As a teacher, I’m expected to reinforce the rules in the school I teach in. And I do, because it’s my job. But it’s not to say that I like all the rules, and I do tend to vocalise my displeasure with my colleagues about rules that I think are stupid and unnecessary. Not that that gets me anywhere, because schools are really quite powerful when it comes to setting and enforcing their own rules; and I think that’s why there’s been so much discussion about Lucan Battison who was recently suspended from St John's College, in Hastings, for his hair-do. So here we go, this is my (very quick - baby will only sleep for an hour and a half max.) take on the hair-saga. I kinda can’t believe I’m writing a blog-post about this, but, sadly, I kinda can too...
OK, so being suspended is serious business – students at my school are suspended for drug/alcohol use on campus, or violent/bullying behaviour. These are serious safety issues, clearly, and ones that impact on students’ learning. And that’s what suspension is for, right? To remove studnets from the school environment when they are behaving in a way that compromises the safety and/or learning of others. St John’s College, however, suspended the student for his hair-style, and he was off school for over a month. He’s in Year 11 and he’s in his first year of NCEA, and thus that month will have a significant impact on his Level 1 results.
But the thing that kills me is….the school SUSPENDED him for HAVING LONG HAIR! LONG HAIR!!! He didn’t have a Nazi symbol shaved into his head. His hair wasn't a variety of different colours (not that that should matter.) He didn't have dreads (not that that should matter either). In fact, from what I can gather he was actually following the silly rule about having his hair off the collar and out of his eyes (which is so pedantic – what kind of mayhem might break loose if your hair should touch your shirt collar?!?). But he had long hair, which he refused to cut, so he was SUSPENDED. What is wrong with the principal?! I just think that is crazy behaviour. Did he have nothing better to do? Are there no other pressing issues in the school that need dealing with?? If only the rest of the schools in the country were so lucky...
Anyway, I come now to the argument that it seems like everyone who agrees with the principal’s decision has been making: That “schools make their rules and if you don’t like them don’t go to/send your children to that particular school”.
Well, I think that’s an antiquated and vaguely dangerous argument. Rules in New Zealand schools do not have a history of being particularly inclusive; for example, it was against the rules to speak Maori in school only decades ago. (In fact, rules and laws and New Zealand in general don’t have a history of being particularly inclusive, I guess because colonisation happened, and racism, sexism and homophobia exist, amongst a smattering of other prejudices). New Zealand high schools are not the pinnacle of tolerance and inclusiveness that I would like them to be, unfortunately. Can I just point out that most high schools in Christchurch still insist that female students wear skirts/dresses - NOT pants - as part of their school uniform. Throughout winter. In Christchurch. Where it’s -1 degrees outside on a frosty morning. So stupid. And sexist.
I'm all for rules that help students stay focused on the learning. But following rules for the sake of following rules is mindless idiocy. Thus I think that silly, discriminatory rules should be challenged, and consequently abolished. It’s a shame that the school principal at St John’s College can’t see the difference between meaningful rules and silly ones; a bit of reflection would have saved the school quite a lot of cash, and a teenage boy a month of lost learning.
And finally, I think that we, as a society and as members of the education profession, need to move away from this idea that boys should look like “boys” and girls should look like “girls”. It’s old-fashioned, gendered, and increasingly redundant. Some/many guys love wearing long hair. Some/many (most?) girls like having cozy warm legs in winter. If you are worried about the blurring of gender boundaries…well… get a bloody grip of yourself! If you can’t handle it when you can’t tell the gender of the person in front of you, then you need to get over it because their body is their body and, ultimately, none of your business.
And most importantly, as we all know, there are far more pressing issues in education than how a person looks.