Virginia School Bans Hugging and Handshakes
James Joyner | Monday, June 18, 2007
A school in the DC area public school has banned all physical contact between students, including shaking hands.
Fairfax County middle school student 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.
All touching — not only fighting or inappropriate touching — is against the rules at Kilmer Middle School in Vienna. Hand-holding, handshakes and high-fives? Banned. The rule has been conveyed to students this way: “NO PHYSICAL CONTACT!!!!!”
School officials say the rule helps keep crowded hallways and lunchrooms safe and orderly, and ensures that all students are comfortable. But Hal, 13, and his parents think the school’s hands-off approach goes too far, and they are lobbying for a change. “I think hugging is a good thing,” said Hal, a seventh-grader, a few days before the end of the school year. “I put my arm around her. It was like for 15 seconds. I didn’t think it would be a big deal.”
A Fairfax schools spokesman said there is no countywide ban like the one at Kilmer, but many middle schools and some elementary schools have similar “keep your hands to yourself” rules. Officials in Arlington, Loudoun and Prince George’s counties said schools in those systems prohibit inappropriate touching and disruptive behavior but don’t forbid all contact.
Deborah Hernandez, Kilmer’s principal, said the rule makes sense in a school that was built for 850 students but houses 1,100. She said that students should have their personal space protected and that many lack the maturity to understand what is acceptable or welcome.
But isn’t school, a safe environment where maturing youngsters are surrounded by trained adults whose job it is to teach them, an ideal place to develop that understanding?
In her defense, Hernandez acknowledges that there is some flexibility in the enforcement of the rule, with teachers expected to exercise sound judgment. Still, absolute rules — especially silly ones — teach disregard for authority. A ban on fighting and extreme public displays of affection? Sure. Shaking hands, a time-honored social custom that’s considered an essential of etiquette in the real world? Not so much.
Counselors have heard from girls who are uncomfortable hugging boys but embarrassed to tell anyone. And in a culturally diverse school, officials say, families might have different views of what is appropriate.
Toleration and understanding of different perspectives is a valuable thing. There are, however, limits. If we ban anything that anyone considers offensive, nothing is permissible. Rules should reflect things on which there is broad consensus, not the preferences of some small sect. (Are we going to ban anti-depressants because Scientology believes them bad? What if Tom Cruise’s kids are in the class?)
Furthermore, trying to enforce these bans via a broad ban misses out on the opportunity for teachable moments. Most people, when learning that some acquaintance has an unusual cultural preference, will adjust their relations with said acquaintance accordingly. If some kid in the class can’t shake hands because the Great Chicken Mimbo has deemed it taboo, then teach the other students about that. That’s far more conducive to building good cultural relations than making blanket, unexplained bans.
UPDATE: Other reactions (Via Memeorandum):
Jonathan Blanks tosses off several amusing quips before concluding, “We certainly wouldn’t want children to learn how to interact with one another, now would we?”
Ogged: “You know that great demotivator, ‘None of us is as dumb as all of us’? Surely this is most true of school administrators.”