Yesterday I got one of "those" phone calls that parents dread. Admittedly it was rather low on the scale of parental dread. One might reasonably say it was close to the bottom of the dreaded scale, but it was on there.
My daughter had been escorted to the front office by the principal, and was cooling her heels there until a parent could come in and sort stuff out. Her life of crime had begun.
In most junior high schools, all the students are treated like criminals -- but only some rise to the challenge. My daughter graduates from junior high in two weeks, so she is making it in just under the wire.
Having your parents called in is one of the most significant punishments that can befall a junior high student, and it prefaces all of the more severe punitive actions. When your parents are called, you are in trouble; you have done something quite wrong.
There are significant consequences to parents being called in. Our town, Tooele, is a bedroom community for most folks; the average commute to work is in excess of 30 minutes. This means that, when they're called in to school, many parents are expected to take an hour off work, and the student is expected to sit for at least one class-period in the office.
The office has large windows so that the student is on display to his or her peers throughout the interminable wait time. The bell rings and hundreds of students rush past the offender-on-display; some linger long enough to make obscene gestures. Some students might revel in the attention, but in most adolescent minds, this is cruel and unusual punishment.
What had my daughter done to deserve this punishment? Was it some valiant gesture of defiance against a fascist dehumanizing system, or was there cruelty and torture involved? I found it hard to picture her engaged (or at least getting caught) in either of these types of actions, but I was hoping for the first.
After spinning the possibilities in my mind, I was not prepared for the actual nature of her offense. She was dressed inappropriately.
I am not the best judge of "appropriate" dress for a 14-year-old girl. I try, but it is a skill I have no intention of using for very long. I tried to circumvent my need for it at all by suggesting that both my daughters wear hospital scrubs till they graduate the 12th grade, but that was apparently "not happening." I know that if I dressed myself from my younger daughter's wardrobe, it would be wildly inappropriate regardless of what I chose. Now my lack of attention had forced her into a life of crime. It is always the parent's fault.
Luckily I was working from home, so I took a camera and rushed over to the junior high school with some dungarees and a sack-like shirt for her to change into. This is a picture of her in the school's front office, and this is the apparently inappropriate outfit she was wearing.
I was shocked at my ineptitude. The outfit actually looked appropriate to me; especially given the fact that it was 86F (30C) and the AC in the junior high was not working well outside of the front office. How could I be so blind as to have missed the fact that my daughter was dressed as a harlot, and presented a danger to all the boys in the school? I read "Great Expectations" once. Just because the school might champion some Dickensian imagery does not mean they must bow to them all. What vile boy-crushing monster had my daughter become, and why couldn't I see it?
I began to think : "Luckily the school administration can look at her and see her as a provocative female," but then I thought... no... that is extremely creepy. I tried to think: "Luckily the school administration can look at her though the eyes of hormone-addled teenage boys to see her as provocative," but then I thought... no... that is weird-creepy.
Imagine sitting in a class where you knew the teacher was literally looking through your clothing to see you as a provocateur? I began wondering if transferring her to a new class in the last two weeks of school would do more harm than good.
It turns out that the principal himself had personally identified her as inappropriately dressed. He had walked up to her during lunchtime and identified her crime where nobody else could. I can't help but think that the principal's action creates an unhealthy atmosphere in his school.
What does it say to the teachers who had her in class earlier in the day, and didn't notice her inappropriate dress? What does it say to me -- the parent who maintains that her outfit was perfectly OK for school? Will my daughter and her classmates now spend more time thinking about their outfits than their schoolwork -- the real task at hand?
An update from the blogger in response to your questions:
When I picked her up the principal was nowhere to be found, so he did not talk to me directly. I was not given the courtesy of an explanation. My daughter was apparently told that the skirt's hem was half an inch (a little over a cm) too short.
I took the photo in the front office while the administrative staff looked on in horror. I could have taken photos of a couple kids, who were apparently violating the same type of code on school grounds, on my way to and from the office that day, but I thought that might come across wrong. The school's yearbook came out that same day and had pictures of kids with shorter hems than what my daughter had. I think there was selective enforcement going on.
I would like to point out that the level of incredulity towards the idea that this is an inappropriate outfit for junior high school expressed in the comments for this post has really made my daughter feel great. The Kafka-esque way that junior high administrators dole out punishment and make rules dehumanizes kids. They feel unimportant and marginalized. Seeing this type of response to her situation (especially with so many people personally relating) means a lot to her and kids like her. The attention does make her a little uneasy. She says that I could have chosen a better picture.