A story last week out of Fort Wayne brought back a lot of memories. You can read it if you like, but here’s the gist:
A young woman, Kylee Furnish, a senior at one of the suburban high schools, completed her graduation requirements a few months early and joined the Marines. She finished her basic training and came home to participate in her commencement ceremony. Of course she expects to wear her dress blues. The school says no, cap and gowns only. This passage gets to the heart of the matter:
The district cannot place itself in a position where it makes some exceptions for some students but not for others, (the district spokesman) said.
“I understand she is a Marine and I understand that is dear to her and her family’s heart,” she said. “But if we let one student do that we would set a precedent for years to come.”
The district will give Furnish a cap and gown, (the spokesman) said, and is fine with Furnish wearing her uniform underneath the gown.
I saw some version of this story in every public-school district — there are four in Allen County — in the years I was there, and I’m sure there were dozens more that didn’t make the papers. The watchword was “zero tolerance,” the practice was “no exceptions,” and it applied to everything, paired with draconian punishments. Here’s one I heard in a scholarship interview: A junior with a over-4.0 average (something you can do with A-plus grades and AP enhancements), cruising to finish as a valedictorian or salutatorian, has a friend who’s caught drinking at a football game. Pressed to name his confederates, he fingers the honor student. Like the young man of good character he was raised to be, he tells the truth and admits his crime. Bam, instant suspension for the rest of the semester, which means he’s bundled off to “alternative school,” the one reserved for juvenile offenders. Sorry, son, we don’t do AP chemistry here, so his GPA takes a hit it never recovers from.
Here’s another: An exchange student from some eastern European country takes his camera into the locker room after a team practice one day, goofing around. There are one or two shots of his classmates in towels, one of a kid laughing, holding his hands over his naughty bits in the shower. Unacquainted with both American attitudes about nudity and our peculiar fear of CHILD PORNOGRAPHY, he develops the film in his photography class and distributes pictures to his teammates. Big mistake. This brings the harpies down on him. They can’t really suspend him — he’s a living symbol of cultural exchange and international brotherhood — so they double down and throw the book at everyone, including every single kid who’s in a picture, on the grounds they did not immediately alert the administration of this serious breach of school policy. One of the parents surreptitiously taped her meeting with the principal. He asked her son, “Jason, do you often pose for nude photos taken by other boys?”
Here’s another: A kid takes a Thermos of screwdrivers aboard a bus to Cedar Point for a junior class trip. The thermos is passed up and down the aisle, surely mitigating the intoxication possibilities but multiplying the number of lips that touch the forbidden elixir. Of course they’re found out, and of course the investigation concentrates on getting all the names on the table. One of them is a girl much like our scholarship student above, a guided success missile, and her mom’s a lawyer. No one’s keeping this girl out of the Ivy League. I don’t recall how this one played out, as it was under the radar of media coverage, but my vague recollection is that alternative school was traded for something less injurious to her grade-point average.
My point: Zero tolerance and zero deviation from stated policies and sentences are comforting to, and easy for, the people who make rules, but it makes for lousy learning. It’s especially cruel for young women like Kylee, the Marine, and it makes no sense whatsoever. What’s more, the spokeswoman’s explanation is complete and utter bullshit. One exception doesn’t “set a precedent for years to come.” It’s just an exception. A Marine dress-blues uniform is every bit as formal and appropriate in a graduation setting as a polyester cap and gown. Change the rule to allow military uniforms, if need be; the number of exceptions will be tiny, anyway. Letting one kid walk in her Marine uniform doesn’t mean you have to allow another kid to wear her band uniform, or his Wendy’s uniform, or a clown suit, or whatever. The kid survived Parris Island; surely commencement can survive her.
(I should point out that this particular district is hardly Berkeley East. It’s East Allen, probably the reddest part of a red county in a red state, and to call it a pro-military region is like saying you can find soybean fields there.)
Here’s the other thing policies like this do: They breed a culture of distrust on both sides. When there’s no mitigation possible, everyone digs in. The two honor students I mentioned had been raised to respect their elders and relate to them as adults who could be trusted to act in their best interest, which is how they, the adults, presented themselves as authority figures. Like a golden retriever who’s been groomed and petted all its life, these kids suddenly found themselves snubbed on a tight leash to be kicked. The takeaway lesson: It’s best to lie. If you want to wear your uniform, put it on under your robe, then take the robe off as you take your first steps onto the stage. (I doubt Kylee did this, but if she had, huzzahs to her.)
The theme today is in keeping with the bloggage today, a Free Press series on the nightmare suffered by a family when various forces collided to make authorities believe the parents were sexually abusing their children, particularly their severely autistic daughter. It’s a tale right out of Kafka. A strong element is something called “facilitated communication,” where an aide “guides” the hand of an uncommunicative autistic person on a keyboard, to “unlock” the messages within. (You’re thinking, “Oh, like a Ouija board?” So did I.)
The Wendrows believed that FC — despite being widely debunked by educators and researchers — helped unlock hidden literacy in their mute daughter.
Beginning in middle school, they pushed FC, threatening to sue the school district if it didn’t hire a full-time aide to facilitate their daughter. They requested that she be placed in mainstream classes. On her own, the girl couldn’t match the word “cat” to a picture of a cat, draw a circle or count to five.
But when she used FC, the results seemed astounding. With a facilitator guiding her arm, the child who had never been taught to read was suddenly writing poetry and English essays, taking history exams and doing algebra. The middle-schooler who couldn’t put on her coat without help was typing about her plans to become a college professor.
And soon after that, she was typing, with the help of an aide, a high-school graduate with one-count-em-one hour of training, that her dad was touching her. Part 1 is astounding, part 2 — about the police interrogation of her brother, who has Asperger’s — even worse.
OK, I’m way late this morning, I know. Kate was off at 6:45 a.m. to Cedar Point and I went back to bed, for an early taste of the sweet, late-sleeping mornings of summer. Sue me.
But work awaits. So I’m off.