Topic: Professions & Institutions

School Administrators Amuck
(5/21/2007)

I might be accused of bias here, for reasons that will be evident to anyone who has seen my photograph. But the recent suspension of Austin, Texas 7th grader Derek Jackson by Bailey Middle School Principal Dr. Julia Fletcher for cutting his hair too short is another of several recent absurd examples of school administrators abusing their power.

Positions of responsibility carry an ethical duty to use power judiciously and with sensitivity. Reckless and ill-considered uses of power cause damage and confusion, and in addition to being unethical, are strong indications that someone has power who shouldn't.

In the wake of the massacre at Virginia Tech in which a disturbed student killed 32 people, Yale's Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg made a fool of herself and a laughing stock of Yale by decreeing that college stage productions could not use "realistic" prop weapons. Thus she forced one production to substitute clumsy wooden swords for more convincing ones. How she concluded that this was a reasonable response to a mad shooter in Virginia is anyone's guess, but it certainly diminished the artistic work of students who had put a great deal of care into their shows. Trachtenberg's edict made about as much sense as commanding the campus to use spoons instead of knives and to file down their teeth so nobody would get bitten. Such abysmal judgement should have sent her packing, but she is still in her job, ready to over-react again.

Principal Fletcher, for her entry in the "too silly to have power" sweepstakes, argued that Jackson's hair, or lack of it, violated the school's dress code by creating a "distraction." Odd that a closely-cropped hair-do should be good enough for Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, Sinead O'Connor, Buddha, Professor X and the U.S. Marines, but worthy of suspension in a junior high school. Is this the revenge of the children of the Sixties, who were routinely sent home from school with orders to "get a haircut"? Or is this just the act of an officious and arrogant principal without the sense God gave a sponge? What is Derek to do now, exactly? Come to class in a hat, which is forbidden? Wear a wig? Paint his head? Put it under a paper bag?

According to news reports, Derek's mother met with Dr. Fletcher to question her son's absurd punishment, and the bald-hating bureaucrat told her that the issue was "not worth the fight." Oh, but it is; Fletcher just doesn't understand the real issue. The issue is getting irresponsible school administrators out of office before they disrupt the education of more children with imprudent, inconsiderate, pointless and foolish uses of power.

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