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Stuff reports:

Tradition has gone out the classroom window as an increasing number of primary schools allow children to address teachers by their first names.

The move away from honorifics – reflected across other aspects of society too – has sparked debate among education experts. Teachers say it removes an unnecessary level of authority and encourages more curious and questioning students. Critics say it gives children more freedom than they are prepared for.

Wellington’s Mt Cook School principal Sandra McCallum said using Christian names changed the learning dynamic. Instead of passively accepting what they are told, children are not overawed by authority and are more questioning.

“The old adage that children are there to be seen and not heard – that has changed,” she said.

But Victoria University anthropologist James Urry argues that removing the age-based hierarchy is empowering kids before they are ready.

“The consequences of this usage in schools is a collapse of authority and a lack of respect which also extends beyond school. Children are empowered often without the social skills to handle their empowerment,” he said.

“There has to be discipline, there has to be authority or it’s Lord of the Flies.”

I have mixed views on this. When I was at school, teachers were always addressed with as Mr Jackson or Miss Petris etc. In the 7th form, a few teachers said call them Wayne when alone. It is interesting how hard habits die. If I meet a former teacher years later, I still automatically call them Mr Wilson, rather than Ken.

Having said that I personally don’t like being addressed with an honorific. If someone calls me Mr Farrar, I will usually retort that is my father, not me (actually he is Dr Farrar but you get the point). I spent around 13 years as a Cub/Scout/Venturer leader and always encouraged use of my christian name – this would sometimes cause problems at regional activities when they would be told off by other leaders for being disrespectful by calling me David.

This preferred use of my christian name policy was especially the case when I was a cub leader, as cub leaders often get names from the Jungle Book. I recall being with some mates in Courtenay Place McDonalds as a 22 year old, and running into a couple of the Cubs (aged 8 – 10) from Island Bay. Imagine my horror when they greeted me in front of all my mates as “Baloo”.

Anyway back to what to call teachers, I think it is a decision for what fits the culture best of each school. If I was a teacher (as I once considered) I would much prefer being called David than Mr Farrar. But if the other teachers at a school prefer honorifics, I would go with the flow.

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