Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Extreme Rules

I get it - raising, having and educating kids is hard. (I don't think it is harder "these days" but I will concede that we face different challenges.) Schools have a tough job, sharing knowledge while not accidentally giving out knowledge that people don't want their kids to have. Having and enforcing rules that help create a safe space for students and teachers, while not going overboard. Teaching kids to develop responsibility without letting them run wild.
Most of you have likely heard of the student in Oregon who garnered national attention after studying the bacteria in the water fountains and comparing it to the toilets. Why was he doing this? It was part of a persuasive speaking assignment for English class. In his middle school, students were banned from bringing in bottled water after some students apparently put alcohol in their water bottles. The problem was that water fountains are nasty. Really. Now, I have thought about alternatives, and other than installing water fountains, I do see the challenge here for administrators.
And, a school in Virginia has decided that since pushing in the hallways often leads to fights, students just shouldn't touch each other. At all. Some parents have asked for a review of the policy after one student was sent to the principal's office in part because he put his arm around his girlfriend.
Now interestingly enough, the administrator's say they specifically wanted hugging off the menu (if you will) after some girls complained that they felt uncomfortable being hugged by some people but were embarrassed to say so.
In my work at youth conferences, (UU youth are a huggy bunch, UU's in general seem to be), we have run into this issue also and struggle with how to approach it. Where is the balance between treating everyone the same and recognizing different comfort levels. If two people walk in the door, and I hug one because it is someone I know, should I hug the other so they don't feel excluded? What if they don't want to be hugged? I could ask, but what if they feel pressured to answer in the affirmative. Now, obviously our ultimate goal here should be to teach these kids to feel comfortable expressing their, um, comfort level, but how do we bridge the gap until then? And at what point have we spent way too much time worrying about it?