According to the all-knowing interweb, titles are things that bestow political or spiritual authority with minimal executive, judicial, or legislative power. They are ceremonial. Most title-holders are appointed to their rank by someone higher in the system or elected by people equal in the system.
So if I’m reading this right, titles are most appropriately used in a ritual or ceremony, by someone who has either bestowed the title upon you, or someone who has elected you to be so-titled. Or, in other words, a title doesn’t entitle you to much, not even the title, in most cases.
In the field of education, there are boatloads of people with a doctorate degree in the form of PhD, doctor of philosophy, or EdD, doctor of education, and boy do they love their titles. When I first taught high school, there was a counselor who had recently received her doctorate. I made the mistake of calling her Mrs. So and So, and was abruptly admonished.
“That’s Dr. So and So to you, mister.” Well, excuuuuuuse me.
Before that, I worked with a PhD in education who actually had emergency business cards printed for a trip we were taking to the Philippines. Her card before the trip read, “Jane So and So, PhD.” But that simply would not do.
“In the PI, people won’t understand that PhD means doctor,” she reasoned.
New cards that read “Dr. Jane So and So, PhD” were quickly delivered. What a relief it was for her that anyone who might be ignorant of her magnanimous degree would be able to address her properly.
A few years later when I was getting my master’s degree, one of the associate professors in the School of Education was similarly full of herself. As you can guess, she insisted on being addressed as Dr. This and That. Of course, I took every opportunity to call her Mrs. This and That. It got under her skin and she reported me to the dean, who had the good sense to share a chuckle with me over it.
“Just call her doctor, for chrissake” he scolded me smiling, knowing full well that I, especially now, would never do such a thing. He tried, at least.
If you survey education superintendents, most of them call themselves doctor. Even as they leave their offices disgraced for not balancing their budgets, or because their contracts had prematurely ended stinking of some sordid issue, their heads are held high as if to insist, “But I’m still a doctor.”
Honestly, sometimes educators are filled with a twisted sense of self-importance.
Call me old-fashioned, but to me, a doctor is an individual who writes prescriptions. A doctor is someone who goes to work for the sole purpose of helping people or animals feel better. For that, they absolutely deserve being addressed with the doctor title. So MDs, dentists, psychiatrists, veterinarians, surgeons – doctors you certainly are and doctor you ought to be called.
But an EdD or a PhD? Take a seat. Please don’t call me Dr. Ho, and don’t expect me to call you Dr. So and So. Your dissertation isn’t going to help the pain in my lower back. Your research on classroom desk arranging isn’t going to rid the world of scoliosis. So chill.
Other job-holders tend to get carried away with their titles, too. Senators, chairpersons, police and military officers. In the recent impeachment hearings for our President Donald Trump a witness scolded Devin Nunes, a Republican senator from California for calling him “Mr.” Vindman.
“Ranking member, it’s Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please,” he retorted.
Really? With all that needs to be clarified in an impeachment hearing, was his work title that important? Talk about fragile. And since when is “ranking member” something you call someone? This is proof that things are a bit off.
Getting job-related titles “right” is something that modern individuals should not have to concern themselves with. We have spent too much breath stumbling over the deputy superintendents, adjutant generals, acting presidents, and interim directors. Even archbishop seems too much. Can’t bishop suffice? If someone’s an enemy, you don’t need to call them an archnemesis to convey the hostility. We need to relieve ourselves of this protocol, especially if we are to thrive in the new cancel culture which turns anyone who was anyone into a former someone. How do we introduce a canceled person now?
“Ladies, gentlemen, and everyone else, introducing the former deputy lieutenant commander Dr. John This and That, PhD?”
Please. You can just call me Ho. That’ll do just fine.
Dan Ho, a native of Agat, is a writer and teacher and holds a Ph.D. in indigenous studies. Follow his garden adventures on Instagram @HoandGarden.