20 June 2007

Mid-Week Miscellany: The Wiggles and Pirates, Too!

On Sunday we went to my sister's for my niece's birthday party. Since my niece finds Orlando Bloom's work in the Pirates movies to be that of a deeply talented actor, the party was pirate themed, and each child attendee received a cup of pirate loot. My six-year-old son and four-year-old had great fun with the eye patches and pirate bouncy balls. At one point my son came up with the idea of using the bouncy ball as his fake eye. He ran into the room and queried, "Do you want to see my peg eye?"

Earlier at that same party he was eating at a table full of older girls. Somehow, his elbow got wedged into the back of the chair, and he couldn't get it out. Not wanting to lose face in front of the ladies, he played it cool until his uncle walked by chair. He quietly asked if his uncle could help him because his elbow was stuck in the chair. His uncle helped him out, and the girls were never the wiser.

The twins just passed their ten month birthday. Yesterday I caught the eldest standing on his on-all-fours brother's back in an attempt to crawl onto the couch. He is becoming an accomplished escape artist, but has yet to learn that his actions have often painful consequences.

Did you see this Washinton Post piece: Va. School's No-Contact Rule Is a Touchy Subject? A couple of snippets:

All touching -- not only fighting or inappropriate touching -- is against the rules at Kilmer Middle School in Vienna. Hand-holding, handshakes and high-fives? Banned. The rule has been conveyed to students this way: "NO PHYSICAL CONTACT!!!!!"

School officials say the rule helps keep crowded hallways and lunchrooms safe and orderly, and ensures that all students are comfortable. But Hal, 13, and his parents think the school's hands-off approach goes too far, and they are lobbying for a change.


Deborah Hernandez, Kilmer's principal, said the rule makes sense in a school that was built for 850 students but houses 1,100. She said that students should have their personal space protected and that many lack the maturity to understand what is acceptable or welcome.

"You get into shades of gray," Hernandez said. "The kids say, 'If he can high-five, then I can do this.' "

She has seen a poke escalate into a fight and a handshake that is a gang sign. Some students -- and these are friends -- play "bloody knuckles," which involves slamming their knuckles together as hard as they can. Counselors have heard from girls who are uncomfortable hugging boys but embarrassed to tell anyone. And in a culturally diverse school, officials say, families might have different views of what is appropriate.

It isn't as if hug police patrol the Kilmer hallways, Hernandez said. Usually an askance look from a teacher or a reminder to move along is enough to stop girls who are holding hands and giggling in a huddle or a boy who pats a buddy on the back. Students won't get busted if they high-five in class after answering a difficult math problem.

Typically, she said, only repeat offenders or those breaking other rules are reprimanded. "You have to have an absolute rule with students, and wiggle room and good judgment on behalf of the staff," Hernandez said.

Schools exist to educate. Besides subject area teaching, the social education of children is one of the most important functions of schools. Children must learn to function in groups in appropriate and constructive ways. They must learn how to appropriately talk to, listen to, and, yes, touch others. Teachers and administrators must serve the central place in this development and must ensure that children to do not come to serious harm.

Frankly, this policy is a cop-out and is lazy educating. In a misguided attempt to keep students from any harm, the school has abandoned all responsibility for the development of the vital social skill of appropriate touching and has instead opted to teach that touching is wrong without considering the harm that might to done to a child who is deprived the gift of friendly touch: "Usually an askance look from a teacher or a reminder to move along is enough to stop ... a boy who pats a buddy on the back." While it is important to stop the malicious plague of boys who pat their buddies on their backs, isn't it more important to engage students in the "shades of gray" that Principal Hernandez is so loath to consider? She argues that, "You have to have an absolute rule with students," but one wonders exactly how can an absolute rule have "wiggle room" and still be absolute. Perhaps students are free to wiggle all they wish as long as they don't touch during "wiggle-time." Besides, that wiggling will most certainly be eliminated as soon as the Ritalin is added to the school water-fountains. I agree with her that "good judgment on behalf of the staff" is necessary; let us hope that the staff of Kilmer Middle School shall one day demonstrate that good judgment. Until then there will be a lot of teachers looking askance at the giggling girls and at the boys patting boys on the back.



elementaryhistoryteacher said...

HEY! I hope you are having a great summer. I think you make a very good point about educating our students concerning the right and wrong social behaviors, however, when they are allowed to do certain things at home and are constantly bombarded with media to the contrary it's not an easy chore. You get into that "there are rules at school and rules at home" that Ruby Payne talks about in her videos and books.

I've seen too many high fives, hugs, and slaps escalate simply because the recipient was having other issues.

My daughter (age 14 and a knockout) often wondered when she entered middle school why all the boys wanted to hug her. When I clued her in she was fearful about telling them to stop or that she didn't want to hug.

There are some battles we simply can't win. Some parents think it's ok, some don't. No matter how a particular event is handled one party or the other will consider it unfair and will scream to any media that will listen. There are also those parents that don't appreciate educators using the school day to teach social etiquette.

It is a shame that educators even have to consider the grey areas....isn't that our job as parents?

Personally simply because of where I teach and the problems we have I prefer the no touching rule and discuss the grey areas as they arise during those teachable moments.

Splitcat Chintzibobs said...

I certainly agree about all of the parental issues that are involved in this area (indeed all areas of education). I know that fear of media/law interference is the primary motivation behind every "zero toleration" policy, be it drugs, weapons, or touching. At the same time, there are certain social behaviors that can only be taught in a school setting. Most of these positive behaviors never show up in curriculum guides or lesson plans, but all good teachers have to teach them in order to conduct classroom business. I know many a student who has become academically advanced through homeschooling, but has fallen socially behind. I know parents whose primary motivation in deciding to send their children to school rather than to homeschool was the unwritten social education that goes on at school.

There are certainly advantages to zero tolerance policies: they are easy to enforce and there are no potential legal grey areas. The problem is that they do not educate.

The high school I just left had what I thought was a very common sense touching policy: NO PDA, brief side to side hugs are allowed, and NO roughhousing. The policy minimized risk, but allowed students to show appropriate signs of friendship to each other.

Last, I think a zero tolerance no-touching policy contributes to the creates a victim mentality that already dominates our society. Every touch is potential harassment and it creates in the mind of the "victim" that he or she has been somehow violated.

Sadly, the foundations of this problem must be addressed before it can be. We may be stuck with "Zero-tolerance" polices until administrators are given the authority or grow the backbone to stand up small percentage of parent/lawyers who make life so tough for everyone else.

Splitcat Chintzibobs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the canadian said...

my oldest daughter finds the pirate movie (the first is the only one we allow her to see) to be quite the important work of filmage as well. Thankfully, she is still at the stage where she is more inspired by it to sword fight with sticks with her siblings than to swoon over mr. bloom or mr. depp.