Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Recently, a friend on FB (I’ll call her Jeannie,) was soliciting agreement for something her daughter was doing. The daughter (I’ll call her Alyssa) is finishing eighth grade, and as many adolescents do, she disagreed with a school policy concerning dress code. Alyssa decided to stage a peaceful protest by gathering names on a petition to have the code changed. Evidently, word got to the higher authorities, and they issued a statement, reinforcing the dress code.

Jeannie began asking for affirmation for Alyssa’s actions, claiming the petition would do no harm. I didn’t comment because I had to give the issue some thought. Certainly, this passive-aggressive behavior would not be in the same category as picketing, or a sit-in, or a march, but should it have been seen as a simple expression of disagreement. This comes from one who had no problems as a teen protesting war at various gatherings or wearing and displaying my array of peace paraphernalia. Perhaps with age comes a change in acceptability?

Alyssa has always been an excellent student, and her behavior has always been above reproach. So, why not let her have her little rebellion and just forget about it? I suppose I then began to approach it from various perspectives. From the student’s viewpoint, it wasn’t right that she and her peers had to follow such silly rules. After all, they were teens now, and they should have their say! Right?

Then, let’s see it from the parent’s position. Jeannie truly believed the dress code was wrong. Why couldn’t these kids wear what they wanted? There are certainly a lot more issues about which to be concerned. And look at Alyssa’s initiative! She was willing to write up this petition, get signatures, and give it to the powers that be. She should be commended for her approach. Right?

Of course, this also has to be observed from the viewpoint of faculty and administration. Once the plan was exposed, what should they have done? They may have called in Alyssa and gotten the story from her. They might have just stepped in and stopped the petition. They could have reprimanded any student who was involved. Of course, any of those actions would surely have evoked the wrath of parents. How dare they accuse my child of wrongdoing! Can you see the mess that would cause? But they’d be doing their job. Right?

I also began looking at the situation as a learning opportunity. Alyssa is only in eighth grade, now, but Jeannie commended her action. Alyssa feels affirmed in her plans. Let’s fast forward to high school. Should Alyssa protest any rule she feels is unfair to her and her peers? After all, Mom backed her in Junior High. What if the issue involved grading, or drugs, or social media? Let’s get that petition going, again. These are rules from another era, and they need to be changed. Right?

So, where do I stand? Sorry, Jeannie and Alyssa, but I have to side with the school on this. The education they offer these kids isn’t merely the three Rs; it’s about ethics, morals, and the child’s future. If students were allowed to protest, no matter how benign, every rule with which they disagree, what are they learning? If you want to do your own thing, it’s all right; who needs stupid rules anyway? Where’s the issue of respect for authority? If they finish their schooling and get a job, should they rebel against the company every time they have their own ideas?  I don’t think they’d have their job for very long.

So, where do you stand? Should Jeannie urge Alyssa to make her point? Should it be a teachable moment to explain that we might not always see eye-to-eye with issues, but sometimes we just have to bite the bullet and accept the rules. Let me know your thoughts on this.




  1. Peaceful nonviolent protest holds high honor in my estimation, having seen its productive results in the US, in India, and elsewhere. There is, of course, the question you raise of where to draw the line. I suspect the limits would have been drawn differently in the 50s by the civil rights protestors and the old guard upholding their view of order. There is an ongoing tension between allowing individual freedom and protecting order. So perhaps this could have been a teachable moment to address the issue of how we achieve balance between those sometimes competing interests. I hope she is not discouraged altogether in the future from taking a stand about important things.

  2. i'm exercising the 5th as i see strength's in both positions. it would have been easier for me to decide had it not been about the dress code!!!

  3. Everyone has the right to question the rules. This young lady went about it in a peaceful and thoughtful manner. As far as protesting every rule in the future, I don't think that wanting to wear different clothes can be compared to moral, or respect issues later in life.
    I think the school lost the opportunity for a teachable moment Individuality is not looked upon with esteem in today's society. We are nations of sheep.

  4. Hi - I am in full agreement of questioning authority so long as it is done peacefully and respectfully. Alyssa exercising her right to questin is a very good thing especially since she chose a peaceful modality to do so. And yes, rules and societal norms are necessary for order however not at the expense of individuality and self creative expressions that harm no one.
    Gail (an ole hippie)

  5. Did the school authorities just get wind of the petition and react, or did they actually meet with the Alyssa?
    From what I read here, I have nothing but support for Alyssa. She used a tool of our democratic society that had the potential to start a useful conversation. If, as it sounds, the administration threw it's power and simply shut down discussion, shame on them for missing a valuable teaching opportunity.
    I personally don't disagree with the idea of dress codes. There was an opportunity here for adults to sit down with students and discuss the whys and the wherefores, They would still have the final say, but the kids would have been heard as well. They would have learned the value of the process in attempts to make changes in future.
    What did they learn here--blind obedience or next time be more subversive?
    Well,Muff, this one got my liberal, left-wing, pinko, Bernie-lovin' hackles up, didn't it?

  6. I guess I opened a can of worms with this one, didn't I? Thank you so much for all your opinions -- I gave each one my undivided attention. I may not agree with everyone, but I certainly appreciate your time and effort in responding. I think I'll do this more often -- it is so interesting.
    BTW -- for those who are interested, the dress code rule was concerning short shorts.

  7. I had conversations along these lines when I was a high-school teacher, counseling students as to how to deal with the grown-ups. Often it boiled down to saying, "Look, this has NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. They just want something, and they won't take anything besides what they want. So, if we give it to them, we can still win--as long as THEY think that THEY have won." Respect was mandatory for my students to exhibit, mores if the Grownups weren't being respectful. Again, They win by getting what They want (being jerks) but We win, by being more adult than They are.

    A moral victory is still a victory; certainly it is, in the calculus of the battle with The Administration, who in the battle of wits, often seem unarmed. By choice.

  8. She can wear whatever she wants after school. Rules are rules...too bad if someone doesn't like them...get an education sister and then after you graduate with a education you can protest all you want:)