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Nail Biting

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As a result of my daughter's inappropriate dress incident, I have been thinking about hammers. Several people have suggested that the Tooele school district employees are "dumb as a bag of hammers." Others, with a keener sense of empathy, have suggested that the district is unable to effectively understand the situation because "if you use a hammer all the time all your problems start to look like nails." Since the true nature of the situation lies somewhere in between what these two bromides describe, I hoped to mix them in the apothecary of metaphor, and come up with something that more accurately described the circumstances. I tried, but I just did not feel like anything really "nailed it."

At some point in the developing whirlwind of attention, my daughter decided that she was cast as the hammer rather than the nail, and realized that her fleeting fame was not all that bad. The last day of her junior high was populated with a multitude of teen girls dressed in slightly inappropriate clothing. Rumor had it that several parents even helped their daughters pick out clothing which would ever-so-slightly violate the school's dress code.

Defiance is an alien concept in a rural Mormon community, but when it is packaged as safe, kid-friendly and uncontroversial it is quite popular. The stories my daughter told of her last day were punctuated by giggles. The dress-code had been colorized from authoritarian grey to the Technicolor of low-brow adolescent humor; it can now be shelved with booger and fart jokes rather than Solzhenitsyn and Dostoyevsky. Sometimes when you cannot change the world you can still re-decorate it.

I have been thrilled by the response the situation has gotten. It has resonated with people, and that is something I've only imagined happening with anything I say. In addition to the tens of thousands of reads, thousands of online comments, television interviews, and a front-page story in our local paper, I have been stopped repeatedly by actual corporeal people who want to tell me how they've had the same thing happen to them. More important than all this is the news I got from my Mom that some folks from her poetry group actually read the essay, and said it was "pretty good."

The other, equally accurate but less flattering, comment Mom's poetry group members made was this: "The whole thing is not really news." This is true. My daughter was sent to the office, and kids are getting killed in Syria. One of those things is really news, and the other is not. There are so many things that are really newsworthy that every channel could be filled with a constant cacophony of woe and strife drowning out any semblance of peace and normalcy with insistent justified priority.

Great changes need to be made in the world for it to be more like the world we all know it should be. Unfortunately history is full of great changes actually causing greater screw-ups than the problems they were trying to solve. The great big problems that should be so easy to grasp due to their enormity are often impossible to nail down due to hidden complexities.

There are no complexities in the story about my daughter's inappropriate skirt. There is the picture, and it is not a picture of an inappropriately dressed young lady. My daughter was taken to the office because of an interpretation of the dress code policy, and so the policy is broken. Now fix it.

When I spoke to the administration it felt like they were speaking some impromptu code designed to avoid certain words or phrases. I remember seeing a movie where someone would utter a secret word over the phone, and this would cause the hearer to behave rather badly. I imagined they were trying to avoid the word that would cause a hoard of glassy-eyed parents to march into their school wearing gaudy paper hats, and start chewing on the furniture.

One, much more likely, suggestion I got was that they were trying to avoid being sued. I was not aware that there was a large history of litigation involving junior high schools doing minor stupid things. If there is I'm sure there will be no shortage of situations to populate those cases well into the foreseeable future. Treating parents like they are potential litigants will not significantly reduce the number of potential lawsuits, which I suspect is much, much smaller for all U.S. junior high schools together than the number of foolish things done at Tooele junior high alone.

So the administration has dug in their heels, and is apparently unwilling to change. My daughter moves on to high school, and with it new challenges.

I may re-write the dress-code for the junior high school if I can muster the inspiration for a few hundred words of futility. I usually can find a few hundred words to spare. I'm sure they will ignore it, but "ignorance is bliss" -- especially when you don't know of anything else that could be.