11 May 2023

What's the matter with "kids"?

As the song from Bye Bye Birdie went (1960), without the quotation marks.

I've never minded calling children "kids". It's a friendly sounding word with no historical baggage as an epithet. To my mind, its connotations are positive.

Over the years I've occasionally met someone who objected along the lines of, "They're not baby goats, they're children," but that's like chiding a French speaker for using the endearment mon chou: "He's not a green leafy vegetable..." There are many colloquialisms that sprang from figurative speech, and we don't insist on users being literal.

In many contexts, of course "children" sounds better. "Student" has replaced "pupil" which seems to have gone out of fashion, and it does suggest 1950s officialese. In Queensland, pupil-free days became student-free days at some point. 

Teachers have various ways of addressing a class: "people", "guys", "folks". Some of these sound better coming from a teacher seated on a reversed chair. I once heard an able student referred to as a "good little unit" but the small-school principal who said that was a bit unhinged.

I used to slip facetiously into "peanuts", "bananas", "ladies and gentlemen", "ladles and jellybeans". Context was everything. When I first started teaching you would hear some old-timers using "youse" but that's rare these days.

Long before gender neutrality became the norm I gave up "girls and boys" and would say, "Good morning everyone," probably influenced by the broadcaster Karl Haas's "Hello everyone". (I hated hearing a class chanting "good morning" in reply so in later years I would dispense with a greeting and say something like, "Okay, let's get this show on the road," or just jump in and start talking about whatever needed our attention. The sky didn't fall in.) 

One novel variation I heard came from a parent who worked for the RAAF. When he was President of the Parents & Citizens Association he talked to the school assembly one morning and referred throughout to children as "personnel". Force of habit.
I found this 2011 draft for a proposed blog about my adventures in teaching. I've tweaked it a little.

The Kirby Stone Four - Kids (1960)

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