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  • Steven Delpome

Tough Love Indeed


A friend of mine sent me the picture to the right: (follow him on Twitter @Sisyphus38. You'll be glad you did)

What kind of culture does this sign reflect? The school would certainly claim that it is promoting a culture of independence, responsibility, and self-reliance. And many of us would initially agree. "Children need to learn responsibility!" But a deconstruction of the ideas behind this sign reveals something quite different, and rather disturbing.

For starters, it's a culture of shaming and the sign is doing nothing to hide it. Have you or your child messed up and left something you need at home? You should be ashamed.

What makes that “walk of shame” phrase doubly and triply grotesque is that doubly: it compares the act of forgetting one’s lunch to drunken promiscuous sex that one regrets and triply: using that phrase at all reinforces cultural biases that these are the kinds of mistakes that men are allowed to make but are shameful if a woman does. But, clearly it's a school for boys, so why would they consider women just because they birthed every student who attends.

It’s claim that “your son will learn to be independent and responsible” by you not bringing him what he needs perpetuates a great American myth that pain = growth. There is no evidence of any kind that this is true. For every anecdote you tell about someone pulling themselves by their bootstraps and overcoming adversity, I can tell another of someone who was overwhelmed by adversity and lived a life that disintegrated. But we repeat this myth to shame the poor and unfortunate and convince ourselves that we must have done something exceptional to not be considered one of them (the nostrils burn from the stench of snobbery). One thing that can be said with a reasonable degree of certainty is that one learns responsibility and independence by practicing at being responsible and independent. Responsible and independent people know that they need help from others at times and know that it's okay to ask for it, not fear asking for it because one might be shamed for doing so.

“He will not starve.” Politely: get bent. Being hungry sucks. It doubly sucks as a child because children are in a state of constant growth and require more fuel to function. But even set that basic fact of life aside and you see a culture here promoting the allowing of children to suffer in order to perpetuate what it nothing more than a myth.

“He will not lose his starting position.” What this reveals is a school that promotes a culture of status. Athletics aren't as important as your child's status on his team. A school that believed in athletics for the good that athletics do for a person (health, self-esteem, camaraderie) would never allow a child to miss a day of it over something as trivial as forgotten cleats.

And of course the idea that forgotten cleats are “trivial” that the sign is clearly expressing completely undermines their own message! If forgotten lunches and equipment really are not big deal (it won't keep him from becoming president ::snarky laugh::), then whether parents bring them or not should not be a big deal either. Yet parents showing up at the school are clearly a big enough deal that the school paid money to have this sign made to keep parents from doing so. Why is it a big deal? Does a child going to the main office or security to pick up their lunch disrupt the child’s day in any big way? According to their own sign, no, and any rational person would agree. It’s about as disruptive as a visit to the toilets. It does get in the way of the adults day though, but again, it’s a minor disruption, a trivial one, and one in the lives of people who are supposed to be working in service to the children anyway, which makes it not a disruption at all, but a part of what the adults’ jobs should be.

And, of course, however trivial we adults may think a forgotten lunch or shin guards may be, to the child they are likely a very big deal.

Finally, they build a culture of cruelty and snark. Start with the very act of making children suffer that the sign promotes and then add to that the attitude and tone of the sign. If you showed up at this school with your son’s lunch and encountered this sign, it insults you right off the bat by telling you that your act of kindness toward your child is shameful. And then, after insulting you, the adults in charge have the audacity to still wish you a nice day and refer to themselves as “friendly”--the equivalent of taking a shit in your hat and asking you to smile while you put it back on your head.

Examples like this point to a poisonous culture that is taking hold in our society and is beginning to be reflected throughout it. When doing something nice for someone is being considered a negative, it's time to reconsider our values.