Paying their respects
Taking his cue from a new Louisiana law, Alabama’s governor is proposing legislation to require students to address teachers with courtesy titles such as “sir” or “ma’am.”
“Some kids have forgotten what it is to show respect for others, and some less fortunate were perhaps never taught this virtue at all,” Gov. Donald Siegelman, a first-term Democrat, said during a visit last month to a Birmingham elementary school. “By requiring this sort of good conduct in schools, we will improve the way students interact with others, and it may make a difference in each child’s life.” The legislation would apply to grades K-5, though after two years local school boards could expand it to higher grades, according to Carrie Kurlander, the governor’s press secretary. School boards would have the authority to take appropriate action when students failed to comply, but disciplinary measures could not include suspension or explusion, she said.
The proposal, which was introduced Feb. 1, is gaining a cool reception from some educators and school officials.
“The Alabama legislature has better things to do than passing laws it can’t enforce,” said Paul R. Hubbert, the executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.
Jackie B. Davidson, the president of the 42,000-student Jefferson County school board, also voiced reservations.
“I think that the major responsibility for teaching respect comes from the home,” she said. While stressing that she could not speak for the board, Ms. Davidson added, “You can legislate that students will be respectful ... but I don’t think that actual respect can be legislated.”
—Erik W. Robelen
A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2000 edition of Education Week