Saturday, May 26, 2012

Headbanging

When I was in junior high I thought the term “Headbanger” described a person so frustrated with the system that they literally banged their heads against a wall repeatedly. Since the causes of frustrations, both real and imagined, are the framework of adolescent life I called myself a headbanger on many occasions. One day, when I was so frustrated that I had been proclaiming -through gritted teeth- that I was “a total headbanger”, a friend pulled me aside and said: “Dude, I do not think that means what you think it means”. I learned that poor communication can throw gasoline on the raging uncertainty of frustration.

To say that the phone call with Barry was an example of poor communication might infer that it was a conversation. I do not think it rose to that level. Barry's side of the phone call was a poorly-sorted collection of insinuations, half truths, deflections, and what sounded like outright fabrication.

I was a bit hot after the phone calls with Barry and FOX, and not in a good way. Unfortunately I only had a couple of minutes before I discovered on my voice-mail a message from the Assistant District Superintendent. For the purposes of this post I'll call her Nancy.

After some jockeying I got connected with Nancy on her cell-phone pulled over by the side of the road to Salt Lake City.

“Nancy, thanks for calling me. I know it is not really the school system's fault, but I'm a little upset that strangers were able to take my daughter out of school.”

“We were told they had permission from you to talk to AYD” she replied without hesitation.

“I did give AYD permission to talk to the reporters, but only after they were able to successfully get her out of school”

“Look we....” she stammered.

“I think this has gotten a bit crazy. Don't you? I mean what we are talking about having happened. The basic issue is that AYD was taken to the office. Kids get taken to the office all the time. I don't think anyone pictures this as a case of physical torture or the type of misconduct that puts educators away for decades. You don't think that anyone is alleging that do you?” I replied over her stammer.

“No” she replied more calmly “I do not”

“Good” I said “But somehow this has reached over a million people. Somehow this has resonated with over ten thousand people who were moved enough to comment. You know what they said? They said: 'that sort of thing happened to me, or to my kid'. They said: 'I was treated like I wasn't a person'. They said it was damaging. This story resonated with more people than the Tooele county school district will serve during the entire time you will work for them. Many people from Tooele: parents, students, and former students have called to express that they had the exact same thing happen to them. People feel singled out. They feel like there is selective enforcement establishing lines where on one side there is 'us' and on the other 'them'. They don't want the school to be playing a game of 'be the right sort of person and you will be allowed onto the 'us' side'; they want the line to go away”

Nancy said “ok” while I took a breath.

“Well Nancy” I continued. “with so many people being interested in this story I think I have a responsibility to use the attention to try and do something right. We are not talking about reforming a terrible wrong, and punishing a bunch of people. All anyone wants is for reasonable things to be dealt with reasonably. If something is OK then be OK with it. People just want the school to get real with the way it deals with petty issues of minor non-compliance. “

Nancy said “ok” again while I took another breath.

"I've got a set of three points I want to make. I wrote them out, and put them up on the blog. You've seen the blog and the picture; right?” I asked.

“Yes” she replied.

“OK then" I replied, and launched into reading off the points. I did embellish them with witty and intelligent insights. Just into point three I stopped after the words “minor violation” and tried to engage Nancy as an active listener.

“I mean we all agree that, if there is even a violation at all in the way AYD is dressed, that it is a minor violation of the dress code” I said with a welcoming smile in my voice.

“No sir. I cannot say that” she replied.

So... she was going to call me “Sir” while I had been calling her "Nancy". This was awkward. I had not picked up on that with my ranting, but I wanted to get well into what I thought I should say before I was potentially derailed by some non-communication tactic. I thought it would be good to establish common ground at this point.

“Nancy” I said deciding it would be better to call her by a friendly name than hunker down into a “Ma'am” or something. “I'm not suggesting we get rid of dress codes. Most people agree that there are junior-high kids that dress up in overtly sexualized outfits. These kids can be acting out of damaged caused by abuse in the home, they can be crying for help, and it is certainly the responsibility of caring school administrators to hear that cry. Nobody thinks that is what is happening in this situation. AYD was not egregiously violating the dress code. I think we can agree on this; right?”

“No sir. I cannot say that” she replied.

“I'm not really sure right now if we are having a conversation” I replied “I'm just trying to establish some common ground here. The generalities of what we are talking about. That we are talking about some common sense things, not Taliban-level torture of women or my child dressing like a prostitute. I think anyone can look at the picture -you said you looked at the picture- and without intense examination immediately see that her dress is not overly-sexualized or wildly inappropriate. You do agree that the dress is not overly sexualized?”

“No sir. I cannot say that” she replied.

I could feel the bile rising in my throat. Nancy was either profoundly incompetent or trying to irritate me. I decided she was engaging in “parent baiting”. She was actively hoping that I would drop an “f-bomb” as they call it in Tooele, and they could then describe me as a irrational profanity-spewing parent. I decided that they would be perfectly capable of inventing some stereotype that justified their abysmal communication skills without me helping.

“Nancy” I replied coldly “I think any moderately competent educator could say that AYD's dress was not overtly sexualized. If you cannot I would rather try and contact a competent administrator who can talk with me.”

“uh,...uh” stammered Nancy “I may be able to go over the information in this case with some other administrators and make a decision”

“So you are saying that you cannot say whether AYD, in your opinion, is dressed like a prostitute?” I asked; a hint of finality in my voice.

“ I cannot say that at this time” she replied.

“Then perhaps you should just call me back when you can, or maybe you could have someone else from the district office call me who can tell. Whether or not you think my daughter's outfit in the picture you saw is outrageously sexual and revealing is an important element in how we converse. If you cannot respond to the simple question I do not think there is any point in talking to you further” I paused for emphasis “Do you think that the outfit AYD was wearing in the picture was sexualized and highly inappropriate?”

“ I cannot say that at this time” she replied.

“Then perhaps you should just call me back when you can, or maybe you could have someone else from the district office call me who can figure it out.” I said, and then I delicately pressed the button on my phone that hung up the line.



6 comments:

Bjorge Queen said...

Good grief! I'm glad you didn't take the bait. Your story has really resonated with me. All I can say is yiur daughter is lucky to have you in her corner. This is about so much more than one incident.

Steve said...

It sounds as though you were conversing with an attorney and not a person willing to converse honestly about the situation. She was playing a C.Y.A. game in which she makes no committing statements and offers nothing of substance.

The idea behind her tactic (parent-baiting aside) seems to be this: She can't be held accountable for not saying anything at all, right?

I think this is a major problem - the school's representatives are unwilling to stand by not only their own judgment in your daughter's case, but they are also unwilling to stand by their own dress code. They're not willing to acknowledge the judgment that they made, nor are they willing to converse on reasonable, adult terms. The kind of communication you seem to be getting from each representative is non-communication communication, and that is abhorrent.

I encourage you to continue trying to have this conversation with the school's representatives until you find someone willing to have a frank dialogue with you about it. You represent a class of people - people who are singled out and dealt with arbitrarily (rather than in a principled manner). You have an opportunity here to speak for that class. I'm really glad to see you doing whatever you can to represent the class fairly and honestly, despite the school system's mishandling (at every step) of this situation.

The school representatives ought to be ashamed of themselves. This case represents a major reason why, as much as I enjoy being a resident of this state as an adult, I will *not* raise a child in these conditions.

postmormon girl said...

These administrators sound impossible; I'm glad you didn't stoop to their level. I really hope you find a way to get through to them. Best of luck.

PoliticallySpeaking said...

At the risk of sounding (being?) crude, the impression I have of "Nancy" is "what a dick."

Kudos to you if your phone is still in one piece and not shattered from delicately pressing the button on your phone that hung up the line.

Angela @ Cottage Magpie said...

OH FOR ___ SAKE!

Breathing, breathing...

You know, I had really really hoped, when I started reading this post (I came from another post to the first post on the subject and kept reading) that things had changed since I was in high school back in the 80's. I mean, REALLY.

Apparently not.

This is just AAAAAAARGH!!!!!

In attempt to be moderately mature and civil, I am attempting to communicate my feelings without profanity. I am finding it nearly impossible to coherently convey my feelings without doing so.

I watched a special recently of an Irish comedian giving a concert in Chicago, in which he said, "English is a wall, and f*** is my chisel."

I now know exactly how he feels.

Sigh.

The good news is that this will all have really no bearing on AYD's life in the future AT ALL, other than maybe being an early realizer of the fact that bureaucrats are.. um.. here we go with the non coherent communication.

I went through a very similar experience in high school. My particular "transgression" was different. I passed a note in class that use a mild epithet to describe my teacher, with which I had a fairly hostile relationship. That, of course, was probably not a great choice on my part, although I certainly didn't intend for her to read it. As my Dad said at the time, in response to all of the stonewalling bureaucratic double-speak, "Maybe we should take this to court and PROVE EMPIRICALLY that you were just stating the facts, eh?" Of course as an adult I don't think anyone deserves to be called names, so again I'm not proud of my choice. ON the other hand, it was supposed to be a private communication, and if grown-ups want to read private communications, they'd better be prepared to read things they don't like very much.

This is neither here nor there. The point is that the aftermath of it all was redonkulous. Totally. But I had hoped it was an isolated case, unique to the time/place I was in high school.

Needless to say, I'm reading all of this with much interest.

Your newest fan,

~Angela~

The Moose said...

Nancy sounds very immature. What a terrible excuse for an administrator, and person. Sounds like she should not be in charge of anything. Sad fact is, many 'adults' behave this way. How idiotic. I feel bad that you have to deal with them and their nonsense.