Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Nail biting

As a result of AYD’s inappropriate dress incident I have been thinking about hammers. Several people have suggested that the Tooele school district employees are “dumb as a bag of hammers”. Others, with a keener sense of empathy, have suggested that the district is unable to effectively understand the situation because “if you use a hammer all the time all your problems start to look like nails”. Since the true nature of the situation lies somewhere in between what these two bromides describe I hoped to mix them in the apothecary of metaphor, and come up with something that accurately described the situation. I tried, but I just did not feel like anything really “nailed it”.

At some point in the developing whirlwind of attention AYD decided that she was cast as the hammer rather than the nail, and realized that her fleeting fame was not all that bad. The last day of her junior high was populated with a multitude of teen girls dressed in slightly inappropriate clothing. Rumor had it that several parents even helped their daughters pick out clothing which would ever-so-slightly violate the school’s dress code.

Defiance is an alien concept in a rural Mormon community, but when it is packaged in a safe, kid friendly, and uncontroversial activity it is quite popular. The stories AYD told of her last day were punctuated by giggles. The dress-code had been colorized from authoritarian grey to the Technicolor of low-brow adolescent humor; it would now be shelved with booger and fart jokes rather than Solzhenitsyn and Dostoyevsky. Sometimes when you cannot change the world you can still re-decorate it.

I have been thrilled by the response the situation has gotten. It has resonated with people, and that is something I’ve only imagined happening with anything I say. In addition to the tens of thousands of reads, thousands of online comments, television interviews, and a front-page story in our local paper I have been stopped repeatedly by actual corporeal people who want to tell me how they had the same thing happen to them. More important than all this is the news I got from my Mom that some folks from her poetry group actually read the essay, and said it was “pretty good”.

The other, equally accurate but less flattering, comment Mom’s poetry group members made was that: “The whole thing is not really news”. This is true. When AYD was being sent to the office there were kids being blown up in Syria. One of those things is really news, and the other is not. There are so many things that are really newsworthy that every channel could be filled with a constant cacophony of woe and strife drowning out any semblance of peace and normalcy with insistent justified priority.

Great changes need to be made in the world for it to be more like the world we all know it should be. Unfortunately history is full of great changes actually causing greater screw-ups than the problems they were trying to solve. The great big problems that should be so easy to grasp due to their enormity are often impossible to nail down due to hidden complexities.

There are no complexities in the story about AYD’s inappropriate skirt. There is the picture, and it is not a picture of an inappropriately dressed young lady. AYD was taken to the office because of an interpretation of the dress code policy, and so the policy is broken. Now fix it.

I suspect that Tooele is not the only school system in the country where administrators have to deal with some pretty crazy stuff. I remember reading about an incident where principal Barry (who has a congenitally deformed arm) got into a fist fight with an irate parent. I imagined the cops storming in and tasering the parents in front of an auditorium filled with horrified junior high students, but the article I read did not include that detail.

There are real drugs, and real abuse, and real crazy (in a bad way) stuff going on at that junior high school and the school’s administration has to deal with it. Since there are many truly crazy people who make more noise than any twenty sane people all the channels of communication for the junior high administration are filled with a constant cacophony of paranoia and hallucination drowning out any semblance of the rational and harmonious with insistent justified priority.

When I spoke to the administration it felt like they were speaking some impromptu code designed to avoid certain words or phrases. I remember seeing a movie where someone would utter a secret word over the phone, and this would cause the hearer to behave rather badly. I imagined they were trying to avoid the word which would cause a hoard of glassy-eyed parents to march into their school wearing gaudy paper hats, and start chewing on the furniture.

One, much more likely, suggestion I got was that they were trying to avoid being sued. I was not aware that there was a large history of litigation involving junior high schools doing minor stupid things. If there is I’m sure there will be no shortage of situations to populate those cases well into the foreseeable future. Randomly treating parents like they are potential litigants will not significantly reduce the number of potential lawsuits, which I suspect is much much smaller for all US junior high schools together than the number of foolish things done at Tooele junior high alone. 

So the administration has dug in their heals, and is apparently unwilling to change. AYD moves on to high school, and with it new challenges.

I may re-write the dress-code for the junior high school if I can muster the inspiration for a few hundred words of futility. I usually can find a few hundred words to spare. I’m sure they will ignore it, but “Ignorance is bliss”; especially when you don’t know of anything else that could be.

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