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No Winners in Follicle Fight January 18, 2010

Posted by Dindy in Current Events, Manners, Schools.
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Here in Mesquite, Texas, we have a 4-year-old who has been serving  in school suspension since November. Every day he takes his classes alone in a library with an aide to supervise him. So what has Taylor Pugh done to be forcibly ostracized from his class? Is he a behavior problem? Does he hit other children? Bite? Say bad words? Show up late for class?

Um… no. Taylor’s heinous offense is that he has long hair. The Mesquite Independent School District has a very strict dress code that includes guidelines that boys’ hair MUST be above the collar. Taylor’s parents tried putting the hair in a pony tail but that didn’t satisfy the school. They tried putting it in a top knot and that didn’t satisfy the school either. The school district counter offered by ordering the boy to wear his hair in corn row braids that would keep it off his shoulders. The parents say that braiding Taylor’s school so tightly causes his scalp to bleed and they won’t do it.

Now both sides have dug in, and neither one is going to budge. The school district says  they are going to impose stiffer penalties if Taylor doesn’t comply. Mom and Dad say they are going to appeal to the Texas Education Agency (my guess is that they won’t get anywhere with such an appeal. this is Texas, after all.) And in the middle of it all you have a 4-year-old boy who spends his school days in isolation, missing out on what is one of the most important aspects of school for a 4-year-old– socialization.

Public sentiment here in Texas is pretty much of the law and order type. Rules are rules and kids need to be taught to obey rules, dammit. That’s why we send them to school in the first place. Bloggers and posters in response to the online articles have commented that the parents look like trailer trash and/or “tattooed hippie biker dudes” and have no business having kids in the first place. Some posters have posited that the little boy is probably gay, and if he isn’t, the parents will turn him into a queer if they don’t make him get his hair cut. One poster commented that since the criteria to be admitted into the preschool program in the first place meant that the family either didn’t speak English or was on welfare, they should shut up and be glad their kid is getting to go to preschool for free.

I have been a kindergarten and preschool teacher and to say that kids go to preschool to learn to obey rules is a vast oversimplification of everything that is involved in preschool/kindergarten education– and it is wrong. Kids don’t go to preschool to learn to obey rules- they go to learn how to work and play with others, to acquire essential language, verbal and math skills, as well as gross motor and fine motor skills. They go to get the building blocks they need for learning to read and they go to start learning how to function in a classroom environment in which they will be expected to sit quietly and pay attention to a teacher for much of the day. They go to learn how to follow directions and how to behave in an orderly fashion and how to use their indoor voices and to walk, not run in the hallway. And apparently in Mesquite, they go to learn that gender roles require that boys have short hair.

Generally I tend to go along with school rules, but I’m having a hard time with this one simply because it IS such a stupid rule. Do we really want to teach our kids that blind adherence to authority is a good thing? If that is the case, then we certainly should NOT be praising America’s Founding Fathers because they knew a stupid rule when they saw one and rebelled against it. Nor should we be praising the abolitionists or people like Rosa Parks or Oskar Schindler and Miep Gies.

Yes, I’m playing the race card and the Holocaust/Hitler card because the same principles apply. Blind adherence to authority leads to things like My Lai, leads to the torture of Iraqi prisoners, leads to people doing things they shouldn’t simply because they were following orders.

Still, it’s a long way from a little boy refusing to cut his hair to soldiers blowing up a village in Viet Nam. Yet, I can’t get beyond the fact that this really is a stupid rule. The Mesquite District points with pride to the fact that the rule has been on the books since the seventies. That, in itself, might give them a clue that it’s time to revisit it. A lot of things have happened since the seventies. For instance, when I went to school in the seventies, girls weren’t even allowed to wear slacks (unless the temperature dipped below ten degrees).

There is no evidence that strict dress and hair codes improve academic performance and/or student behavior. What evidence there is is mostly anecdotal for either side. The few studies that have been done show little to no correlation between dress codes and substance use, behavioral problems and violence. 

One thing I have learned as a parent is not to sweat the small stuff and to save my energy for the stuff that really matters. That’s one of the big problems in this dispute– both the parents and the school district have picked an awfully small hill to die on.

While I don’t mean to discount young Taylor, what he wants is actually pretty irrelevant here. He is four years old and he probably wants a tricycle, moon sand and a transformer as well. In his life he is going to go through many hairstyles. My guess is that he would probably be content with whatever hairstyle his parents gave him (although seeing the picture of him in the topknot that makes him look like Pebbles Flintstone does give me pause to think.) Reportedly he is growing out his hair to donate to Locks of Love, which is certainly commendable of  him, however he could be given other ways to make a contribution to the needy.

The school district needs to step back and take a chill pill. They need to focus on the factors that ACTUALLY influence student performance and quit fussing about the length of this child’s hair. By spending so much time, energy and money on this, they are missing the bigger picture, which is are they meeting the academic needs of their students?

And Taylor’s parents need to step back and take a chill pill. They aren’t going to win this one. The TEA is unlikely to rule in their favor. No court in Texas is likely to rule in their favor and the US Supreme Court probably would not touch this one with a ten foot pole. Yes, it is a dumb rule. In the course of Taylor’s life, he is going to encounter many dumb rules. You either obey them, fight to change them or go somewhere else. I’ve got news for Taylor’s parents– Mesquite, Texas proudly wears the title of Redneck Capital of the world and they ain’t gonna change this rule because a couple of “tattooed hippie biker dudes” don’t like it. If they do not want to comply with this utterly stupid and senseless rule, then they need to take Taylor out of this school district and put him somewhere else.

The only thing that is clear is that as long as the school district and the parents continue to fight over this completely stupid issue, a four-year-old boy is going to be sitting by himself and missing out on what are some of the REALLY important things about going to preschool. Nobody is going to win this one, least of all Taylor.

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