During the course of the summer, as a frequent Twitter user, I read innumerable posts on girls and women, what they wear, what it means, and what it ought to mean. A number of websites specifically questioned school dress codes, claiming they were belittling to girls - and, for that matter, boys - in the assumptions underlying restrictions on clothing for girls. Those assumptions might include the motivations of girls for making certain choices, the reactions of boys to those choices, and where the responsibility lies in that interplay. Culture plays a role in those assumptions, of course, but in general the majority of people in our society tend to associate revealing clothing with deliberate sexualization, assume that boys will be distracted in those cases, and ascribe responsibility to girls for their original clothing choices.
When I walked in to the Faculty Meeting room on the first Thursday after Winter Break, I noticed two of the middle school students hovering uncertainly and as inconspicuously as possible in a corner of the room. They were the Student Council Representatives, ready to make their presentation to the faculty on why 7th graders should henceforth be granted the right to vote for Student Council President (a right which all other currently enrolled students already had). I went up to them and asked how they were doing; they held out several pieces of paper with scribbled and periodically crossed-out notes alternating in pen and pencil and asked if I could look through what they planned to say. Curious as to what they had chosen to emphasize from the conversation we had had in MOCA (middle school student government) after Student Council had given preliminary approval to their proposal, I glanced through their notes for them and (maybe crossing my fingers a little bit on a couple of points) told them it was fine. They relaxed for a second and then asked me – implored me, really – if I would give their proposal support when the faculty discussed it. I smiled and told them they already knew where I stood on the issue.
The students were first on the agenda and, though clearly nervous, spoke well. There were a few questions from the faculty including at least one which they had not anticipated (nor had I). Their responses were, for the most part, clear and cogent, and even the one time they were clearly improvising as they went along, their initial soft-spoken meandering gradually gained focus and volume and finished strongly. After the students received applause and left, the faculty discussed the proposal. A number of people were commenting on the maturity and poise the students had shown, and Jeremy Deason, our Athletic Director, leaned over to me and whispered, “Every single day. If they visited the middle school, this is what they would see every single day.”
Good teaching is an act of hospitality toward the young, and hospitality is always an act that benefits the host even more than the guest.
- Parker Palmer, quoted in Ken Bernstein’s blog entry “More thoughts on teachers, teaching and students.”
MOCA, the middle school student government, is currently working on four major projects through subcommittees. One group is brainstorming ideas for new traditions for the middle school, focusing especially on winter term as the Middle School Overnight and Founders’ Day are major events that occur in the fall and spring terms. One group is structuring a proposal to locate an all-boys school with which we might create a brother-sister school relationship, much as we had with Deerfield Academy until they went coed in 1989. One group is working on ideas to share with Student Council on the currently hot topic of whether or not 7th graders will gain the right to vote in this spring’s election for Student Council President. The fourth group is working on a proposal to alter the current dress code.
In reading over the minutes of the most recent Student Council meeting, I was struck by several statements made by various upper schoolers. Some spoke of Student Council as a primarily upper school group, while others focused on Student Council as a group making decisions and judgments that affect the whole school. Those who spoke of Student Council as a primarily upper school group were more likely to oppose it to MOCA, feeling that if 7th graders were allowed to vote for StuCo President, they would essentially be represented in two forums and that this would be unfair. Those who spoke of Student Council as a primarily all-school group were more likely to support 7th graders voting for StuCo President, reasoning that StuCo decisions affected them as well and so why shouldn’t they have a say?