Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Common Good and Individual Freedom

I suspect about everyone has seen or heard the story now. A preschooler in Mesquite does not want to have his hair cut in order to conform to the Mesquite Independent School District's dress code, and his parents support him in his refusal. For the time being, he spends his days in the school library, being taught by an aide while isolated from the other students.

The civil libertarians shout, "Of course he has the right to wear his hair long!" The rule followers disdainly respond, "That little kid better learn to get in line now or he will grow up to be a out-of-control teen-ager." The free spirits pop up, "the dress code is too stringent anyway." And the little kid cries if his hair is braided, which was the compromise offered by the school district. So, he sits in the library with his hair covering his eyes and curling sweetly below his collar, a necessary aide ripped from more important classroom duties at his side, while the adults engage in mud-slinging as they assure themselves of personal righteousness and absolute clarity of thought and response.

What would Jesus do? Seriously. What would Jesus do if this situation were brought before him? I know I'd be tempted to grab a razor and just shave the kid's head and tell his parents to get a life. But I have a feeling Jesus would respond with a parable of some sort. He'd tell them a story with a riddle inside it and suggest they think hard about the answer.

Perhaps it would be something like this, "The kingdom of heaven is like a community where everyone wants to see the children well educated and each person has a different way to reach that goal. One person rides the horse of intellectual rigor, and wants the requirement that every student learn to pass nationally standardized tests, so adds two hours to the normal school day for mandatory after-school tutoring and cuts vacations to two weeks/year. Another muscularly insists that healthy bodies are necessary to healthy minds so stipulates every child be enrolled in competitive athletics, with three afterschool practices per week and two games every weekend. Yet a third sings the song of music appreciation, having learned that music is the gate to higher mathematical understanding, so each child has morning choir practice, an additional class period per day for instrument mastery and monthly recitals. A fourth intones the mantra of character development and religious understanding, so schedules weekend field trips to area houses of worship and twice weekly debates (required of course) on situational ethics versus absolute truths." After telling this story to the disputing parties who now look at him as though he had lost his mind, Jesus then says, "Those who have ears to hear, let them hear: What's good for one is not necessarily good for all, but without an awareness that we must honor the common good, we lose our right to cherish our individual freedoms."

The common good--that part of our lives that overlaps with others and has resources all need and all use--faces extinction now and we're all be the poorer for it. It used to be that many rural English towns had a "commons," an area which could be used for grazing by animals needed by local households for milk or labor. It worked when all respected the limits of the commons. But as soon as one person decided to monopolize the commons by acquiring more animals and not acquiring additional land upon which they could graze, the entire community faced threat and the possible impoverishment of some. It only took one greedy person to destroy the glory of the commons.

More than anything else, public schools are our "commons" now. It takes efforts from all to maintain it; it only takes one to destroy it. Make your choice.

1 comment:

Angie Hammond said...

OK, I just have to comment on this whole mess in Mesquite. Here is the deal, the child is just that a child and he should honor his parents who should follow the rules if they want their child enrolled in the public school which is free to everyone. They are not required to send him to school there, it is a choice that they have made to send him there. They are required to school him, but they are not told how that must be done. If they so choose they may educate him at home or they can send him to a private school or allow him to attend the public school. No matter which way they go, there will always be rules that must be followed. Some they will like and others they will not. Bottom line if you want to make your own rules then make your own school and don't waste the valuable time of those who are trying to educate other young people.

And one other thing. Since when does a child under the age of 6 ( I assume this because he is a preschooler ) get to decide what rules he wants to follow? I work at a school and we have dress code rules about hair and its length and color etc. We are not trying to undermine individual freedom since we do not require all hair cuts to be alike, but we do expect all to be within certain limits. For those of you who wonder why even have a dress code. It has been proven that clean and neatly dressed children who have staff that are clean and neatly dressed, learn better because they see themselves in a safe learning environment.

And finally in the words of my principal to those of us teachers complaining about dress code enforcement, paperwork mountains, and the lack of time to get it all done. "If you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen."

Translated for those of you who need it.
If you don't like how the school runs things then go somewhere else where you like what they do.

So make your choice that is your freedom. I'm certain that Jesus would agree on that one since he always gives us the choice to accept what he has to offer us.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord and follow dress code.