new louisiana law mandates polite address in schools

Scott or Pafra Catledge scplc at COMMUNIQUE.NET
Fri Jul 9 01:14:17 UTC 1999

If parents have not taught their children to show proper respect to others, particularly but not exclusively adults, then the child is handicapped in social interaction, especially with adults.  Some few will have enough drive and intelligence to pick up manners from those who were blessed with competent parents.  As for uniforms, a majority (I believe it's 2/3s) of the parents voting at each school must agree on having uniforms.  Children and teenagers are mugged and killed for or because of a particular item or color of clothing being worn; however, some feel that such mugging and murders do not justify uniforms.  With such individuals, most of us cannot and will not debate the issue because we have no common moral ground.

> FYI, Here's my response to the new Louisiana law, signed by the Gov. on
> Tuesday:
> To Sir or Ma'am, with Love?
> by Dennis Baron
> A new Louisiana law will require children to address their teachers, and
> other adult school employees, as "ma'am" or "sir" and to use Mr., Mrs., Ms.,
> or Miss when calling them by name. State Senator Don Cravins, a Democrat,
> drafted the bill in an attempt to teach children civility and respect, and
> to put an end to school violence. Cravins feels that similar rules of
> address in Louisiana prisons work wonders with unruly prisoners: "I've seen
> how polite and well-mannered the young inmates are." The law will go into
> effect this autumn for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Higher
> grades will be phased in a year at a time. Students who do not show proper
> respect will be subject to punishments to be determined by local school
> boards. The result, if Cravins is correct, will be a kinder, gentler
> blackboard jungle.
> Schools have often been compared to prisons. After all, both schools and
> prisons have populations who would rather be elsewhere; both regulate the
> mental and physical lives of their inmates in minute detail; and regardless
> of their mission to provide education and rehabilitation, both have crowd
> control as their primary day-to-day objective.
> But in the past this school-prison comparison came up when reformers wanted
> to make schools less like prisons. Now, in response to the latest wave of
> school violence, school critics are reversing their ground and suggesting
> that schools actually need to become more prison-like. So school authorities
> are adding uniforms and, in Louisiana at least, language control, to ride
> herd on students who they regard as doing hard time and ready to riot at any
> moment.
> Unfortunately, adding more rules and making schools more rigid won't make
> students more manageable. Media violence and the availability of guns may
> trigger some of the violence that plagues our schools, but the repressive,
> prison-like culture of the schools themselves must be a contributing factor
> too. The Louisiana polite speech law is particularly wrong-headed. Respect
> must be earned, not legislated. Requiring students to be polite will
> undercut earned respect and turn "Sir" and "Ma'am" into hollow and
> meaningless titles.
> Students will naturally respect teachers who show them respect. We can't
> force them to respect teachers who do not. On a recent visit to a high
> school I heard a teacher on hall patrol berating a student: "You're so dumb
> you should be in a special remedial class. You're too stupid to read the
> rules." The crime was carrying an unopened bottle of soda, violating a rule,
> written in the student handbook, that food was not allowed above the first
> floor. Throughout the incident, the student, who was in fact a very advanced
> reader, exhibited the kind of deferential behavior that is to be the law in
> Louisiana. But I don't imagine she was thinking deferential thoughts. Just
> as I don't imagine the Louisiana prisoners, addressing the screws as "Sir"
> and "Ma'am," think politely about their keepers.
> I later mentioned this incident to one of the school's deans, whose
> second-floor office was well-equipped with a microwave and a variety of
> snack foods, reminders to the discipline cases waiting to see her that the
> no-food rule written in the student handbook doesn't apply to teachers. I
> worried aloud to her that in the post-Littleton era the teacher's
> overreaction might be just the thing to set off a fragile student with
> violent potential. After all, I added, hoping to defuse the situation a bit,
> carrying a bottle of soda was not the same as bringing a pipe bomb to
> school. But the dean replied that they were exactly the same. Rules were
> rules. Breaking one rule invites breaking all. Besides, the rule was in the
> student handbook. Of course, I thought to myself, students don't read the
> student handbook, which may mention food but does not specifically prohibit
> bringing pipe bombs to school.
> Required uniforms and titles are reminders of the top-down power structure
> of the school, where teachers rule, and students have no voice. Teachers
> won't wear uniforms. Teachers will continue to address students any way they
> like. Teachers will enforce rules randomly or mindlessly. Placing more
> restrictions on students means schools will spend more time on enforcement
> and even less on learning, and it is almost certain to increase student
> resentment of the way they are treated. And that, in turn, will make the
> schools even more afraid of their students. Sounds like prison to me.
> The Supreme Court has ruled that students don't surrender their civil rights
> when they enter a school building. That and the first amendment could be
> enough to void the new Louisiana politeness law. But even if it stands, I
> suspect the law will be ineffective and unenforceable. Language just doesn't
> take well to being legislated. It's easier to smuggle contraband language
> into school than contraband Coke. The real message the Louisiana law sends
> to students is this: if we can't earn your respect, we'll require it
> instead, and punish you if you don't say "Please, sir" and "Thank you,
> ma'am."
> Of course the final irony of the Louisiana law is that using polite titles
> need not be a sign of respect. I remember when I was in high school the
> class wise guy asked our very formal English teacher, "Mr. Stark, what's
> your first name?" "My first name is Mister," Stark replied, without missing
> a beat, and to punish us for this breach in decorum, this suggestion that he
> might be human and fallible like us, he abandoned his lesson on Hawthorne
> and put a sentence on the board for us to diagram. We, in turn, couldn't
> wait to break out of the joint.
> __________________________________________________
> Dennis Baron, Head                               debaron at
> Department of English                         phone: 217-333-2390
> University of Illinois
> 608 S. Wright St.                                      fax:217-333-4321
> Urbana, Illinois 61801

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