A high school in New England has banned all touching other than handshakes in their school, and an anonymous student is speaking out:
Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a senior at a a small New England high school. A few days ago, the administration implemented a new rule: No physical contact at any time. The only appropriate touch, we are told, is a handshake. Presumably, this is to thin out the kissing couples who clog up the halls. I have no problem with that. But am I wrong in thinking that banning all touch goes too far? This morning I was in the library and saw a boy and girl studying at a nearby table. She had her arm around his shoulders. A librarian rushed over and loudly harangued them. They were forced to sit two feet apart for the remainder of the period.
It's just plain sad to me, since touching, both sexual and non-sexual, seems to be a requirement to being human. While it's hard to put a value on it in the same way as we can see value in drinking water, eating food, and going to the bathroom, I personally don't want kids to be sent even more messages that anything not related to be a little robot that absorbs knowledge and regurgitates it on tests is without value in a school. If this particular school has a problem, the students should be taught the appropriate boundaries of nonsexual touching in a public space.
A few years back, just before I left for France for the first time, I worked in a public school that said teachers were only allowed to touch students in one of three ways: 1) a high-five; 2) on the shoulder, one hand at a time only; 3) a half-hug, performed by turning sideways and using one hand, and only if the student initiates.
It seemed so mechanical and is now one of my favorite stories to tell out here to French people who don't really get just how weirded out Americans are by any sort of touching, how we sexualize absolutely everything because no one's going to argue against us getting further and further apart. Serious People argue for more restrictions on socializing; hippies and pedophiles and perverts argue that humans are social animals that need other people to live.
Here's the full petition this high school student is passing around:
We, the undersigned, call for removal of or significant amendments to the new "No Touching" policy at our high school. The case for our request rests on several points:
- Interpersonal touch is not inherently sexual, and to treat it as such is to make it so. Touch can be a powerful bonding mechanism between friends, and any rule that fails to differentiate between acts of sex and acts of friendship seems arbitrary and inherently draconian.
- High school students will soon be turned loose and made responsible for their own decisions. Is it not the responsibility of educators to impart valuable life skills and ready us for autonomy? Outright bans are not the way to do so. Rather than be taught to see interpersonal touch as inherently bad, we should learn the nuances of what is and is not appropriate for public venues. Don't force us to look at the world in black and white. Show us the shades of gray.
- Imposing limits on interpersonal relationships merely divides "school" and "life" into separate and often warring factions. This further alienates many teens who already fail to find much real-world meaning in school. School should be a holistic place in which social as well as academic needs are met. If we're expected to integrate education into our lives, we should be allowed to bring our lives into our place of education.
- According to the World Book encyclopedia, "[m]ost teenagers mature psychologically at the rate set by their society. As a result, psychological adolescence normally lasts at least as long as the period of legal dependence." In other words, micromanaging merely infantilizes us. Trust us to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate touches, and we won't let you down.