What’s in a name?

by Ben Seeley ’14

Tradition’s nice if you ask me. It’s a reason for connection to our past and it’s a hope that our future appreciates the works of our present. Here at Ignatius, tradition has come to form the backdrop of all we do, be it service, athletics, or academics. Yet comforting as tradition may be, it doesn’t mean that it demands subscription or precludes criticism; in fact it should encourage such practices.

“Tradition is the illusion of permanence,” writes Woody Allen in one of his lesser-known films, Deconstructing Harry. He has a point. It seems to be that we grant unquestioned acceptance to what was the practice of those before us when we describe those practices as “tradition.” And it would appear that the tradition of language is much the same.

In a recent discussion with Mr. Arko, he spoke of the phoniness and unrighteousness we embrace in using traditional titles, like those of doctors. Dr.’s are Dr.’s in the operating room, and as soon as they step outside that place they return to being our brothers and sisters.

They’re people as much as any of us are, who aren’t any more or less important than you or I. They have names they go by, struggles they’re plagued by, experiences they’re defined by.

They’re human—just like the rest of us.

So, naturally, if contemplation of traditional, titular roles is called for, such begs the question: why not do so here on campus?

By referring to our teachers as misters and misses we pander to a traditional societal construct rooted in inequality. We students accept (and institutionalize) the very divide that too often prevents friendship and camaraderie among students and teachers, opting instead for adoption of the hierarchical status quo. It’s demeaning to the students and awkward to the teachers, who at the end of the day just want to find common ground with their students.

Despite how it may seem, the idea of a first-name basis with teachers isn’t novel or radical; it’s actually a practice already pervasive here in the U.S. among Montessori schools and the like. What’s more, aside from the impact first-name relationships have on equality, they work to relieve tension and—by extension—minimize separation. A class in which teacher and student see eye-to-eye is a class conducive to growth and reception. It’s a pedagogical truth.

Such a system wouldn’t be an affront to teachers’ control of their classes, but rather would serve as a statement of equanimity with their students. It would be a progressive attempt at finding compassion and unanimity in the classroom—foregoing disunity and divides in the process.

I’m not making this proposal for the sole reason that I want to be able to refer to Mr. Arko as “Dennis” in conversation (even though I most certainly do). I just want the world in which teachers are stigmatized as malevolent overseers to come to its inevitable resolution. I want to put an end to the perception of teacher as dictator and fortify the teacher’s place as learned equal. I want an environment where both student and teacher open themselves to growth.

And in order to be truly open to growth, we must be willing to recognize when a shift in paradigm is called for and an end to tradition is necessary. The world is moving forward; let’s move right along with it.