Saturday, June 23, 2007

Decline and Fall of....Fairfax, Co., VA?

During my father's tour of duty at the Pentagon, a two-plus year rotation in which we lived in civilian housing and I attended public school, I got a rare taste of American pie. Prior to this, and afterwards until Dad retired, I knew only the cloistered and comfortable life of a military brat on bases stateside and overseas.

Dad commuted into D.C. from our Fairfax County suburban neighborhood. I walked to school often, just a few blocks away to King's Glen Elementary. Along the route I passed the long, sloping power cut on which my friends and I spent winter afternoons sledding and summer days building forts. I saw the spot recently on Google Earth and was happy to find it still a kid-friendly no-man's land and bordered on all sides by the woods I remember.

Not much has changed? Maybe not from the perspective of a satellite.

On the ground, Fairfax County seems to have moved well into the 21st Century. See this story ("watch the whole thing," I guess we'd say) from CNN about one Fairfax County school that has taken the trend away from "rough play" in schools to its ultimate conclusion: A strict 'no touching' policy.

That's right: No shaking hands. No hugs. No bumps, backrubs, pokes, tickles, chivalrous taking of arms or good natured pats on the head. "Even high fives can get out of hand," says the spokesperson for the School Board. The rest of her statement, describing just how such a thing could go terribly, terribly wrong had me laughing... almost.

It is really terrifying. With justifications including potential injury, gang activity, multi-cultural insensitivity and general anarchy in an overcrowded school, the leaders of this community have decided that punishing every observed instance of human contact is the only possible solution.

In the middle of the fray is young Hal Beaulieu, an honors student sent to detention for briefly putting an arm around his girlfriend in the lunchroom. Watch and wonder...


Anonymous said...

Hugging between adolescent boys and girls is a sexual behavior 90% of the time. Agreed, it's at the very lowest level of intensity, but still it is a sexual behavior. If adults don't object then the kids are going to interpret it as acceptance. It will encourage more and more levels of sexual behavior. This is why it's a good idea to discourage sexual behavior in adolescents from the beginning.

Pat Nolan said...

Don't know how to send this to Steve Don't know if you've seen this:
Brian Walton, a scientific researcher who helped lead efforts to restore the once-endangered peregrine falcon to West Coast habitats, has died. He was 55.,0,567019.story?coll=la-home-obituaries


Matt Mullenix said...


When I was in high school, the concept you're describing was called "PDA" by the school administration, and it was discouraged. However, that rule was reasonably interpreted by everyone to mean, "No making out in the halls," and it rarely needed enforcing.

Whatever your feelings may be about teenage intentions, this Fairfax County thing takes it a number of steps beyond discouraging pre-sexual behavior. It's a policy of total control, and I can't help but to think it will backfire.

The fact it made the news is itself an indication that some line has been crossed: every reasonable adult discourages teen sex (somewhat hypocritically, but still); thankfully few in positions of athority feel all human contact is to be forbidden.

Outside the prison system, that is.

Isaac in Japan said...

Two of my Sister-in-laws homeschool their children. When I asked why one of them told me that where they live in North Carolina recess has been cancelled, there is a strict silence policy during the first 15 minutes of lunch so that everyone can eat, followed by quietly talkint to your neighbor for the remainder. WTF? And now absolutely no human contact?!?! Dang. I'm still not too keen on homeschooling but articles like this have me thinking...Luckily my son is only 5 months old and I won't have to decide for 6-7 years. Maybe things will get better? Ha! :-(

Gregg Barrow said...


Old slow dial up and I wasn’t able to pull up the link, so I’m shooting from the hip based on the blog post.

Let me play devil’s advocate and look at it from another perspective.
When I was teaching middle school, two boys started a fight in my seventh grade home room class. It had been brewing at the bus stop and erupted in the classroom.
The boy that started it was two years older than the other kid. The older boy was
”troubled”, held back twice and already a full blown alcoholic.

As children do, the rest of the boys gathered around, trying to block me from intervening. I grabbed one boy who was making every effort to keep me out of it by the seat of his britches and planted him in his seat. I then grabbed the two who were fighting and put them back in their seats. After a short cool down period I sent the younger of the two, who was now sporting a bloody nose, to the nurse’s office.

I rarely involved the principal in these matters (he was about useless anyway when it came to discipline) and the next morning all hell broke loose.
Now, the boy that had tried to block me from intervening, well he was living with his grandmother because he had been removed from his father’s home by child protective services, and she had called the principal and accused me of child abuse.
The boy that started the fight, the alcoholic, well his father came in and wanted to take me on.

Two other incidents from the same year:
Two girls got into a knock down drag out in the hall one morning (hell hath no fury…) and I was shocked to see all the teachers gathered around and nobody was attempting to break it up. And, I’m ashamed to admit, neither did I. A male teacher trying to break that up is in for all kinds of accusations when all is said and done.
One eight grade teacher allowed the class to destroy his room because he was afraid of a child abuse charge.

If there is a zero tolerance for physical contact in some of the public schools, part of the answer might be that the administration feels that it is much easier to intervene at that level then to wait for things to escalate and open themselves up to more serious accusations and possible a law suit due to the more vigorous intervention required.

I’m not saying that I agree with the Fairfax County school boards decision, just looking at it from a different perspective.

I remember when running in the hall and gum chewing was all the rage.

PBurns said...

I worry about Fairfax County, but not because the kids can't hug each other, but because of the dirty dancing that *actually* goes on at Junior High functions, the alcoholic parties and oral sex at age 13, and all the rest. Then you have the folks getting tattoos and piercings at incredibly young ages (is that even legal?). Fairfax is also struggling with an enormous influx of immigrants from everywhere under the sun -- think 25% Limited English Proficiency and you have the right idea.

As for this CNN story, this is a contrived crisis. I live in the area and my teenager just graduated HS last week and I assure you that young people are touching all over the place and in Fairfax County too. The problem with Fairfax County is not that it's being turned into some Fairy Dust Camp for Political Correctness, but that it is being paved over to make more parking for more Bed Bath and Beyond's. There used to be cows in Fairfax County. Now there are competing super malls.


Matt Mullenix said...

So Gregg, Patrick, and "Anonymous:"

Are we saying that this is a reasonable approach to maintaining order in our schools? That I'm way off base?

I could be wrong, but that never stopped me from being stubborn.

This is nuts. If kids (and I have 2 school-age kids) are acting like animals in school, they should be suspended, then expelled. Maybe the names of parents of expelled children should be published in the paper, too, as we do DWIs. It ought to be a shame, nothing less.

We can't expect our schools to parent our kids. Let the teachers teach, and if the kids aren't ready to learn, kick them out.

My aunt and uncle were both public school teachers and shared many a horror story with me----more horrific to contemplate now that my own kids are in school. Sex, drugs and violence in Elementary schools.... They're in there. I get it.

But the buck has to stop some place. If we are in such poor shape we need to forbid normal human contact in order to prevent bad behavior, it is time for a do-over. Clearly the system is broken.

The State cannot be expected to (cannot be ALLOWED to) pick up everyone's slack! Heard this morning that Texas now puts problem pre-schoolers in special disciplinary classrooms; this being the tail end of a larger, tax funded schoolastic "penal system" already in place for the older kids.

Don't misunderstand: I don't know what the best solution might be. But more institutional authority isn't one I'm inclined to support.

Darren Naish said...

Sorry, off topic.. but I've just tagged all at Querencia with the 'why do I blog?' meme: my article nominating you can be found here, and the meme tracker that shows the spread of the thread can be found here. Any and all at Querencia are invited to respond.. if they want to (no pressure).

Steve Bodio said...

What Matt said. To the tenth power.

To Anonymous: discourage overtly sexual behavior. Don't ban touching.

BANNING tends to equal failure. And I am by no means a simple libertarian.

To Gregg: public school teaching tales in stories from friends sometimes seem to resemble scenes from Dante's Inferno.

PBurns said...

I agree with you that the policy is ludicrous, but it's NOT a COUNTY policy, it turns out, but the policy of ONE middle School ---and even then the policy is being questioned and is not uniformally enforced.

See >>

Television can make a mountain out of a molehill and 10 people look like Woodstock, and in this case it seems they have made one moronic principal at a Junior High School to be the equivalent of the entire Fairfax County Board of Education.

It's interesting to me the reason given for this new "rule":

"Deborah Hernandez, Kilmer's principal, said the rule makes sense in a school that was built for 850 students but houses 1,100."