Current Trends  

The last time many people heard that it was part of a Fox News morning segment who profiled the disappointed honor roll mom Beth Tilack discussing her push to change standards at her son’s middle school after he was placed on the academic achievement list even with a C and a D, receiving support for the life lessons she was attempting to teach on effort and true, meaningful reward, including from former controversial The View host, turned Fox News anchor, Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Regular watchers of Fox News recognize the  morning show segment as routinely outlining parent gripes with 21st century schooling, the current classroom, teachers behaving badly, students doing untold things to each other, to educators they should respect, some legitimate some not, you name it; you’ll find it there. Strange parenting and ragging on schools is nothing new; however, a whole host of other people, usually described as having a liberal political bent, persuasion see Beth Tilack as ignorant about how honor roll is calculated, incapable of doing the math that would explain why her son was actually deserving of the status and perceive the segment as highlighting stories picking the wrong battle, refusing to address the core problem with either schools or parenting today. That problem being schools so caught up in rules to insulate themselves from lawsuits, to pacify helicopter parents or please PC, bean counting bureaucrats, they have ceased to be education centers and are instead extreme conformity dens devoid of more common sense than we ever realized. A truth clearly evident in what one Colorado school did to a student who shaved her head in support of her friend undergoing cancer treatment thus losing all her hair; they suspended her for violating the school’s dress code because she chose solidarity with an ill classmate, her BFF.  After huge social media outcry and national attention the school board voted 3 to 1 to allow the girl back into class and revise their policy in this instance, finally acknowledging bravery and compassion.

Unfortunately actions taken by our now infamous Colorado school mirror incidents nationwide; students suspended for hugging, kindergarten and first grade students suspended for kissing, the latest, a boy suspended for kissing a girl on the hand, food bitten into the shape of what one teacher thought looked like a gun, building one out of Legos. Regarding hairstyles, a 5 year old sporting a Mohawk told he couldn’t keep his hairstyle even though a school football coach donned the same style for school spirit. Adding to the appalling nature of what the school did here, precedent also comes into play; alongside the parent’s astute argument he daughter didn’t shave her head to join the Arian nation, it was not coupled with white supremacist vulgarity coming out from the child’s mouth, she didn’t change her hairstyle to align with some other cult, it wasn’t accompanied by a negative change in behavior, she didn’t do it solely to flout the rules, stage a protest against policy; although if she did, can anyone say civil disobedience?  Whole classrooms have previously shaved their heads in support for classmates, staff, teachers battling variations of this all too common disease; often profiled on local news as shining examples of good Samaritans, upstanding, unselfish citizens, why oh why couldn’t that be the case for an elementary school? Further, school staff, not to mention both girls’ classroom teacher, were well aware of little Delaney’s condition, meaning they should have held age appropriate discussions, utilized services of the school counselor to explain what was happening to her, why her hair was falling out, not to be afraid of her, any specialized do’s and don’ts related to her presence in class while under treatment  if nothing else, detail why she is allowed to attend class with no hair when the rule book says that’s a no, no. Assuming they did so, assuming someone came into that class and spoke to the students, why were they utterly shocked Kamryn Renfro, Delaney’s admitted best friend, decided to alter her hair to match?  Having spoken to students, as adults knowing the policies better than a room full of 8 and 9 year olds, if they were worried about a plethora of reactions, why wasn’t said discussion, in part, what they didn’t want students to do, i.e. shave their heads to look like Delaney, list other ways they could be nice, support her while she fights to get better? Then the onus would truly be on the girl, her mother to petition the school board to change the policy before she decided to go ahead with her plan. As things apparently stood, she made the decision to do this and the parent e-mailed school personnel the day she returned to class post the weekend break.

Yet it goes deeper than some naysayers viewing the family as unnecessary attention seekers, citing the parent knew the uproar this would cause, knew it was against the code, why didn’t she warn the school, it goes deeper than how we got to this point, where it took so much effort, system maneuvering to let a child support their friend in a heartfelt, tangible way, it even surpasses the current level of idiocy on the part of bureaucratic robots reciting these are the rules we must follow them, essentially forgetting about how to be human beings. More regrettable than the loss of teachable moments, opportunities for life shaping lessons, more than this is a charter school seen as the cream of the crop in public education, who should know better, be above such deplorable behavior, is the inevitable and endless refrain embodied by who’s next? Who will be the next unintended victims of bureaucratic insanity; outside wildly popular hairstyles of the 80’s and 90’s among African Americans incorporating shaved sides of the head still warn today, the continued standard close crop haircut for African American boys allowing easily maintenance for texture of hair and common growth patterns potentially under scrutiny based on this districts guidelines, not only creating nuisance problems but suddenly discriminating against an ethnicity, culture, there are other medical, practical situations to consider. One is amazed they did not initially tell Delaney’s family she couldn’t come to school minus hair, require a doctor’s note for her to attend class, demand she wear a wig while in class. Would they have demanded a different action had she had some hair and, instead of looking like a balding 40 year old man, an ancient old lady, decided to shave her head to look less frightening, feel slightly better about herself? Are children subjected to rare conditions like Alopecia, Progeria going to be removed from class because they have no hair, on top of other things they go through; what about heat sensitive children who commonly have chronic health problems such as asthma? Are parents going to be prevented from sending their child to this charter school because of hair, apt concern when noting available summer school programs; many parents shave their boy’s heads during the summer for ease, less problems when swimming, doing outdoor activity.  It is a common recommendation in aiding to get rid of head lice, a childhood issue most parents have had to handle at least once throughout their life.

Going beyond the persistent reality America is one of the few nations not requiring compulsory uniforms be warn to attend public education, something several commenters believed would have nipped this problem in the bud, revealed commenters who thought this was a rather non-story because only here do we allow such a degree of individuality we do not impose the dress conformity codes almost all other countries do,  reaching past conversations about when children just get to be children and wear their favorite color, have a favorite t-shirt, enjoy light-up sneakers, pushing further than the millennial generation’s stark quests for individuality causing employers to implement a more formal business attire dress code, to the recurring debates on merits of uniforms already used here in some instances. Ideas it levels the playing field for disadvantaged students not to feel left out, have to worry about their friends, their fellow classmates’ expensive clothing, cuts down on distraction, excitement in younger grades over the latest must have fad, Monster High, One Direction t- shirts, to upper grades in junior high, high school preventing young men from being distracted by overly revealing female outfits, preventing girls from wearing too short skirts, shorts, concepts summarily proved false throughout the decades, save one. Uniforms inevitably create more hardship for parents because they increase expense at a greater rate than regular clothes; activities like recess for younger children wreak havoc on the knees of dress pants, dress shoes for instance, quickly warn out from play vs. jeans, average department store sneakers. Mandating a specific school logoed uniform makes it harder for parents to accommodate growth spurts; reductions in distraction and illusion of equality are superficial, a fact documented all the way to Africa where the quality of uniform gets children teased. In America it would be what designer made the uniform, easily spotting hand me downs, previously used uniforms, didn’t Harry Potter teach us anything? Uniforms as a way to curb  raging teenage hormones is almost laughable; independent of what outfit a member of the opposite sex is wearing, seeing that person develop breasts for girls and muscles, a maturing face for guys will produce that nervous, interested, unable to focus response. Uniforms can in fact increase said response when and if it mandates girls wear skirts when they would prefer to wear pants, skirts usually knee not ankle length, permitting opposite sex students to see leg shape setting off exactly what they didn’t want, a hormone response; Catholic school girl uniforms are the stereotypically cliché example, nonetheless accurate, to say nothing of being utterly sexist to women. Only where gangs are a continuing problem, kids being assaulted, getting killed for the color(s) of shirt they wore to school while not being in a particular gang, wearing “rival” colors, being killed for their expense shoes do uniforms serve any real purpose, and only then when schools include shoes in that code, many don’t. And while other things are regulated besides dress in such schools, obnoxiously dyed hair, eye-popping Mohawks, evidence you did shave head for cult membership is usually what’s targeted, discipline worthy. Never mind sinisterly insidious implications of uniform clothing, about the uniformity, national pride they instill in countries like China, North Korea, the stifling of creativity in other countries, barring children from education in the developing world for lack of funds to afford the required outfit. It comes down to again a young girl’s actions were not a bid for individuality, to distinguish herself apart from her peers, going through a phase of teenage rebellion, got ahold of scissors unsupervised and made a mess; she did it to help a friend feel less alone.

Yes eventually Kamryn Renfro was permitted to go back to class her head remaining exactly as it is, but it never should have gotten so far out of hand. The principal in this case should have stepped up and refused to suspend her, if not commended her for being a good friend then at least left her alone to go about her business; at the same time the principal doing her job in effectively running the school she is in charge of, handling actual problems that arise. Yes Kamryn Renfro has now returned to class after having missed class work and concepts needed to be academically successful related to something that was not a serious breach of discipline involving weapons, violence, explosive outbursts, drugs, plots to harm teachers or anyone else like the group of 3rd graders not so many years ago facing major suspension over a plan surrounding items similar to adult crime, first linked to video games; their goal throw a pie in her face over discipline the day before. Or another group of 3rd graders recently found with marijuana facing potential expulsion; those are the kind of behaviors you level huge suspensions at children for. Worse is what the dissenting one vote had to say about the final ruling; commenting to news outlets he believed that we as a country have become prone to making decisions on emotion rather than logic and critical thinking. Except that’s how some decisions are meant to be made if logic and critical thinking, as he defines them, means we deny a 3rd grade student her education over hair, over instinctually knowing her friend needed someone to stand by her, be around people who looked like her without the knowledge they too are sick and could die; combined with critical thinking should be an assessment of which action causes the greater or lesser damage whether that’s from a publicity standpoint, a morale standpoint, an impact to your job standpoint. Letting a girl support her friend by shaving her head, letting everyone see a physical representation of compassion, getting yourself on the local/national news for allowing a girl to do a very good, right thing or being on the news, on social media, in public spotlights for being the one entity, the one person who didn’t get it; seems to me, and a lot of other people, critical thinking was the last thing employed here. Whatever the case a young person should not feel punished for doing the right thing, should not be told or made to feel they did something wrong in the process of doing something very humanely right; now we all know there are times doing the right thing can and will get you into trouble, can and will mean negative consequences and we as a society, we as parents must encourage, must demand our children, young people do what is right no matter the repercussions. But that needn’t have been applied here, over hair, over an obvious intent to help, an attempt to be nice, an attempt to show someone they care, a lesson the adults in the room shouldn’t have had to be taught.

However one of the theories behind why schools have long, long lists of rules, dictate seemingly everything in your child’s life while on school grounds from roughly 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., often overriding parents’ solid, sound choices has less to do with current headline tragedies involving younger and younger kids, what they come up with to hurt themselves, fellow classmates and staff, less centered on helicopter parents circling there every move, even less worry about lawsuits. And instead schools have so many rules micromanaging everything not because of previous decisions made, bad calls upheld by ambiguous, unclear statutes, guidelines, but because they don’t want their employees to be faced, forced to make a decision, able to, required to use any type of discretion to arbitrate issues coming across their desks. Further, administrators almost refuse to be burdened with the responsibility of making any decisions, own any of their choices benefiting, possibly harming students, taking the whole of a situation into account when rendering punishment or determining whether or not a child can remain in class, remain in the school. Not fearing the wrath of angry parents, not their potential to end up in court, not the concept they may have to defend their actions on the school’s social media page, to a TV news camera, a mass of them, but rather we employ people to these positions who have no earthly clue how to make a decision, have no earthly clue how to handle what comes next after making a defensible decision, have no understanding of laying out facts, precedent and persuasive arguments to make your point. Having a hard and fast rule book covering every scenario imaginable and some most wouldn’t think to include, means I can turn to page 1,004 see shaved heads are against policy, pronounce the school district’s judgment rather than my own and refer the “angry mob” to people higher up the bureaucratic food chain than myself, people getting paid more than myself to deal with these overwhelming headaches. Means I don’t have to worry or even ask myself if I considered all perspectives, looked at all angles, weighed all the evidence, listened to all sides, understood the intent, the meaning behind what was done, the supposed infraction committed; I don’t have to distinguish between a member of the Arian nation and a kid supporting their friend with an illness, a lifelong disease making them different, I don’t have to discern the difference, a difference between an aspiring Buddhist monk, practicing their religious belief, covered in the constitution,  with a shaved head and teenage rebellion, trouble making.  People who have no faith in their decision making prowess, have never had the opportunity to exercise those choice making muscles, dumped into roles they are utterly unprepared for.           

Showing a mark of truly refined dignity and grace, second only to a little girl fighting for her life, is Kamryn’s mother who went through the procedure to change things, who publicly stated she holds no ill will toward the school, recently telling news outlets to stop focusing on what her daughter did for her friend and focus on the plight, the reality of childhood cancer, of this other young girl whose fate has yet to be decided. Brining us to, last but certainly not least, completely dismissed is the positive effect this had on Delaney, who no longer felt alone, who had to worry a little less about being teased for her lack of hair, who didn’t feel so bad being mistaken for a boy. Delaney who has known far more of a life of pain, fear, doctor visits, likely loss of friends made on the cancer ward who didn’t survive their battle, sickness and weariness with the entire process than she has of playgrounds, sleepovers, ice cream and most importantly friends. At 11 and in the 3rd grade, she has either suffered cognitive and development issues because of her diagnosis or, again more likely, has spent such long stretches in the hospital, at home feeling unwell, missed so many days of school she has had to repeat grades to pass or meet minimum requirements for days actually present in class. Little Delaney who may not see middle school, forget senior prom, whom the only friends she ever gets to have, in what could be a very short life, are the ones she has now; Delaney who very well may not live long enough to meander through college applications, let alone graduation, who may not get to go on her first date, never mind walk down the aisle, who even though she lives, may be incapable of having her own children. Delaney who should by no means be weighed down by guilt knowing her best friend would not be in trouble if it wasn’t for her. Yes on camera we have seen a girl who can’t stop smiling pleasantly shocked, overwhelmed her friend would do something so brave for her, but one wonders how many conversations with mom it took to get there, one wonders what else Delaney perhaps thought that she didn’t tell anyone. Adults should be ashamed of themselves for creating the possibility; the real problem with schools and current society.