Love denied, schooling begins


The story seemed to pop up then fade in less than a day, which was warp speed even in today’s social-media-driven news cycles. And it was pretty tame stuff, considering how normality is sliding into the abyss from both sides of the great divide these days. Still, there was something weirdly compelling about it.

Fifth-grade teachers at Riverside Elementary School in Jeffersonville sent a letter to parents informing them that they would be implementing a "zero dating policy" in their classrooms to "combat students having broken hearts."

"At this age, children are dating and breaking up within days of each other," said the letter. “This leads to many broken hearts, which carry over into the classroom."

It went on to say that the students involved in relationships were given two days "to make sure that relationships have ended."

Parents, understandably, freaked out a little. "They’re worried about the heartbreak, but what about the anxiety that comes with (being forced to end their relationship)?" one of them asked a local TV station. And she wrote on her Facebook page: “We all had elementary boyfriends and girlfriends. We’ve all had our hearts ‘broken’ when young. That’s part of life. It’s a learning experience.”

Indeed. But “that’s part of life” doesn’t track in the world of zero tolerance.

If schools can take the idea of a gun-free zone to the point where a student can get suspended for drawing a picture of a rifle, it’s no great surprise that a couple of students spotted holding hands would lead to a no-dating policy.

If there is a policy of trying to keep children from having hurt feelings, how surprised should we be that it escalates into broken-heart prevention?

In a way, our schools are doing our students a service by preparing them for the even-more intolerant atmosphere of college life. They will not be terribly shocked when told they are not allowed to question whatever orthodoxy is fashionable or tell jokes that might offend anyone or say anything that triggers somebody’s anxiety.

And, to be fair, they are not doing anything we have not asked them to do.

In loco parentis has always been the guiding principle when we give our children over to the institutions in which they will spend the majority of their waking hours. We understand the adults there will be standing in for parents and even expect that they will exercise the same duties and fulfill the same responsibilities a parent would.

That has always involved, whether we wanted to admit it or not, a great deal of indoctrination, which worked out just fine when we mostly agreed on what the doctrines should be: the community’s culture and heritage, our common values, a shared sense of the rights and wrongs defining morality. How we could learn to make our way in the world our parents inherited, changed and passed along for our contributions to it.

Children came home in the evenings and shared what they learned during the day. And the joke was that poor old Mom and Dad couldn’t help with the math homework because it was so far beyond what they had learned, ha ha. But nobody disputed the importance of learning math.

Today, we don’t seem to agree on much of anything. No culture is better than another, our heritage is suspect, values are fluid and morality is subjective. When parents today welcome their children home from a day of school, they have to wonder what has been pounded into their heads that must be undone.

That the world is being burned to a cinder, soon to be uninhabitable? That fifth graders, instead of being forbidden to date, might need to worry that they have been born into the wrong gender? That capitalism is evil? That religion has caused most of the world’s miseries?

It must be exhausting.

Riverside Elementary, bowing to parental objections, has backed off its no-dating edict, which it now insists was not intended to be a real policy, and, anyway, the teacher’s instructions had been “misinterpreted.” Parents probably breathed a sigh of relief — this time, but with a certain amount of trepidation about what might come next.

I have always been skeptical about private schools and home schooling, especially when parents ask taxpayers to foot the bill.

I saw public school as akin to public transit, which we all pay for and may use if we choose. Private school is like taxi service, something extra we should pay for ourselves if we don’t like taking the bus. Home schooling is an extra step removed from the world for the insular few who want no taint of outside interference.

I never really bought the argument of parents who said the tax portion taken for schooling was still their money, to be used as they saw fit to educate their children in the way they desired.

But more and more, I’m starting to get it.

Leo Morris is columnist for The Indiana Policy Review.

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