Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Excuse Me, Ma'am? Could You Focus on the Important Things?

We're still bragging about this...
There's no way you're going to get our kids to stop saying, "ma'am."
I live in a small, rural county in eastern North Carolina. Tarboro is the county seat, and for most folks around here, it feels like the big city. Tarboro has  a McDonald’s and a Walmart, after all. (Although the Walmart isn’t the twenty-four hour kind. That place locks up at midnight. Unlike most places that can claim, “Nothing good happens after midnight,” Tarboro is altogether different. Here we say, “NOTHING happens after midnight.” Not a gosh darn thing. We pretty much roll up the streets after 10 pm.)

Heck, the local Piggly Wiggly (that’s the local grocery for those of y’all that ain’t from around here) doesn’t even unlock its doors on Sunday until after church service. True story.

Tarboro, NC is like a scene out of Mayberry. A small town with tree-lined streets and well-kept Victorian homes, Tarboro is smack dab in the middle of Edgecombe County, surrounded by sprawling fields full of cotton and tobacco.

While North Carolina isn’t exactly the “deep” South, we are firmly tucked inside the Bible Belt. Change comes slowly here. Just like our historic houses and monuments to the “Southern Cause,” the way we talk is an artifact from the past, and it’s not just our Southern drawls.

We hold tight to manners in much the same way we clutch our pearls and handkerchiefs, thinking the rest of the world is at least a smidgen barbaric. And most people think this is charming and quaint, like front-porch sitting, knowing your neighbors, the smell of magnolias, and Sunday dinner. It reminds people of gentler days when things were simpler and time moved at a slower pace.

This place is as Southern as they come. The main industry is agriculture, and families here can trace their last names back generations. Children here are weaned on sweet tea and cut their teeth on cornbread and homemade biscuits.

Just like in other places across the country, a child’s first word is liable to be “no.” Kids are amazingly similar no matter where you’re from.

However, around here that word is also likely to be followed by the word “ma’am,” lest there be a butt whooping and hell to pay.

As you can imagine, it was quite a surprise when our little Tarboro made the national news this week for this:

Elementary school children are no match for easily offended adults who wear imagined oppression like a badge of honor.

So, yeah. Tarboro, NC, hometown of good ol’ boys, makes national news because a teacher punished a fifth grader for calling her ma’am.

She might as well have cursed the sky for being blue.

The teacher claims to have repeatedly told the child to stop referring to her as ma’am. We don’t really know why... because privacy issues and educational politics. Perhaps she was upset this kid assumed her gender. How dare a 10 year-old attempt to dictate the gender identity of his teachers?

Or perhaps it was this teacher’s attempt to rip down the patriarchy, liberating women from archaic gender roles. Maybe this teacher is on a mission to destroy rules of decorum that limit ladies to nibbling cucumber sandwiches held daintily in white-gloved hands.

God help the poor guy who tries to hold the door for this one.

Ma’am isn’t a curse word. It shouldn’t be treated like hate speech. It isn’t meant to disparage or intimidate. It isn’t an insult to women everywhere. It’s just a way to show respect to your elders. It’s a way to be polite and civil. It’s one of the few things that separate us from the beasts. (You know? Those barbarians living above the Mason Dixon?)

Even if you think the term is incredibly outdated, you can’t easily unravel years of home-training.

Sorry, Lady (term loosely applied). You’ll have to try harder if you plan to make these kids woke. We resist change here like we resist Texas-style barbecue (is it really even barbecue?), unsweet tea (Or as we call it: nasty brown water), and low-carb diets (Bring on the biscuits and mashed taters!) And I promise that resistance isn’t all bad. It’s one of those things that makes this place homey and friendly and charming.

Sweetheart, if you’re going to make it in this town, you’re going to need to pick your battles. I promise this one isn’t worth it.

You’re a teacher, although arguably a pretty crappy one. I mean, you picked writing as a PUNISHMENT. There’s nothing like a teacher planting the notion in a young, fertile mind that writing is torture, a chore so tedious as to be reserved for mean-spirited discipline. Of course, this is punishment for only the most serious when you do what your parents tell you rather than what your teacher demands.

Bravo! Way to squash the next generation of Faulkners, Twains, and Dickinsons. (Those are famous American writers for those of you who may have received an Edgecombe County education.)

Why don’t you focus on basic literacy and math skills. I mean that’s your job. You weren’t hired to teach social justice, feminism, or progressive thought, no matter how noble those causes may be.

Edgecombe County has an abysmal graduation rate of 79 percent. Only 25 percent of the county’s students are proficient in reading. Only 27 percent are proficient in math. Why are you wasting your time trying to dismantle a student’s family values? (Here is a link for these stats. Just in case you want to tell me how awesome the schools are here.)

Honey, there are bigger catfish to fry (and serve up with a heapin’ side of collard greens and some fried okra.) Let’s start with the basics.

Anyone else suddenly hungry?

Is it just me?

I’m not saying you don’t have your work cut out for you. Educating kids is a tough, tough job.  Darlin’, there’s a heck of a lot of work to do. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to it… Ma’am.


Anonymous said...

My Dads Family is from Tarboro and many still live there...I am 70 years old...I have always said , “yes and no ma’ma “ till the day I die...

Unknown said...

Very well written (as always) Ma'am. Thank you for fanning the fires!

Anonymous said...

Very well written. I wonder if she is still teaching at this school? She really needs to grow up and move on to another state!!!

Anonymous said...

So what if I wanted to call you Ali? Even if you asked me not to call you that and instead address you as Mrs. Webb; however I continuously berate you with the very thing you asked me not to do (yes Ali, no Ali,...Ali...Ali....Ali). It was disrespectful at the very least, but making the child write the word over and over likely didn’t teach this child respect (teachers in general should not use writing or reading as punishment). The parents need to take some responsibility to teach their children to respect folks, and not over-sensationalize a less than ideal punishment for the sake of shirking responsibly for the child’s disrespectful behavior