Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Public Displays of Affection At School (Originally published October 2007)

My school used to have a problem with blatant public displays of affection. Students were mauling themselves in the halls, and teachers felt powerless to do anything about. Then along came a new teacher to the school, who stopped it in its tracks.

Yes, I was that new teacher.

I started calling students on their inappropriate conduct, and I'm not talking about a short hug and/or kiss when dropping the significant other off at their classroom door. No, these kids were going at it.

So when I was approached by the student editors of the school paper and asked to write an op-ed on a topic of my choosing, I chose PDA. Instead of preaching, though, I thought I'd try a more effective means of communication: satire.

I entitled my piece, "A Modest Proposal." And just like Johnathan Swift was (verbally) pilloried for his over-the-top solution to the problem of poor and hungry children in Ireland, so was I attacked for my writing. Of course, being a writer of satire and all, I never really expected that we'd have a sex room on campus. I sure got people talking, though.

And the problem, as I saw it, ended almost overnight. If nothing else, I allowed other teachers to see that it was ok to call students on inappropriate behavior. Yes, there were attempted consequences, but part of the agreement "ending hostilities" between me and my principal was a gag order--I'm not allowed to tell you the outcome, except to say that I'm extremely satisfied with it. Take from that what you will.

So when I came across this CNN.com article about PDA, I thought it would make an interesting addition to my blog. Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks there are some reasonable boundaries regarding making out in public.

"In moderation, and in the right venue, they're fine. Assuming that one half of the couple isn't leaving for a two-year deep-space mission, I'll say that any PDA beyond the hand-holding, arm-around-the-waist, closed-mouth-kiss type is out of order," says Charles Purdy, aka "Mr. Social Grace," a Vancouver, British Columbia-based etiquette columnist and author of "Urban Etiquette: Marvelous Manners for the Modern Metropolis."

"Extreme PDA -- hands under clothes, deep tongue kissing -- just makes the couple look incredibly immature or, possibly, drunk," Purdy adds. In other words: keep it PG-rated, kids. Don't do anything you wouldn't want your mother to see.

Excellent call, Mr. Purdy. Did you catch that, everyone? It makes you look immature, like you can't control yourself. Don't do it in public. Mr. Purdy says not to do anything you wouldn't want your mother to see; I agree with that, and suggest that you not do anything in public that you don't see your parents doing in public.

Want to hear about some real immaturity? Well, it comes from some junior high school students, so what would you expect? Apparently at one school, "hugging lines" were all the rage.

If you need a hug, you won't get it at Percy Julian Middle School. Principal Victoria Sharts banned hugging among the suburban Chicago school's 860 students anywhere inside the building. She said students were forming "hug lines" that made them late for classes and crowded the hallways.

"Hugging is really more appropriate for airports or for family reunions than passing and seeing each other every few minutes in the halls," Sharts said.
Way to go, Ms. Sharts. Not only are you letting the students know that their behavior is not appropriate at school, you're telling them when and where it might be more appropriate. Excellent. Contrast that with my school's administrators of a few years ago, who refused even to acknowledge that there was an issue.

There's a reason modesty is a social grace. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine that reason! (There's the math teacher in me, shining through.)

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