In today’s Daily Pilot, there is a story about CdM High principal Kathy Scott threatening to cancel the 2015 prom if she finds out that the annual “prom draft” is being held again this year. The Pilot reported that Scott had this advice for parents of kids who felt awkward asking a girl to the prom: “Parents, maybe you would like to help work with them on that social skill.”

Here we go again.

When my son was in elementary school in the district, the Pokemon craze was on fire. Kids were bringing cards to school and  the administration claimed that they were a distraction. So what did the local schools do? Why, they banned the cards, of course. In all fairness, the N-MUSD elementary schools were not alone. Here is an excerpt from a story that ran in the Los Angeles Times and reported in the Baltimore Sun on October 17, 1999:

“School officials from Connecticut to California have concluded that the cards are disrupting learning, poisoning playground friendships and causing such distraction that children forget their homework, tune out in class and miss school buses as they scramble to acquire one more card. “It just became such a monster,” said Judith Franks, principal of Valerio Elementary School in Van Nuys, Calif., who recently banned the cards.”

You can read the full story by clicking here.

A few years later, long after the Pokemon craze died a natural death, the Pog craze heated up in its place. So what did schools do? Yes, they banned those, too. Banning these distractions does not solve the problem. All it does is tell kids that they are doing something wrong and they deserve to be punished as a result. What could have been an opportunity to teach becomes an even greater distraction.

Now we have another overreaction to a social situation.

I have an idea. Call me crazy, but instead of using a sledge hammer to solve the problem, Scott should have considered a scalpel. Instead of threats, she could have used the draft as a way to start a dialog with the students involved in the draft. What Scott would have discovered, as I did last year, is that her perception of the motivation for the draft is 180-degrees from what she thinks it is.

I’d like to give Scott the benefit of the doubt and believe that she did not make this bad decision on her own, but took direction from the multi-million dollar brain trust at district headquarters. With all of their experience and all of their history of precedents and raising children of their own, the best solution they could come up with is to ban the draft and threaten to cancel the prom.

Amazing things happen when you start talking to kids. One conversation leads to another and pretty soon you’re talking about what motivated a dozen or so (or more?) kids to get involved in a grade hacking scheme. Or, you wind up talking about how kids feel when the adults in charge don’t listen to them when they are talking. You know, little stuff like that.

But we’ll never know because Scott has issued her threat. And now, her decision will probably become a greater distraction than the draft.

And I know what you’re thinking: What about the superintendent? What does he have to say about all this? Nothing, apparently. Apparently, the daily drive to and from his home in Long Beach is not time the superintendent uses to think about small stuff like improving communication with kids so that both sides can come to an understanding or even – gasp! – a compromise. No, that would be called leadership and as long as the school board continues to enable his style of dealing with controversy at arms-length or by delegating it to subordinates, he’ll continue to believe he’s doing the right thing.

Me? I’d be asking kids about everything. Instead of or in addition to conducting the usual useless surveys on what parents want to see in the new principals for two N-MUSD schools, I’d be asking kids. I’d be asking the about the draft, about cheating, about everything.

Throughout history, one of the key common traits of the best leaders throughout the world has been their ability to communicate. These people have understood the power of their words and used them to motivate people for purposes both good and bad. These people also understand that communicating is a two-way street; that it is not just talking, it is listening, too.

Perhaps that’s a social skill that can be worked on.

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