Don’t touch

A Virginia middle school has issued a complete ban on physical contact, whether it’s an arm around the shoulder, a high five, a pat on the back or a punch in the nose.

. . . Hal Beaulieu hopped up from his lunch table one day a few months ago, sat next to his girlfriend and slipped his arm around her shoulder. That landed him a trip to the school office.

Among his crimes: hugging.

Dr. Helen thinks children should learn that sometimes it’s normal and appropriate to touch.

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  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Perhaps Dr. Helen needs a hug.

  2. One more example of an absurd application of zero tolerance.

  3. The wheels are coming off of our educational system and no one seems to be interested. I’m not an educator, but I can’t believe that professionals in the education system allow stuff like this to continue. This sort of thing brings shame to everyone involved, people should be outraged.

    There’s hardly anything more important than educating our children. The lesson they are learning here is that the adult world is insane and they would be fools to buy into it.

    How can the school board condone such insanity and why isn’t there a mass protest by faculty and parents. If my kid went to this school, I’d be trying to organize a protest where we all joined hands in a ring, just outside of school groungs, and sang mocking songs to those within. It would make great television.

  4. Catch Thirty-Thr33 says:

    It is always good to see that the schools have their priorities straight. I guess this particular institution is churning out veritable armies of Baarnards and Bethes and Bachs for them to be worrying about such horrific things as (horrors!) phys.ical contact..

  5. I taught junior high for 6 years. Punching, slapping, pinching, kicking, tripping, flicking–all frequent occurrences, and all need to be stopped. Viciously. But holding hands, shaking hands, and high fives? Dr. Helen is right–that school is teaching those kids that there are *no* acceptable forms of touching.

    There are probably no acceptable ways to disagree with authority, either. Great lesson.

  6. SuperSub says:

    Yet another example of what happens when the administration gets too much power.

  7. Do you all remember the stories about the “cuddle puddle” in one of the elite public high schools? A lot of people were horrified that public schools were allowing that.

    I think you should keep in mind that enforcement of policies about physical touch is going to be complicated and finding a consistent standard of what is good, natural, and allowable without being aggressive, harassing, or disgusting is going to be a lot harder than you think.

    You are assuming that middle school and high school kids are going to use the standards that you would, and in a lot of cases they won’t. You’re assuming that kids will be receptive to informal correction if they go too far, and in a lot of cases, they won’t. Many of their parents will accuse anyone who addresses inappropriate contact of singling out and discriminating against their kid.

    As much as I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a quick hug, a high five, or hand holding, I don’t think you want the staff to have to devote a lot of energy to this issue. No contact is so incredibly clear cut.

    Any really, aren’t you going too far with slapping the “zero tolerance” label on any school rude that prohibits a behavior? We’ve always had school rules about behavior and discipline and we’ve had enforcement of those rules. Do you can anti-smoking policies “zero tolerance” too?

  8. One more thing, you aren’t teaching kids that there’s no appropriate touching. You’re teaching them that at school, the rules are different.

    The range of acceptable touching in the workplace is pretty narrow, too, but we can usually rely on adults not to turn handshakes into gang signs, which is straight from the article, or to turn hugging into harassment. Spend a little time in most middle or high schools, and you will see that with some kids, you really can’t.

  9. >You’re teaching them that at school, the rules are different.

    Exactly my point. You’re teaching them that, at school, the rules are absolutely stupid. The message this sends to kids is, “school is the last place where you can expect adults to behave rationally.”

    Then you wonder why kids treat their teachers and school with disrespect. The school doesn’t respect or trust them and they return the favor.

    Teachers have apparently been able to spot appropriate versus inappropriate touching for the last hundred years. What has changed? As an outsider, I can tell you what appears to have changed: teachers have given up taking responsibility for their classrooms and given that responsibility over to draconian policies that hurt students.

    Now, I’m willing to listen to arguments that it’s really all the lawyer’s faults, but those arguments would be a lot more forceful if they were backed up with statistical evidence (not anecdote) and if the teachers and their unions were actually trying to fight these influences. Where are the union leaders calling for tort reform for school districts? Where are the teachers being interviewed in a story like this saying, “we think the rules are as stupid as the general public does, but our lawyers say it’s the only response to parent lawsuits.”

    Instead, we have public forums like this one where the teachers are saying, “No contact is so incredibly clear cut.” So is, “you’re fired” and I live for the day teachers and administrators hear that phrase in response to these stupid policies.

  10. So the solution to the problem a small percentage of the population that doesn’t care all that much about rules against “inappropriate” touching is to forbid everyone from doing any touching?

    I suppose I ought to be happy that the same rationale isn’t applied to driving a car. It already is applied to getting on an airplane.

    You’re teaching them that at school, the rules are different.

    You’re also teaching them that arbitrary, self-evidently ridiculous rules can be enacted and enforced. You’re teaching them that the people who make these ridiculous rules must be shmucks because what other explanation is there?

    They may never realize that people making the ridiculous rules are trapped in the public education machine every bit as much as they, the kids, are. The difference being that the rule-makers have to put up with a bigger, better class of arbitrary nonsense.

  11. Rob,

    We weren’t allowed any PDA when I was in school, so it’s kind of strange to learn that it was previously accepted elsewhere.

    I think the main difference is that school personnel didn’t hear the junk about singling out and discriminating against kids when staff members corrected them in the past, and things didn’t escalate into bigger disciplinary time-wasters as often. You may believe that this is the result of poor administrative policy in the past so that parents and student have a legitimate reason to make complaints, but it doesn’t mean that it stops being a problem for the teachers who will be asked to enforce the policy in the present

    I think my perspective is different because you imagine the rules from the perspective of generally rule abiding kid or his or her parent, and I imagine them from the perspective of having hallway duty.

    How long do you get to have your arm around your girlfriend before it’s inappropriate? My experience, as I said, was that it was considered inappropriate completely when I was in school, so I don’t have the wisdom of past to guide me on this one.

    And honestly, we have much different expectations about sexual harassment and the schools obligation to protect kids from it than we used to, so I’m not sure if previous standards would serve us very well anyway.

    Schools do a lot of stupid things; I’m not prepared to challenge that, but I think you should keep in mind how much energy and effort goes in to trying to make large groups of teenagers behave in a way that would be conducive to academic study, particularly at schools where the students lack home guidance in appropriate public behavior. If a no contact policy is easier to enforce (and, heck, it may not be; I don’t know), giving up high fives isn’t really asking a lot.

  12. Where are the teachers being interviewed in a story like this saying, “we think the rules are as stupid as the general public does, but our lawyers say it’s the only response to parent lawsuits.”

    Of course, it’s not this way everywhere, but my contract specifically states I am not permitted to speak with the press on any issue related to the school district without the permission and oversight of the administration.

  13. Part of being in school is learning how to socialize. Learing in an environment of “no touching” will surely make for awkward graduates.


  14. Imagine how the public would react if schools said “we are going to offer instruction in appropriate and inappropriate touching”? I think a lot of people would be freaked out.

    I think with little kids, sure, you’ve got to teach them socialization skills of which touch could be a legitimate part. By the time kids are in middle school and high school, we could be moving toward behaviors accepted in the workplace, which I guess would allow handshakes and maybe high fives and hugs in rare circumstance, but pretty rarely sitting around with your arm around a co-worker.

    I really have pity for people who are getting all their socialization from public schools the way you all seem to think they are. I wonder if homeschoolers have to make appropriate touch play dates?