Wednesday, October 03, 2007

On the unseen threats of tampons and cake

Okay, so I've made no secret of the fact that I'm not crazy about kids. It's nothing against them personally; we just don't have a lot in common, and given the choice, I'd rather hang around people my own age. But not being crazy about kids doesn't mean that I actively dislike them and enjoy seeing their rights curtailed and even taken away entirely, which is way all of this stuff really sets my teeth on edge:

If you're a woman and you've been to high school, you probably remember the contortions involved in sneaking up to the teacher's desk, whispering your urgent need, and making it all the way to the ladies' room without anyone seeing the tampon and/or pad in your hand, because God forbid anyone (read: boys) should find out that you're menstruating. Purses obviously make this process far easier. A high school in New York is finding that it's strict "no bags" policy is making that process far harder, and has handled it in a fairly idiotic way. Girls are allowed to carry purses - when they're getting their periods. It's bad enough that these bags turn into small, Louis-Vuitton-knockoff beacons of nascent fertility when girls are only allowed to carry them one particular week out of the month, but it also leaves the school vulnerable to exchanges like this one:
The girl was called out of class by a security guard during a school sweep last week to make sure no kids had backpacks or other banned bags.

Samantha Martin had a small purse with her that day.

That’s why the security guard, ex-Monticello cop Mike Bunce, asked her The Question.

She says he told her she couldn’t have a purse unless she had her period. Then he asked, “Do you have your period?”

Samantha was mortified.

She says she thought, “Oh, my God. Get away from me.” But instead of answering, she just walked back into class.

At home, she cried, and told her mother what happened.

I am not, let me assure you, going to tell some skeezy security guard whether or not I am bleeding from my ladyparts. That's none of his damn business. As an adult, I'd probably give him an uncensored, unequivocal, and well-deserved what-for just for asking; as a far less poised and self-assured teenager, I probably would have dissolved into tears on the spot, putting Samantha Martin one up on me.

In an unusual show of teenage solidarity, girls and boys at the school have been protesting by wearing tampons and maxi pads on their clothing and carrying purses made from tampon boxes.
After hearing that someone might have been suspended for the protest, freshman Hannah Lindquist, 14, went to talk to Worden. She wore her protest necklace, an OB tampon box on a piece of yarn. She said Worden confiscated it, talked to her about the code of conduct and the backpack rule — and told her she was now "part of the problem.

That's right. If your school officials are inquiring into the intimate details of your intimate bodily crevices, and you object to that, you're the problem.

But it gets worse.

A high-school student drops a piece of birthday cake on the cafeteria floor. The security guard orders her to clean it up and, when her cleanup efforts aren't to his satisfaction, he tackles her, breaking her wrist, handcuffs her, and calls her racist names. She's later charged with battery and littering. A kid who captured the incident on his cell phone was also arrested, as was the girl's mother when she went to the school to protest her daughter's treatment.

In the first example, the girls' privacy was violated; in the second, her physical integrity was violated. And for what? Backpacks and a dropped piece of cake? I remember, in high school, throwing the "Nazi" word around in reference to our fairly strict administrators, but that was before students were actually tackled and arrested for such sins as dropping cake.

Students in high school don't enjoy a lot of the rights that other people are assured. This is accepted because schools have an interest in maintaining order and discipline by regulating dress, speech, etc., and because minors are seen as needing guidance by adults in learning how to responsibly exercise the rights they'll freely enjoy when they reach majority. But having curtailed rights doesn't make a person any less human or give them any less right to basic human treatment.

This puts adults in a position of outrageous authority, and with authority comes the responsibility not to abuse it. Those adults, school administrators and particularly the security guards now so common in this post-Columbine era, are increasingly ignoring that responsibility and using "those disrespectful kids" and the threat of student violence to lock doors, ban bookbags, shorten lunch periods, regulate speech, interrogate students, and now resort to physical violence to maintain order and discipline. Wonder how that's working out.

Schools have the responsibility, above and beyond basic standards for test-taking and information absorption, to prepare students for the requirements of adulthood. High-school students are given more personal responsibilities and less guidance than, say, elementary-school students because, older and more experienced, high-school students are expected to have developed maturity to guide them through their studies and activities. High-school students don't have homework sheets to be signed by their parents, guided study time with teachers hovering over shoulders, dictated class and scheduling choices, or enforced naps, because high-school students are practically adults and it's expected that they should be able to remember their homework, study, pick their classes, and get sufficient sleep on their own.

So which is it, administrators? Are high-school students growing young men and women learning to live up to the requirements of adulthood? Or are they children who can't be trusted to carry a backpack without endangering their fellow students? Or are they prisoners in a camp where failing to follow instructions gets your arm broken for you? Try to get back to me by the time I have kids; I may just want to homeschool.

No comments: