“Look at Jack!” my brother exclaimed. We all looked at the three-year-old foster boy that had just arrived. He had been sitting on a stool at the table, next to my dad who was shoveling turnip greens and cornbread in as fast as manual fork action would allow. Jack sat to Dad's right, looking perplexedly at his plate and spoon.
“What do you want?” My mom questioned him. He pointed at a fork and she handed it to him hesitantly. Kids under six only used spoons in my parent's house. Then Jack pointed at the paper towel roll. She tore off a paper towel and handed it to him. He carefully tucked the paper towel into his shirt collar and arranged his fork to the right of his plate and the spoon to the left. We all stared at him. He looked like a little aristocrat next to the hungry farmer, my dad.
By now even Dad had stopped eating to stare at Jack. Jack pointed one more time, at a butter knife lying askew on the butter plate. My brother reached across the table to hand it to him. Jack nodded his head in thanks and took the knife. He passed it to his left hand and then picked up his fork and proceeded to cut up his piece of meat with all the finesse of an English lord.
The usually noisy and busy farm table was enveloped in total silence for a full minute while we all watched Jack eat.
“Who did they say he lived with before he came here?” Dad asked my mom.
“Apparently a family with manners,” my mom said appreciatively.
Jack's first three years of life were undocumented beyond one photograph. But his immersion into good table manners left results that told a story. He was only three and could hardly speak yet, but his education in etiquette was unequalled at our table.
I realized that immersion into any medium is the best education. Children learn to speak a complex language without taking language classes. Why not teach math, reading, science, and good manners the same way?