Pleasantville Lives (in my school)

I teach beginning ESL, usually. That means all the students who’ve just arrived end up in my classes. It’s a challenging job in that I do not, in fact, speak all languages. I have to find ways to make kids open up. 

It’s not always easy. Sometimes students have been pretty much taught all their lives to see shutting the hell up, always, as a sign of great virtue. Alas, I don’t share that philosophy, and that’s a good thing. My classes would be drop dead tedious if I did. 

I’m a longtime advocate for class size reduction, and I will address that on this page shortly. But my morning class only has six people in it. That is not necessarily a bad number. However, at 8:10 this AM, my class had zero students. One walked in at that time, and I told her she should be earlier, but I wouldn’t mark her late since she was the first one here. She seemed happy with that. I marked everyone else absent and started the class. For me, one can be too small a class. Zero, definitely too small.

Two more girls walked in five minutes later. While I was happy they showed, I told them they really should have been here fifteen minutes ago. They both got really excited, and started talking very quickly in Spanish. One of them took charge, and explained to me they were both stopped at the door for their clothing. They both pulled up their shirts and showed me two or three inches of bare midriff. 

Had they come to class like that, I would not even have noticed, let alone objected. Were they my daughters, I wouldn’t be worried about this. I see girls dressed like this each and every day. I have seen teachers dress like this, and I don’t find that objectionable. The fact is we teachers don’t have a dress code, and if anyone found my clothing objectionable, I’d file a grievance. 

I have seen girls come in in halter tops with their cutoffs split up to their beltloops. I wouldn’t let my daughter go to school like that. In fact, as chapter leader, I repped a handful of people who got called into the principal’s office for commenting on the clothing of young women. While I did my job and supported the members, I privately wondered who we were to be telling young women they should dress like this or that. If the girl with the halter top came to my class, I’d do my best to ignore her and say absolutely nothing. I don’t need being dragged into the principal’s office and getting a letter in my file.

I suppose with a schoolwide dress policy things are different. Still, Chancellor’s reg A-421 isn’t about what you say, but rather how the person feels when you say it. Verbal abuse may include any or all of the following:

  • Language that tends to cause fear or physical or mental distress;
  • Language that includes words denoting racial, ethnic, religious,
    gender, disability, or sexual orientation which tends to cause fear or
    physical or mental distress;
  • Language that tends to threaten physical harm; and
  • Language that tends to belittle or subject students to ridicule.

I’d argue my two young students did not feel good at all about being told their dress was improper, that being newcomers it constituted even more mental distress than it would on someone born here, and that whatever the administrators told them merits letters to file. They certainly could have felt not only mental distress, but also belittled. Of course, when the administrators in charge of interpreting this regulation are also in charge of enforcing it, they’re unlikely to place themselves up on charges. This notwithstanding, that would not even be my main argument.

My main argument would be this is not 1950, we are not, in fact, in Pleasantville, and that this policy is ridiculous. My students are not doing anything objectionable. They are not dressed in any particular extreme, and they ought not to lose time where they could be learning English so that they can be forced to wear sweatshirts on an 81-degree day. THAT, in fact, is what they were dressed for. 

The older I get, the less tolerance I have for all things stupid. 

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