A better school system, a better social system

Sometime around 1992, Amherst built their own high school. Before that, the Amherst kids attended Milford Area High School. After the development, MASH—as it was called—dropped the A to become MHS, where I served four years of hard time.

Many of my friends were from Amherst, New Hamsphire. There was a day that MHS had off (probably a teacher’s meeting or something) and Amherst didn’t. The geek that I am, I went to AHS for a day.

There were two huge differences that I recall: The students addressed the teachers by their first names, and the desks in the classrooms were arranged in circles. I remember there being much tumult around this system, especially concerning the first item.

Names and Respect

At Milford, there was one teacher who preferred that his students call him by his first name: Brad Craven, the theater director. He’s now the theater director and the principal. He has a PhD, and apparently that made him one of the only qualified candidates. They approached him for the job, not the other way around. Milford’s a small town. My graduating class was barely over 100.

Soon after, he became Mr. Craven and only Mr. Craven. This was not his choice. The school board imposed his new title. Their justification: It’s more respectful.

Brad preferred for his students to call him “Brad.” Whose respect are they referring to? I’ll tell you: their own. By proxy, of course. This is yet another example of conservative values being forced on the public. The key word in that last sentence is “forced.”

Please inform me if I’m being at all unreasonable, but I’m of the opinion that respect has more to do with how you treat people, not in the specific words you use to refer to people. It seems that many conservative minds still live in a tiny world where Mr., Miss, Mrs., Sir, Ma’am, and the like have some intrinsic meaning of respect—why else would they force conformity? But words are just words. Nothing more. Some people prefer formal terms. Some don’t.

Let’s return to Amherst. Unlike the school board members and other local powers, I had first-hand experience of what it’s like for teenagers and adults to relate on a more personal, first-name, basis at a public school.

Comfort and Unity

With Brad and with the teachers at AHS, the students are far more expressive within the context of the subject at hand. The class is a social whole. There are fewer clique conversations. And with the aid of a circular seating arrangement (I’m reminded of the Knights of the Round Table and the principle of equality), the teacher is almighty in her role as moderator. Everyone is equidistant, so there’s no “back of the room” talk.

And she’s given this power by the students. Why? Respect. Why? They can identify better with a fellow human being than they can a Miss, Missus, or Mister. (“Missus/Missis/Misess” comes from the word “mistress.” So much for any inherent honor for marriage.)

Before we are a male, a female, a butcher, a baker, a Christian, a Muslim, a father, a mother, a Dane, or a Pole, we are human. Gender will tell about physiology. Titles will refer to marital, familial, or age status. But it’s all secondary to the one thing that we all have in common: our humanity.

Social Roles

Roles are human inventions. Being forced to address someone by their role moves humanity into the periphery. It can be difficult to relate to a role that you’ve never been in.

There is already a separation of roles in high schools, that of adult and teenager. It’s hard enough much of the time for a teenager to identify with an adult, in fact, it’s hard enough just for different people to relate to different people. Why impose further social boundaries?

Many roles have counter-roles. If you are my doctor, I am your patient. If you are my mother, I am your son. If you are my teacher, I am your pupil.

[to be continued pending research]

Relation brings Cohesion

To identify with another person is to see your commonalities. From this, trust can be established.

[to be continued pending research]


4 thoughts on “A better school system, a better social system

  1. All this about roles should be moved to another post. It deserves to be its own topic. And I’m not convinced it’s even relevant here. What’s important is that people have the right to choose how they’re addressed. The school system is prepatory for life and shouldn’t place focus on strict institutional roles. Oops. There it is.

    Also, I think too much focus is being taken off the students. The ultimate question should be, “What’s best for the students in terms of their learning and social adjustment?” I’ll have to do some research before coming back to this subject.

  2. Addressing teachers by first name or by formality—which is more conducive to a child or adolescent’s learning and social adjustment? In college the decision was entirely up to the professor; There was no encompassing rule. It seems this is or should be true for most people in a “free” society. I’m seeing a definite liberal bias in my rationale. I need objective evidence.

  3. I graduated in 1992 from MASH. I knew Brad. He did not need to be called Mr. Craven to get respect. Brad just had our respect. He was an excellent teacher in Theatre arts and English. He is amazing at being the Principal of MSH—and he will always be Brad..

  4. Absolutely. And he still let’s his students call him Brad as long as it’s kept somewhat secret. I believe he put it like this: “In the classroom, I’m Brad. Outside of class, I’m Mr. Craven.”

    Thanks for bringing this post to my attention. I’d like to rewrite it.

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