Do your children call your adult friends by their first names? Ours do, and the children of our adult friends likewise refer to us as Muffy and Michael. Without pondering the question of whether or not Muffy is a goofy name to begin with, we’re okay with that. Not that we spent much time thinking about it; it simply seems to be the convention among those in our social circle and both my husband and I adopted it more by default than by deliberation.
It’s also the convention at our kids’ school — ever since preschool they’ve been encouraged to call their teachers by their first names. “Nice to meet you, Belle,” said our daughter’s first-grade teacher the day we arrived in class. “Nice to meet you, Sharon,” replied the six-year old.
I remember I found this egalitarian exchange somewhat disconcerting. I can’t even come up with the first names of the teachers I had growing up — not even those who were my favorites. To me they are still Mr. Satterfield, Mrs. Lawton, Mr. Lassen; and to this day I know that’s how I’d address them if I saw them again, even though it’s been (eek) nearly thirty years since I graduated from high school.
I guess the Mr./Mrs./Ms. thing just isn’t popular among authority figures any more. Maybe that’s because we now have a generation of authority figures who were never that comfortable with authority in the first place. Remember those “Question Authority” buttons of the 1970s? I suppose the generation who came up with that slogan might have qualms about asserting their authority now that they have some for themselves; as teachers, as bosses, or even as parents.
I do know one person, though, who isn’t afraid to assert his authority over the children in his keeping. I don’t think he was around when “Question Authority” buttons were in vogue with American students; I believe at that time he was mostly trying to figure out a way to get out of war-torn Viet Nam and into the United States. He did eventually immigrate to our country and is now our son’s Tae Kwon Do instructor, and he’s another one of those people whose first names I don’t know. His last name is Vo. But it’s not sufficient to call him Mister Vo. No. His students must address him as Master Vo.
I’ve observed that Master Vo’s Tae Kwon Do pupils utterly respect him and indeed they admire him — they want to be like him. And they do not question his authority. There’s no whining, no arguing, no manipulating. There’s no undermining his command in any way.
I know that can’t be attributed solely to his title, but the title’s certainly buying him something. When others refer to you as Master it eliminates any question about who’s in charge; something about the word Master makes that copiously clear. It doesn’t make him perfect and it doesn’t mean he won’t make mistakes. It just means he’s the one leading the class, and the class can’t really function if there’s any confusion about that.
I’m not planning to ask my friends to start having their children address me as Mrs. Ferro, but then I’m not continually in a position where I need to exert authority over them. The more I think about it, though, I wish our school’s teachers would adopt such a policy. I think they are in a position where a fixed reminder of the fact that they have different status than the students would be helpful. “Belle” and “Mrs. Muir” doesn’t sound like two peers, but “Belle” and “Sharon” does.
At least we have Master Vo in our lives. Joe’s learning a lot from him and maybe I am, too. It does make me wonder if I should have had my kids call me Master Mom instead of just Mom, but I guess it's too late for that now.