Spring break is upon us; a great sigh of relief is going out all over the area among students and teachers alike. (Some of the parents, however, may be on edge, with the prospect of a house full of kids for a week staring them in the face...but hey, that's part of the gig.) For at least one of my students, the end of school today served as a double emancipation, since he had to spend the whole day in the in-school suspension room. His offense? Forgetting to tuck in his shirt.
I wish I were making this up.
Incidentally, this is the same school that I praised the other day for allowing students to buy their way out of the dress code after spring break, but it turned out to be several days early (and yes, a few dollars short) for our protagonist.
As you know, I've never been a huge fan of either rigid dress codes or mindless educational bureaucracy, and I've said so plenty of times before. So what prompted this post? Not so much the fact that it happened to one of my prize students, but rather what he was told by an administrator when he argued his case (calmly but persistently, I might add).
The assistant principal with whom he spoke said that the reason they had to crack down on untucked shirts on everybody was because, if they really went after what they wanted to avoid, which is the really oversized (translation: gang-like) shirts worn by a certain segment of the population, they might be accused of racism.
Lord help us all.
Look, I know that the only thing that administrators fear more than school violence on their watch or the proverbial "low test scores" is a lawsuit...but c'mon, can't someone have some cojones here? Do they really think that someone would sue them for outlawing gang-related styles of dress? Or make charges of racism if the person so dressed happened to be a minority? Well...OK, yeah, they might. But why run from that? Shouldn't that nutbag idea get its day in court, so that it can lose--which it should, and hopefully would--and then get consigned to the dustbin of history like it deserves to be? And sure, I can understand why an administrator would be reluctant to be the one to use his/her own district's high-powered legal team, but that's why they're there. Actually having a dialogue about this on a grand stage would be better than what's happening now, which is that everyone buries their heads in the sand whenever the subject comes up, with the end result being that nothing gets solved.
I also have a problem with punishing entire student populations for the transgressions of the few. If the baggy-shirt crowd is causing problems by walking around untucked, why not tailor a rule to that particular problem? (And yes, I've heard about the studies that say that it's easy to hide a weapon under an untucked shirt. I also read a study one time that listed the top four places to conceal something bad: 1) Jackets, 2) Baggy pants, 3) Shoes, and 4) Socks. So should we all adopt the Asian remove-your-shoes-at-the-door thing at schools too? [Admittedly, I'd probably like that, except when it was time to use the restroom.] It's one thing to be safe, but can't this go too far?)
A classroom-teaching colleague of mine says that it would be impossible to punish just the bad kids for every little thing without hiring more administrators (do we want that?) or having the ability to kick the truly bad kids out of school more easily (which evidently we can't--another law that should get changed sooner rather than later). So instead, they just clamp down on everyone, good kid or bad.
You can see the problem here: Everything we do in the schools should contain a lot of "teachable moments," correct? What exactly is being taught by punishing the many for the misdeeds of the few? Some would say that "it teaches them that life isn't fair all the time." Maybe so--but don't some of the students get enough of that in their home lives? All that it really teaches is the distrust of authority and a general disdain of rules...and this is among the good kids, who would probably be OK with most of what goes on at school if those in charge actually put some thought into the rules instead of using the rules to keep them from having to think.
OK, I've ranted far longer than I intended to do (though I could easily keep going, trust me). While my student made it through his day in "jail" unscathed, one could also question the wisdom of sending a mostly A-and-B student (whose untucked moment came when he was 1) just leaving the bathroom and 2) headed to the band hall to practice during an advisory period) into a room with the truly bad kids and repeat offenders for an entire school day. I would think there would be a concern over the really-bads corrupting the only-marginally-bads over time.
I'm frustrated with a lot of the things I see going on in schools right now (and I'm really glad that my position allows me to be "in it but not of it" in terms of the edu-cracy). This won't be the last post on the subject, without a doubt.
Broom service: Two hotel maids sparred with a plunger and a mop respectively after an fight over toilet paper.
Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my friend and fraternity brother Jervis, one of the brotherhood's national treasures (and author of this book). May you have many, many more!