By Alan Sorensen
Respect as a classroom tool to give children a sense of where they fit into the big scheme of things sounds like a pretty good idea. It cant hurt to teach them to respect the property, privacy and other rights of others at an early age.
I was a kid once and I remember quite clearly thinking that I was the center of the universe and that everyone else was just an animated mannequin put on this Earth for my amusement and to cater to my needs. Of course, in those days corporal punishment was a way of life in our homes, schools and throughout our communities. Anyone in long pants or house dress could take a rubber hose to any kid, usually me, who acted out or misbehaved.
You better believe that I called my seventh-grade science teacher Mister and Sir when he approached my desk patting the palm of one hand with the sharp side of a yard stick he held menacingly in the other.
I called all my friends parents Mister and Missus. I never dreamt of using any other form of address and if asked, would have said the first names of all adults were either Mister, Missus or Miss.
It wasnt until I was a young adult that my world took a confusing turn with the inclusion in our lexicon of the first name Ms.
How well does the teaching of respect work in the battle against youth violence? I dont know much about the use of guns, but I do know that I got the heck beat out of me frequently when I was a kid.
Im sure everyone in my generation remembers going home at one time or another with a black eye, bloody nose, torn shirt and scraped knuckles or palms. The kids with the scraped knuckles were the ones who did the hitting, not usually me, and those with the scraped palms were the recipients of the hitting, yup, usually me. (I learned early in life that I wasnt really quick enough to inflict damage on other kids my age, so I prided myself in how well I took a punch.)
Wed walk into the house and our mothers would be all over us: You poor, darling. Let me see that. Hold still while I rub this Mercurochrome deep into your wound (and a little for your eye). What have I told you about fighting?
Then our fathers would come home, get one look at our faces and say, Whats the other guy look like?
Our moms and dads would have brief tiffs, and then our dads would secretly ask if we wanted to go to the basement to listen to the Friday night fights on the radio (sponsored by Gillette) while our moms were busy upstairs with their bridge buddies.
How well did respect education work for my generation? To be perfectly honest, most of what I learned about how to get along with other people I learned from the kids I grew up with. I learned from my friends, I learned from my teammates and sporting opponents, I learned from the girls who wouldnt play spin the bottle with me, I learned from the bullies who chased me under the Bullhook foot bridge at junior high (Robins School).
But just like inherited diseases and phonics in the classroom, I think respect training skips generations. Not one of my kids friends calls me Mister. For some reason theyve all grown up thinking my first name is Alan.
Salvatore Yeon appears to be a throwback. I counted no fewer than 10 sirs aimed in my direction while I was at his checkout stand yesterday.
You know, Im 50 now and I still throw Sir around with reckless abandon. Yesterday I interviewed two recent college graduates who are now teachers in Havre Public Schools and found myself calling them sir because they are teachers.
How well did my generation learn respect and what did we do with it? I think about the same as all previous generations.
The word I heard from the Vietnam War was that privates, corporals and sergeants continued the long-held tradition of calling second lieutenants sir shortly before shooting them in the back.
But then, thats life.