“No Touching” at High School? A Student Protests!

Hi Readers: I’m so proud of this high school student — for what she’s doing and also all her clear thinking. The points she makes about her school’s no-touching rule could be made about most Zero Tolerance laws. Be prepared to cheer! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a senior at a a small New England high school. A few days ago, the administration implemented a new rule: No physical contact at any time. The only appropriate touch, we are told, is a handshake. Presumably, this is to thin out the kissing couples who clog up the halls. I have no problem with that. But am I wrong in thinking that banning all touch goes too far? This morning I was in the library and saw a boy and girl studying at a nearby table. She had her arm around his shoulders.  A librarian rushed over and loudly harangued them. They were forced to sit two feet apart for the remainder of the period.

As a college-bound 17-year-old, I am insulted by the presumption that I am too immature to decide which kind of touches are appropriate for school. If the administration seriously thinks we can’t make that distinction ourselves, how do they expect us to survive in college?

I’ve written a petition, which I plan to put into circulation the week after next (next week is midterms). I’m pasting it here, and I’d love your thoughts.

* * *

We, the undersigned, call for removal of or significant amendments to the new “No Touching” policy at our high school. The case for our request rests on several points:

  • Interpersonal touch is not inherently sexual, and to treat it as such is to make it so. Touch can be a powerful bonding mechanism between friends, and any rule that fails to differentiate between acts of sex and acts of friendship seems arbitrary and inherently draconian.
  • High school students will soon be turned loose and made responsible for their own decisions. Is it not the responsibility of educators to impart valuable life skills and ready us for autonomy? Outright bans are not the way to do so. Rather than be taught to see interpersonal touch as inherently bad, we should learn the nuances of what is and is not appropriate for public venues. Don’t force us to look at the world in black and white. Show us the shades of gray.
  • Imposing limits on interpersonal relationships merely divides “school” and “life” into separate and often warring factions. This further alienates many teens who already fail to find much real-world meaning in school. School should be a holistic place in which social as well as academic needs are met. If we’re expected to integrate education into our lives, we should be allowed to bring our lives into our place of education.
  • According to the World Book encyclopedia, “[m]ost teenagers mature psychologically at the rate set by their society. As a result, psychological adolescence normally lasts at least as long as the period of legal dependence.” In other words, micromanaging merely infantilizes us. Trust us to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate touches, and we won’t let you down.

A School Devises A Drastic Solution

We’ve already heard about teachers no longer being able to comfort their students for fear of being accused of child molesting. Even pre-school teachers are not immune: A hug is a grope until proven otherwise. But here is a new level of hyper-worry: After a child got injured, a school in Connecticut has banned ALL touching between ALL students.

http://wcbstv.com/local/school.bans.hugs.2.969949.html

No more backslaps. No more high fives. Fist bumps, be gone.

You can understand the administration’s frustration. A kid was seriously hurt by a kick to the groin – that’s just awful. But why is the response to criminalize all physical contact? Why not criminalize, say, kicks to the groin?

What happened here seems to be the knee-jerk response to any problem these days: Overkill, just like when schools ban tag because a kid could trip, or cupcakes, because a kid could get fat. (And let’s not talk about the fact that my own son’s own grammar school has banned the word “dice,” lest simply hearing that word encourage kids to take up a life of gambling. The term they have to use now is “number cube.” Ugh! But that’s another story. I think. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s all part of this weird, “Protect children from everything, at any cost, no matter how small the threat and no matter how ridiculous the imposition” society we’re in.)

Anyway, if your children are not at this particular Connecticut school, they can probably still do what kids do best, which seems to be bumping into each other and cracking up.

But who knows for how long?

— Lenore