Why High School Sucks, Chapter 697 (One More Lament of the Cherokee Nation Edition)


Back when I was playing at being Jimmy Olsen (i.e., a by-the-hour cub reporter for a great suburban newspaper), I once covered about a dozen high school graduations in a 72 hour period.

But I never got to cover a graduation-controversy story like the one in today's Wash Post. Thomas Benya, of Charles County, Maryland and of native American heritage, wanted to wear a bolo tie to graduation, which ran afoul of his school's dress code requiring "dark dress pants with white dress shirts and ties." Benya was told ahead of time that his bolo tie, which he claims references his Cherokee Heritage, wasn't acceptable.

From the Post's account:

"We have many students with many different cultural heritages, and there are many times to display that," said school district spokeswoman Katie O'Malley-Simpson.

"But graduation is a time when we have a formal, uniform celebration. If kids are going to participate, they need to respect the rules."

As a result, Benya did not receive his diploma at graduation; he'll ostensibly get it later.

The whole story is here.

On a scale of importance of 1 to 10 (with 10 being totally important), this story of course rates a zero. You can argue that the school was clear and proper in its policy, that it told Benya ahead of time that the bolo tie wasn't right, that kids need to respect rules, that this sort of faux politically correct student insubordination is exactly why the terrorists hate us, why the Japanese will crush us economically, why jobs are being outsourced to India, why the Red Sox finally won the World Series, blah blah blah.

But I just don't think you can get away from the fact that high school administrators are the biggest bunch of jackasses in the world. You don't have to buy the argument that Benya's tie is covered by the Supreme Court decision Tinker v. Des Moines, which allows students limited rights to non-disruptive political expression in public schools, to be reminded why Pink Floyd's The Wall, filled as it is with great anti-school animus, was so popular (despite Sha Na Na's greater claim to punkish credibility). And why pre-Columbine audiences cheered when Vince Lombardi High was blowed up real good during Rock 'n' Roll High School.

Required public policy disclaimer: In a world in which education wasn't mandatory, school financing was private (or all schools were charter schools), controversies such as the above would mostly disappear because parents (and to a lesser extent, students) would explicitly contract with schools that more clearly reflected their values, predilections, and ideals. Which isn't to say problems would disappear completely, only that they wouldn't be public policy matters, any more than doctrinal differences between congregants and freely attended churches are.