As part of middle school orientation for my daughter, the parents and students have been presented with a handbook 112 pages long. No, that’s not a typo.
When I was in school, I never recall having a handbook. If we did, I don’t remember seeing it or having to sign off on it. There were rules, of course. These were communicated by the teachers and administrators, and we knew if we didn’t follow them, we were in trouble. Besides, by the time we turned eleven, we’d been in school six years. We didn’t need some written manual stating that vandalism, fighting or stealing were wrong. We didn’t need a list of rules to tell us to be on time, or that we had to be respectful to our teachers. And even if we were given a handbook, I doubt that any of us would read, or fully comprehend, the legalese contained in a tome of that size (for my thoughts on handbooks, see my post, Employee Handbooks: Not Worth the Paper They’re Printed On at http://wp.me/p3ovkQ-3v).
One of the most annoying aspects of this particular handbook is the dress code. Now, I have no problem with dress codes in general. Even though the scientific evidence regarding the effects of dress on school (and workplace) performance are mixed, it’s important to teach students that how they appear matters, even if it shouldn’t. I even believe school uniforms would be a great idea, since it would be cheaper and easier for parents and students alike. What I do take issue with, however, is that we were told our girls cannot wear certain clothing, such as shorts and tank tops, simply because the boys may get distracted.
The first and most obvious problem with this issue is that it is discriminatory towards girls. It prohibits them from dressing for style, comfort or their own sense of pleasure. It sends the message that if a boy demeans or harasses her, it is not the boy’s fault for being a pig, but her fault for dressing in such a way that, well, he just can’t help himself.
But this type of policy is also insulting to the boys. It assumes boys are incapable of controlling their most basic urges. It’s as if the sight of a bare back or an unsleeved shoulder is going to turn them into a wolf like in one of those old Warner Brothers cartoons, whistling and cat calling while their eyes bug out of their heads and their tongues hang out of their mouths.
I know, adolescent boys are sex crazed. You don’t have to tell me. I was one. I can recall a girl who sat behind me in math class who didn’t button the top two buttons of her blouse. I remember being entranced by the v of skin that showed there, the silver necklace she wore. But it’s not like I failed the class because of it. And I was never anything but nice to her, because, well, that’s how I was raised. Besides, this was my problem, not hers. We cannot succumb to the boys-will-be-boys mentality. Instead of leaving it up to the girls to be responsible for boys’ actions, we need to teach boys how to control themselves, to put aside how a girl appears and focus on her as a human being. In other words, teach them how to act like an adult (even though some adults I know don’t).
Here’s an idea. At Eton, the elite English prep school, they have a pub on campus. Students sixteen and older are allowed to drink. The logic is that these boys will someday be politicians and business leaders, and in these roles, they’ll have to know how to have a social drink or two without getting sloshed and embarrassing themselves or those they represent. Why not do the same when it comes to how we treat others? A school could set up a social hour which would include male students and scantily clad women (similar social hours could be set up for female students, or gay and lesbian students). The boys would have to engage in conversation with these women, and would be observed and graded for how respectful they were. Points would be given for being polite and making eye contact. Points would be deducted for staring at a women’s breasts, hitting on her, or blubbering like an idiot. Maybe this way, I wouldn’t have to sit down with so many grown men in the workplace and tell them that their behavior was unacceptable. They would have already learned it in school.
I doubt any school would actually do this (I can imagine the calls to the superintendent now). I also don’t know if it would actually work (Eton has had to take steps to curb binge drinking). But it’s better than forcing girls to dress like nuns because some boys can’t control themselves. In any case, it would be the one class where attendance wouldn’t be a problem.