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.
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]