Saturday, October 26, 2013

Week 10 Samples: Two opinion pieces from my school blog

'The Grind'

Today's BDN Page 1, above the fold, big headline: "A Grinding Halt to BHS Dances?"

Yep, those Bangor kids are at it again with the dirty dancing. I wrote all about it in 2008:

My morning definitely began looking up when I hit page B8 of today's BDN: "2 Southern Maine high schools ban sexually suggestive 'grind' dancing."

Exactly the kind of nonsense I love. I read the headline out loud to my missus three times, putting as much oomph and drool as I could in the words "sexually suggestive 'grind' dancing."

I just knew that the article would have lots of hormones, plenty of pompous administrators who would sound like they'd never heard of such an outrage as s-x, and, of course, as much sexual suggestiveness as the BDN would dare allow. I was not disappointed.

Sure enough, come to find out, when kids dance they rub against each other (male pelvis to female backside, we are told. The missus got up from her breakfast tea and me from my French roast coffee so that we could step out on the dance floor and try various possible ways that might work.... The dogs were not impressed.) And astonishingly enough, neither were the adult school administrators who found themselves with "concerns" about the grind; they actually come right out and call it "inappropriate."

The news story did mention the fact that dance controversies are nothing new, describing how the twist was banned in the swingin' sixties. But that does not go nearly far enough into the history of lewd dance crazes: it's worth remembering that people of my parents' generation knew very well what 'rock 'n' roll' meant and had no intention of letting their children hear wild lyrics like: "We're gonna rock around the clock tonight, We're gonna rock, rock, rock, 'til broad daylight. We're gonna rock, gonna rock, around the clock tonight."

'Rock'--hmm, a four letter word ending in 'ck.' Whaaaaa? NO CHILD OF MINE WILL EVER BE ALLOWED TO ...'ROCK'!

And, of course, the very word 'jazz' means,, "nobody would have dared include jazz in a respectable book or article a century ago because it was decidedly obscene...."

And when I googled 'waltz lewd,' I found nice stuff like this below, stretching back to the 16th Century, though there are plenty more examples going back to the invention of writing of adults dead-sure that the latest dance craze spelled the end of civilization:

"The waltz also sparked a storm of controversy for its lewd and lascivious posture that required men and women to embrace on the dance floor....Other writers of the nineteenth century were equally uncomplimentary of the waltz. In his poem The Waltz: an Apostrophic Hymn, Lord Byron refers to the "lewd grasp and lawless contact...."

"A Viennese ordinance of 1572 warned: "Ladies and maidens are to compose themselves with chastity and modesty and the male persons are to refrain from whirling and other such frivolities. Whichever man or fellow, woman or maiden will turn immodestly in defiance of this prohibition and warning of the city fathers will be brought to jail...." ...A Dresden wedding ordinance of 1595 advised similar decorum: "Several honor dances are to be held, chaste, and without voluptuous turning, jumping, or running hither and yon. The ladies and maidens are to be led to and from the dance by the arm and without holding hands."

Anyway, it's nice to note that our highly-paid Maine school administrators having solved all the big educational problems now have the leisure to join the long line of historical fusspots standing squarely and successfully against juvenile hijinx.

Today's BDN adds little to the story (even repeating the favorite weasel word "inappropriate") but it does have a fascinating photograph of the principal of Bangor High taken by a photographer with a malicious sense of humor that appeals to me.

We see Norris Nickerson standing at the top of a long sunlit ramp stretching away to infinity or the central crossroads of the school, whichever comes sooner. A checkerboard pattern in the linoleum on the floor subtly matches the checkerboard pattern of his plaid sweater, hinting either that the man regularly is walked all over or that he deeply identifies with the school's bricks and mortar. Or both.

Two students shimmer in the sunlight but they are not in his vision at all. He faces the camera but is not looking at the photographer. His eyes are off to his right, suspicious under a wrinkled brow, clearly looking for and expecting trouble.

His arms are crossed, denying all access. Hands are clenched and half-hidden, again denying access. An ID necklace like a giant dog tag hangs around his neck displaying his photograph, no doubt one taken on a happier day. (Inquiring minds always want to know but can not quite see with this level of resolution: was he wearing an older ID tag in the ID photo, one showing an earlier year's ID photo? And, if he was, in that ID photo was he wearing an even earlier ID with an even earlier photo and so on?)

Anyway, there he is patrolling the halls, on the lookout for sex and frivolity, doing the job the anxious parents of Bangor pay him for.

Just as the schools prevent noisy lunchrooms by enforcing total silence and prevent recess problems by abolishing recess, Norris Nickerson has cleaned up the dirty dancing--by seeing to it that the music has died and that no more dances will be held until BHS students promise to be good.


'The Enforcer'

I wouldn' t want any kids of mine to be in any school run by 'The Enforcer' (BDN 9/7).

Nowhere in the article do we hear of new Principal Peter Doak's educational philosophy or of his hopes and plans for his students' intellectual growth.

Instead we get the same old tough-guy baloney that teachers who have no better ideas like to spout. Sometimes they can back the baloney up (and Doak sounds like he can), and sometimes they can't, but in the end, the baloney does not meet the students' need for learning, only the teachers' and administrators' need for total environmental control.

In Lubec, we are told, it will now be "all about pride, respect, and discipline." Those are code words: pride means school pride which mostly means strong sports, pressure to conform, and a general attitude that the school must not be let down by its students; its students owe it honor, however it may serve or ill-serve them.

Respect means that adults who may or not be themselves respectful or competent must not see or hear students react to the sort of provocations the adults regularly offer.

Discipline means students keeping quiet, following orders, and not getting into trouble, and trouble is anything that causes the adults trouble.

The litany of petty rules proudly detailed in the article makes clear how easy it is going to be for students with any juice to be undisciplined, disrespectful, and shamed. So, Lubec now follows many of the state's other schools down the road of treating its students like hoodlums, all in the name of building their character. I'd just as soon the parents took responsibility for their children's character and let the school struggle with imparting knowledge, a tough enough task all by itself.

But that probably is not going to happen, because what Lubec apparently is NOT all about is teaching, education, or learning. Doak talks only about myriad rules and students following them precisely.

And how seriously do his students take his rules? One rule is hand-holding only in the halls. But look at the page one photo taken at the assembly where Doak told the students how it's gonna be, like it or not. Look at it closely--that senior boy and girl are already flouting the new rules.

And why? Because they care for each other? No, because they lack discipline, respect, and pride. By June they will probably have a different attitude altogether.


  1. The Grind.

    Did you two really get up and try the 'dance' out? Did I read that right? hee hee cute

    Nice connection with the checkerboard pattern. :)

  2. We did!--it's perfectly legal if no dogs/hs principals are watching.

  3. I had a daughter in high school while this nonsense was going on. It will be a relief on many levels when she graduates in June.

  4. My daughter also graduates in June then off to the next set of task to graduate from, is life not just that a gradaution on to the next

  5. I love the way you described Norris, and how you made a comparison to him and the school''s floor tiles.. very creative