Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Danger of Hoodies

Last week I mentioned the Q-Team at Chaney High School in Youngstown and how they had worked to revise their school's dress code to remove some of the arbitrary "Because the grown-ups say so" elements that result in an inevitable tug of war and loss of instructional time. The number of students who miss significant chunks of learning has dropped dramatically due to this change. The students went about the effort appropriately--conducting research, making presentations to the school board, self-monitoring, etc.

There remain two items of clothing the board has said are non-negotiable: Hoodies and ripped jeans. I am going to leave aside the ripped jean argument. As long as all relevant parts are adequately covered, this seems like just another we-don't-share-your-taste-in-clothes stance on the part of grown ups. A rule just to have a rule so we have a handle to control that pesky adolescent rebellion thing. I remember a young lady in another school with the same policy telling me: "I don't get it. I can't wear jeans that show a sliver of my knee, but when we switch to summer dress code and we are allowed to wear shorts, I can show my whole leg." I had to admit I didn't get it either.

When I asked why hoodies were banned, the students first pointed out that hoodies with the school logo were available for sale in the school bookstore, but that they were not allowed to wear them in school. You don't need a teenager's nose for hypocrisy to sniff that one out. But then they said, the board says, they are dangerous.

I fell for it at first. I could imagine one student grabbing another student's hood and the resulting neck injury. After all, they have even banned horse collar tackles in the NFL. But when I said, "That makes sense." A student, and then another, and then another, set me straight:

"Then they should ban scarves."
"And hijabs."
"And all shirts!"

Of course. Hoodies don't hurt people; people do. If one student wants to hurt another student, they don't need a hooded sweatshirt to do it. The students further pointed out that they have been tracking dress code violations all year as a part of their project and, although their have been 30 violations involving hoodies, there have been zero hoodie pulling incidents. The proof of the danger would be in the pulling, but it seems not to happen. What could be more tempting to tug on than a rare hoodie?

The students get that the hood on a hoodie cannot be worn up while in school. They are arguing that the ban seems arbitrary and that for many students a hoodie is the warmest article of clothing for those in-between temperatures. I know I frequently wear one for just that purpose. So there we are back at "Because we say so."

Taking seriously Student Voice requires an openness that not every school, school administrator, or school board can get to yet. The more we move away from command and control and towards trust and responsibility, the greater will be the learning partnership between us and our students. They don't want to rebel, they just want to be heard. They want to be safe, and they also want to be warm.

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