Friday, October 10, 2008

Should high schools sponsor dances?

I'm afraid that if anyone has been wondering whether I am an old man who is losing touch with the younger generation, I am about to convince them. But if anyone decides that is the case after this post, I want them to know that I am not alone.

I recently came to the conclusion that high schools should not sponsor dances. But I came to that conclusion after a discussion with my daughter-in-law, Kelly, and she is definitely not old and out of touch. She's 33-years-old, intelligent, beautiful, and she also happens to be a probation officer at a high school in Iowa. In the last few weeks we have both had the "pleasure" of chaperoning homecoming dances at our respective schools.

In 1992 I became the sophomore class advisor at our high school, and despite the fact that I have been more than willing to give the position up to anyone who wanted it, I have been the advisor ever since. My one big responsibility in that position is being in charge of the homecoming dance. Of all the responsibilities I have in my job, that is the one that I am least comfortable with. Running a dance is just not my cup of tea.

For the last several years, there have been things that have gone on at the dances that have made me uncomfortable as the guy in charge. "Sex on the Beach," "I'm Too Sexy for My Shirt," and songs like that have always gotten a huge response from the kids, and although that bothered me, I dismissed it as simply being part of teenaged culture. This year, however, I was more aware of them than ever. Back in August on one of my posts, Anonymous implied that high schools promote high school sex. In a reply to Anonymous, I scoffed at the idea. But as I walked through the mass of bodies grinding back and forth at our homecoming dance, and listened to the words of the songs (when I could understand them), I could not help but think of Anonymous, and I was grateful that he wasn't there.

When I talked to Kelly, I found that she felt a lot like I did. In fact, the high school principal at her high school had announced on the intercom on the day of their dance that there should be "no inappropriate dancing." Good luck! The most popular "dance style" among teenagers today is for the male to stand as close as possible behind the female and for both of them to grind up and down in a motion that reminds me of what a friend of mine once said about dancing: "Dancing is expressing vertically what is best expressed horizontally."

One might suggest that those in charge of a dance should outlaw that particular dance move. But is anyone naive enough to think that these young people with hormones oozing from them wouldn't come up with something that might even top that one? And trying to enforce anything like that would be impossible. Even at our small school, there are 300 kids massed together in a dark room. Trying to walk 20 feet from the outside of the mass toward the middle is almost impossible. If a chaperone at a dance was going to try to keep students from dancing too close to one another, or to keep them from dancing "inappropriately," that chaperone would soon begin to feel like the little Dutch boy.

I do not mean this as a condemnation of our teenagers today. Sex is a huge part of our culture, and kids are constantly bombarded with it by our media. They are at a stage of their lives where that has to sound pretty darned good. The day of the sock-hop is gone; the day of the grinder is here. I'm also not arguing that kids should never be able to dance, but I am arguing that schools should not be in the business of sponsoring dances and the behavior that is bound to occur.


Blogger Mrs. C said...

Oh, Dennis, how awful to have to "chaperone" this. I am anxious to see what your other public school teachers have to say.

10/11/2008 4:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Dennis, I'm grateful that I wasn't there. Why were you grateful for my absence?

In contrast to your experience, I chaperoned my school's dance last year and there was none of that. I teach at a private school where we have a consistent enforcement of behavior standards that carried through to the dance. Unfortunately, when I taught in a public school, I was mocked by colleagues and berated by the administration for trying to hold students to the standards of modesty and decorum.

As for the promotion of sex in public schools, I still stand behind that assertion. Consider the sources of many public school health curricula: Planned Parenthood and SIECUS.

This is one of Planned Parenthood’s teaching tools for the classroom:
I’ll let it speak for itself.

This is a Planned Parenthood site aimed at teenagers that promotes casual sex, immodesty, homosexuality, and even group sex:
Take care in watching it.

This are the SIECUS "Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten–12th Grade":
Read what it promotes for Level 1 (5 to 8-year olds) starting on page 51.

When public schools use these organizations as educational resources, I would say they are promoting sexual behavior.

10/11/2008 5:14 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Anonymous, I was grateful you weren't there because I'm sure that over the thumping rock music, you would have been screaming in my ear, "I told you so!"

One of the values of blogging for me is that through discussions with other people, especially those I disagree with, my awareness of some things has been increased. The kids weren't any worse this year than last year, but after having discussions with you, it bothered me a lot more. Many people would say that they are just being kids, and I know how "American" school dances are, but once again, when we sponsor those dances and put up with that behavior, we are, in effect, condoning it. I don't think we should.

Anonymous, one thing you and I agree on is that public schools should do a better job enforcing reasonable behavior standards. I think we might also agree that court rulings and legislation has made doing that more difficult than it should be.

10/11/2008 3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dennis, I agree with everything you wrote in your reply! I'm glad you are becoming more sensitive to these things.

10/11/2008 4:22 PM  
Blogger Cory Harris said...

As a pretty liberal person, I'm actually going to agree with most of what is being said here. I've chaperoned 3 dances--one homecoming, two proms. The homecoming was absolutely atrocious. Truthfully, all the (small number of) volunteers could do was basically circle around and occasionally through the masses and make sure no one was getting naked. One of the veteran teachers remarked that, "It used to be people said you could get pregnant dancing so boys and girls wouldn't touch each other. Now they really could get pregnant grinding like that." The music encouraged it, of course--someone argued that "the students wouldn't come if they didn't play up-to-date stuff." As far as I'm concerned, it wouldn't be a big loss.

Prom is a little different. All the students are older, so there is a little bit more maturity. But it's also more much more expensive, with the cost of dress and tickets multiplied by a ton. I hate saying this, but it's true: "better behaved" students tend to skew towards the more affluent side.

But I don't see the schools w/ the dances as necessarily "promoting" sex as condoning it. They're not teaching "the grind," but they know year in and year out that it's going to happen. As far as sex ed and Planned Parenthood goes, I find the PP videos counter my belief in sex education. I do believe in not focusing only on abstinence-only sex ed, but the type of humor used in PP is not the way to go. My school, as far as I know, didn't use those videos and stuck to the more mundane statistics and such. I think those are important and shouldn't be mixed with material that tries to be more clever than useful.

10/12/2008 8:13 AM  
Blogger This Brazen Teacher said...

I've always imagined that behavior we wish to change in humans (young or not so young) needs to be changed where it is being caused. Grinding each other to "Get Low by: Flo'Ridah" is just a symptom of something bigger, no? You could stop school dances, sure. It just seems that it would do so VERY little to actually um, address what's really going on.

Of course so does KEEPING these school sponsored dance events... and when all is said and done... at least adults would LOOK like they were doing something productive if they made the former choice, regardless of it made any sense. Sigh.

Just being devil's advocate. :-) Cool post.

10/12/2008 10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

School dances have ALWAYS been the chance for curious/frustrated/overactive teens to express their sexuality, within the bounds of the culture of that era. From th conservative public deeming Elvis' pelvis to be immoral to todays teens thinking about 'supaman that...' Our teens are reflecting the culture. And like BrAZen also suggested, giving them a place wehrer they can express this with their clothes ON may be the best thing we can do for them, short of demanding we all return to poodle skirts and bobby socks.

10/12/2008 8:14 PM  
Blogger Ray the Very Hairy said...

I've been reading this blog with great interest for about a year now and this is my first post. I really appriciate the insight and discussion that goes on. It's refreshing to read comments that don't boil down to digital screaming matches.

My take on the dancing is that you can't beat biology. Like or not, teenaged bodies want to "get it on," and they're going to express that. I'd rather that expressing be done in the semi-controled environment of a school dance than at a house party or out in the woods somewhere. And I'm fairly sure no one has actually become pregnant from grinding, though that would be a great story if true. When it comes to social manipulation, Mother Nature will win every time, in my opinion. If dances are banned, the kids will find a way to do what they want to do.

The bigger question, I think, is what's going on after the dance? Are parents doing their jobs? Are kids being taught the consequences of their actions?

Again, thank you for doing this blog!

10/13/2008 6:47 AM  
Blogger Luke said...

Very interesting. I attended a few dances, but my upbringing was such that I didn't dance that way. And perhaps that's a perfect example of what Ray the Very Hairy is talking about: Parents need to be involved in this. In fact, I've read some very thought-provoking posts on the topic of schools and their relationship to "parenting" the students who attend them.

Fascinating stuff. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


10/13/2008 9:56 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Thanks to all of you for your comments. As much as I appreciate regulars like Mrs. C., it's great to see some new blood piping in.

I'm paraphrasing here, but what I hear Anonymous and Ray saying is that it might be good for us to provide a place where kids can express their sexuality with their clothes on. The problem for me is that when I watch the behavior of some of the kids, I have to guess that within fifteen minutes of the end of the dance, they're expressing the same thing with their clothes off. What our school seems to have done by sponsoring the dance is to get them in the mood and give them a good warm-up.

I agree that what goes on at our school dances reflects today's culture. Premarital sex has become the norm, but premarital teenage sex is definitely not a good thing. When I watch the goings on at a school dance, I can't help but feel like we are condoning if not encouraging that, and I don't think we should. I'm not going to be like the preacher in "Footloose," who wanted to ban dancing in the town, but I just think a public school should not be the one to hold them.

I feel like such a prude taking this position, but I guess I agree with the Brazen Teacher's last statement: "Sigh!"

10/13/2008 3:26 PM  
Anonymous Zeke said...

As a very wise old guidance counselor at our school used to say when we would discuss 'tightening up' school rules, 'We need to allow kids to make mistakes when we [school and parents] are around to help them sort out the consequences.' In just a few years, they will be out in the world beyond as much adult supervision - perhaps better to help them confront issues now.

10/14/2008 3:39 PM  

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