dress or appearance is ignored and sometimes shocking. I had a lawyer appear in a mediation I was conducting dressed in a manner indicating he didn’t have much respect for the process or his clients case because he looked like he had just finished working in the yard. It was very odd and I think it significantly affected his ability to serve as a credible advocate for his client in that setting. Demanding excellence from ourselves is important whether we are in government, private business or when funcitoning as a parent, child or just as a friend.
    Thanks for the reminder and keep up the good work. Your insights are valuable to the educational commentary so sorely missed these days.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Right on! You can add to the “rude behaviors” part… answering cell phones and/or text messaging are as bad as eye-rolling or talking or interrupting or ignoring people when they are talking. It’s just another way of communicating that what the speaker is saying is not important.

  4. terry says:

    Reading about the ” Line of Good Taste”, I started to wonder how parents, teachers, religious schools have all allowed Bad Taste to enter into daily life. How have these common sense and traditional values become something that are sneered at by students and children. The answer is incrementally. Slowly, one small victory at a time, lewd language, immodest dress,raucous classrom and home behavior have become norms. It didn’t happen overnight.Parents were tired. Teachers got overwhelmed. Peer pressure won out. Each “Bad Taste Victory” was won in small ways and incrementally became accepted until more dramatic “Bad Taste” came to be accepted. Perhaps we need to stop being afraid that our children won’t be our friends and start stepping up to “The Line of Good Taste”. Incrementally or dramatically this is the road best taken. Thanks as always for stimulating modern thought.

  5. jwong says:

    Your points about creating your own “Line of Good Taste” inspired me to make sure I do that with all students I encounter in my lifetime. It is so true that our culture has created blurred lines for how we behave and now, students and some adults alike, have no concept of proper etiquette. Loved the blog!

  6. chris ventimiglio says:

    I was just recently told where the low slung pants came from. The radio station I was listening to had a prison guard call in He said that it was a way for prisoners to let other prisoners know that they were available for sexual favors. I do not know if this is true, but i wonder how many young men would like to know what they are advertising .

  7. ll says:

    This is Ninny’s tomb, Jens.

  8. Christopher says:

    Is not the proliferation of Bad Taste a function of the proliferation of cultural and linguistic illiteracy?

    Do the comedies of John Cleese or Woody Allen, and the novels of Fitzgerald or Faulkner, and the films of Fellini or Truffaut, feature in the preferred cultural tastes of the practitioners of contemporary Bad Taste?

    If not, changing preferred cultural tastes by means of re-inculcating cultural literacy in institutions of learning, may be the key to reversing the Bad Taste wave.

    • Cheri says:

      Do you remember the book Cultural Literacy? I must get that down from the top shelf of my library and dust it off.
      I think your idea to be genius! But how do we do this?

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