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What's in a name when it comes to respect?

LISTEN up, madam.

Top academics - though it's rare to read a report featuring "middling academics" - are saying school pupils should refer to teachers by their first names.

Way to go, Euphemia. The corollary is that the allegedly sexist titles of "sir" and "miss" should be bunged into yonder dustbins of history and herstory.

In the irritating interest of truth, a voice in my earpiece is instructing me to point out that neither of the academics in question is called Euphemia. One, if I may be so bold, is Jennifer, the other Sara.

And none of your "miss", either. It's emeritus professor for Jen and plain old prof for Sara.

But why is an expert on emerituses upsetting the ratepayers with this titular tomfoolery? Well, she says "miss" has connotations of female teachers being less capable than their male counterparts.

Professor Jennifer - Coates of that ilk - may have a point. Certainly, apart from Donald in Latin, all my best teachers were female, and by "best" I mean less inclined to inflict violence on my outstretched hand.

The Roehampton University boffin said it was "depressing" that women teachers were accorded low status compared to - and I can hardly bring myself to say the word - men.

Jen said: "'Sir' is a knight, but 'miss' is ridiculous. It doesn't match 'sir' at all." By Jupiter - I mean Juno - I hadn't really thought of sir in knightly terms, at least not when applying it to pillocks of authority.

But Jen is correct. This is an outrage. Sorry, I was mumbling a bit there. Once more with feeling: This is an outrage!

For her part, Sara — Professor Mills of Sheffield Uni to you — comes up with the controversial idea of first name billing, which would lessen the distance between teacher and twit or pupil.

A bloke called Jacob is backing up the women an' all. Mr Middleton, an education historian, said the different titles embodied the "massive status disparity and sexism of former years".

Says it all. But what is to be done? Not unusually, having pretended to agree with everyone for an easy life, I have to say I'm torn. There's a whiff of the 1950s about "sir" and "miss". But that's not the only good thing about them. The terms imply respect. Folk say there's no going back. But there should be. We should return to the 1950s and do them properly, ie without the Tories and smog.

But some people say: "Shove your respect up your rearward protuberance." That is a good point well made. Titles like "sir" imply authority, and I've always shoved two fingers up to that. At least behind its back.

"Sir" implies great, tweedy authority figures from the past, but perhaps not the recent past. One of the most discombobulating things about growing up in the seventies was that you'd be on a demo calling for free hallucinogens when you noticed an unsavoury character waddling along next to you, with slavers down his tank-top and the band name Satanic Accountants on the back of his jacket.

"And what do you do?" you'd ask.

"Ah'm a teacher, ken?" he'd reply.

Thus died another species of deity, along with parents, ministers, priests and doctors. All disappointing. Each a Wizard of Oz. That discovery heralds the end of childhood and, indeed, the absurdity of calling such failed gods "sir".

But first names may be going too far. The Scandinavians do it and look at the state they're in.

Surely Mr would be fine for men. But what about women? As someone who believes women to be better persons than men, I acknowledge nevertheless that scientific research shows they're always moaning about something.

But moaning is the lifeblood of democracy. And a fundamental tenet of any liberal moanarchy is that everything should be equal, except wealth, health, education and stuff generally.

Perhaps we could still have "sir" and refer to burdz respectfully as "ma'am". Americans do it on their TV shows and they're the world's top people.

Of course, we've a different education system in middling Scotland, where the whole debate is academic. I'm sure at my old school it will always remain "miss" for the women. And "bawheid" for the men.

Contextual targeting label: 
Education

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