September 22, 2018
RESPECT, COURTESY - ARE THOSE BAD WORDS NOW?
Linda M. Penn
I heard recently about a young man, a 5 grader, who was punished at school for saying “yes, Ma’am,” to his teacher. This incident has been turning over and over in my mind for several weeks now and I just had to voice my ideas. I decided to research about the history of the words, “Ma’am” and “Sir.” “Ma’am” goes back to the 1300’s when it was the word, “Madame,” meaning a respectful way to address a woman. “Sir” dates from the 1200’s when the word,”Sire” was used, meaning a respectful way of addressing a man, especially one in authority.
So…if the words began as forms of courtesy to others, how did we get to the point of having a student punished for using the word, “Ma’am?”
Not knowing the reasoning or history of the teacher involved, it is difficult for me to speculate on how this incident should affect teachers and students going forward. Do teachers, parents, and any authority figures expect to be treated with respect or is it old-school to expect courtesy from our young people? Do students have a conflicting view of how to treat adults, not knowing if they will respond positively or negatively to the youngsters’ eagerness to say kind things? Do others have differing views of “Ma’am?”
Yes, I know you might be thinking, “the lady writing this Blog must be a narrow-minded, old lady.” Go ahead, think that if you want, but I really appreciated it when a student said to me, “yes, Ma’am,” during my 25+ years of public school teaching.
The above incident is to me, just another example, of how common courtesy is slipping away from our society as a whole. Have we not figured out that kids need respectful adults after which to model behaviors? I cannot help but wonder what the young man thinks about trying to use common courtesy as he grows up. Will he keep following his parents leading and try to use respectful words to authority figures or will he be hardened to never use them again?
As adults, it seems obvious to me that we need to do a better job modeling courtesy to our young people if we want a society that holds each other up, rather than tears each other down.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” (goodreads.com) The Bible says in Luke 6:31, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat