Tag Archives: school

“Enough Is Enough”

The recent battle over a Canadian high school’s dress code pits a halter dress against a concept: that girls are responsible for the lustful thoughts of boys and men.

The dress code at Harrison Trimble High School in New Brunswick, where 17-year-old Lauren Wiggins is a student, specifies that “shirts” must cover the back and shoulders. By extrapolation, that means dresses (Wiggins’s fell to her ankles) must also employ fabric to cover the wearer’s shoulders and back. Frankly, it’s a reasonable request for health and safety reasons. If something fell on students’ shoulders (hot food in the cafeteria, chemicals in the lab, a bat or ball during physical education class), they would have at least a layer of protection against injury.

Health and safety, however, were not the reasons cited by Trimble High School’s principal, Shane Sturgeon, when he demanded that Wiggins cover her back and shoulders. Instead, he required a change in attire because the halter dress was “sexually distracting” to the male students at her high school.

He said nothing about the potential distraction to lesbian female students. Perhaps he believes they do not exist. Nor did he mention how male students are affected by the sight of bare male shoulder blades and spines. In a game of shirts versus skins, for example.

Shane Sturgeon is a man. He was once a teenage boy. If he makes a strong effort, he might recall that at that age, almost anything was “sexually distracting” to him. The movie he viewed the night before. The girl he would meet in math class, a girl whose body he had never seen but lustfully imagined. His school bus ride over a bumpy road. Anything can set a teenage boy (or a man, for that matter) off on a tangent, because nature cares nothing for individuals or their discomfort. Its focus is on perpetuation of the species.

Calling Wiggins’s dress “sexually distracting” is ridiculous. Sturgeon would be more accurate if he said life is sexually distracting.

This not strictly a North American problem. In the English city of Hull, not far from the North Sea, a male teacher at Bridlington School told a student her uniform skirt was “too short” – for unknown reasons he chose not to summon a female colleague to talk with the girl – and she promptly replied that he should not be looking at her legs. Instead of quoting the dress code, he felt “uncomfortable” and went to the principal with his concerns. (If an apropos comment forces him, “uncomfortable”, to run to authority, perhaps he ought to seek new employment. The rigors of school are not for him.) In response, the principal decided to ban uniform skirts altogether. Parents must now buy trousers for their daughters from the chosen school supplier, who applies a hefty markup over the local store’s price for the same item. Parents are understandably outraged (I expect the mothers recall when they were forbidden to wear “unfeminine” trousers to class) and call the school’s decision “sexist”. Their petition already has 1,100 signatures.

There’s a sinister force at work here, and it creeps close to the idea held in many countries and by fundamentalist religions: that men’s honor is found between the legs of women. What a way to eschew personal responsibility! It underpins the brutality of female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage, family-directed murders, all the horrors of societies whose culture demands the sacrifice of the safety and health of girls and women.

Similarly, in the eyes of Harrison Trimble High School’s principal, girls are made responsible for boys’ lustful thoughts and erectile virginity.

Look, Mr. Sturgeon. The only person responsible for one’s thoughts and reactions is . . . that person. Including you. If you find Wiggins’s dress distracting, that’s on you. You could bury yourself in your work, turn your thoughts to cauliflower, remind yourself that as an adult you are required to view your charges as students, not potential sex partners.

If you find Wiggins’s dress breaches the dress code rules, then it’s on you to say that. Full stop, end of sentence. You might talk about health and safety, as well.

But blaming her is just not on. Piling onto her slender shoulders the burdens of her classmates’ impure thoughts and the condition of their penises is outrageous. Consider that many of those classmates over-stimulated themselves – and reduced their empathy, thus dehumanizing themselves – by watching porn the night before. Those are pixels on a screen. Not human beings in the room. Yet you want to offload responsibility for students’ erections onto their female classmates?

Get real.

Lauren Wiggins wrote to her principal, saying in part, “If you are truly so concerned that a boy in this school will get distracted by my upper back and shoulders then he needs to be sent to be sent home and practice self control.”

Excellent idea. Followed by an in-depth look at personal responsibility and the risks of online porn to one’s brain development – since the frontal lobes of teenagers are still under construction.

There are excellent reasons to require the covering of students’ shoulders and backs, none of which are related to sexuality. Those reasons should be applied across the board. No more skins in boys’ games.

And no more blaming high school girls’ attire for their classmates’ thoughts and erections.

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Missing In Action: Concentration

 

Using this inhibits concentration.

 

A recent newspaper article details plans to teach schoolchildren a skill they should have learned at home: how to concentrate.

 

Every US, Canadian, and UK kindergarten teacher knows that the class coming in will contain children for whom English is a foreign language; children who do not know their basic colors, or numbers up to 10; children of all socioeconomic levels whose households are so poor in spoken language that by the time the kids reach five years old they have heard 32 million fewer words over the course of their lives than their age-mates in language-rich families.

 

That children begin school on an unfairly tilted playing field is well-established.

 

Until recently, however, children began formal education with varying degrees in their ability to concentrate. Kids whose parents frequently read aloud to them exhibited more understanding that some things – for example, listening to the teacher’s instructions – had to be attended to with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of attention. Part of a kindergarten teacher’s job is to help all students learn school-time norms: keep your hands and feet in your own kind and friendly space; raise your hand for help; use your “indoors voice”; share the materials offered in class so everyone gets some.

 

But teaching concentration? That, it appears, is a new task for everyone in school, with regard to every student.

 

Why, you ask. Two words: social media.

 

It’s not just Facebook anymore. In fact, FB is old hat. Now it’s . . . well, the list gets longer every day. And ever younger children are fooling around with computers, tablets and smartphones, even if they have to borrow them to get going.

 

I use that expression – fooling around – on purpose. As students dive deeper into social media, as they email and text and tweet, not only do they use up time and energy, they adapt their brains to the rapid-fire joys of social media. What goes out the door is concentration, the ability to focus on one thing for a long time. The kind of absorption you see – okay, used to see, hopefully still do – on the faces of children building with Lego or observing a country stream and its myriad animals. The sort of raptness that differentiates the human brain from those of cognitively lighter-weight animals.

 

It is a profoundly human ability to concentrate on a single attractant without the expectation of being fed. A leopard may focus on a wandering animal, but only in order to minimize its dash. If the prey moves closer, the leopard will need to expend less energy on a shorter run. A primate sitting beside an insect mound with a stick to insert and pull out full of crawling aperitifs looks like it’s concentrating, but again, it is in the service of food.

 

Naturally, parents need to teach concentration at home. If they fail to do so, teachers must, because every child deserves the opportunity to learn deeply, to discover profoundly, and to feel as though the time spent in concentrated observation and study is its own gift.

 

 

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