Let me just say this: I am very proud of the Viking Saga, the school newspaper at East Lyme High School, whose exemplary work reporting and analyzing the school's recent cause célèbre should win an award somewhere.
This is why: The Saga didn't merely uncover some institutional hypocrisy, but also created a referendum on a far more relevant issue:
Do kids honestly have a role in their own education anymore?
Are they robots who should subserviently accept authority's every whim?
Are we creating a natural, if not frightening, extension of "teaching the test," by purporting the merits of critical thinking, but expecting, "sit down and shut up?"
Some background: The Saga detailed the high school's plan to enforce a ban on "grinding" at school dances, adopting new consequences for "inappropriate" dancing.
The topic is window dressing. It doesn't matter if you're a fuddy duddy or R Kelly ("I don't see nothing wrong … with a little bump 'n grind.") It's the reaction to it that has been revealing and alarming.
It was startling, frankly, the read the comments to the story on our own web site. I've grown used to many of our social commentators illustrating the concept of forever wrong, but always confident. But this was taken to dizzying levels.
The best written opinion on the subject (surely more coherent than the adults on our web site) came from Ben Ostrowski, the Saga's editor-in-chief. I know Ben mostly through sports: cross country and baseball. Great kid. I'm also a fan of his columns. Insight beyond his years. Once he learns the merits of sarcasm, he's a can't miss.
"A quote from Principal (Michael) Susi in last year's Viking Saga: 'I'm just making a plea to the student body to step up and correct the dancing before I have to. The question is: do you want to be part of the decision or a recipient of the decision?'
"The students wish to be part of the decision. We students should have our own learning opportunities, our own chances at real life negotiations.
"Well, East Lyme High School, you missed a chance.
"The administration and the students did not work together to solve this issue. The students were not given a chance to formulate a compromise. The lesson I have to take away is that in order to get my way in life, I must rule with an iron fist, rather than working with others.
From the ELHS vision statement:
"We ask students to examine their own beliefs and those of others." We ask that our beliefs be examined. We ask to be heard."
Now I don't want to suggest Ben nailed the target here or anything, but any more of a direct hit and he'd be on a podium with a medal listening to the Star Spangled Banner.
I'm also not suggesting Mr. Susi is the villain, especially if he means what he said: "There's value in the process of students taking ownership of an issue and working to resolve it."
There sure is.
But is that the message being sent?
Both by the high school and by some adults who clearly believe kids have no say in anything?
Adults who believe critical thinking and healthy debate are a challenge to authority?
Isn't that what we're supposed to be teaching them?
Reasonable people can have reasonable debate. The three most important words to learn in life are "compromise, compromise, compromise." There's an art to it.
Think about this. We're talking about dancing. Dancing. Not a safety issue or health issue that requires swift, serious, earnest action. Dancing. An issue that means exactly zero in the cosmic scheme, save its role here as a teaching tool.
And yet when schools issue directives and other adults in the community liken debate over dancing to disrupting a school bus — as one dullard did — why would we expect our children to listen to a thing we say about independent thinking?
I get that high school kids overdose on idealism. They know everything about everything. It's part of growing up. Soon, they'll figure out how much they don't know. It's called college.
But in the meantime, can we start preparing them for adulthood by teaching them instead of lecturing?
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.