When Uniformity Is Compromised…

Teens Gone Wild: Tuxedo Shirt Found “Inappropriate” (original article, another article including the following terrifying quote):

Others applauded Ward’s decision, including Karen Gordon, who said, “When uniformity is compromised, then authority no longer holds.”

One of our children (I’m not naming any names) we sometimes get really frustrated with, because this child seems to have an incredibly strong need for autonomy and self-determination.

The child (I’m avoiding gendered pronouns here) cannot be disciplined. Punishment does not change the child’s behavior in any positive way. We’re doing our best to find ways of working with the child which respect the child’s need for autonomy and self-determination. It isn’t easy. Traditional child-rearing doesn’t really have a solution for this kind of thing.

I mentioned the situation to a professional therapist and he said that he thought that while he respected the desire to raise a child in line with egalitarian values, he wouldn’t want to raise a child who didn’t know how to deal with other adults in their lives.

I read this article and realized I would be proud to raise a child who was not willing to knuckle under to the kind of authority this principal tried to assert — and that if what that takes is not being able to depend on automatic, unthinking obedience to my own authority, I’m more than willing to accept that price. In that context this willfulness is a gift, not a problem.

America needs more people like the students in this story, both the one who had her photograph taken that way and the editor of the yearbook who refused to remove it.

When uniformity is compromised, then authority no longer holds.

4 thoughts on “When Uniformity Is Compromised…”

  1. As a parent of a very strong willed child myself, I applaud your conviction not to break your child’s spirit. I have hopes that my daughter will be a leader and better able than others to stand up to stupidity. What I worry about sometimes is that 1) the world doesn’t bend as much as I do, 2) that if she doesn’t learn a sense of consequence from me, the world will show it to her in less kindly ways. So its a tightrope.

  2. Oh, I’m all about a sense of consequences. Just not expectation of automatic obedience to arbitrary authority. I don’t want to be *permissive* with her. I just want to foster mutual respect and cooperation, rather than coercion. I think that will actually be a more useful thing — in the end, the contexts in which unthinking obedience to arbitrary authority is rewarded are very limited. Benighted high schools are one of those contexts. But workplaces generally are not. Good managers don’t really want obedient toadies, they want people with a strong internal motivation (who are capable of expressing themselve respectfully and working cooperatively — and who expect the same from others.)

    I want a child who respects and cooperates with me, and who expects me to respect and cooperate with her. I think if we can accomplish that it will be better preparation for the real world than either pampered permissiveness or authoritarian control.

  3. So has the Nonviolent Communication stuff that you’ve been reading been helpful in all of this?

  4. Yeah, Jeff, it actually has been.

    The things that have been valuable about it for me are —

    * it’s a positive prescription for a way to communicate, not a list of things to avoid. (Though it describes what you’d want to avoid too.)

    * it is really about meeting on common ground, rather than either attempting to assert control over the other or allowing them to control you.

    * it eschews manipulation either by negative or by positive means — by shaming, attacks and insults or by compliments and praise. (For example, it suggests ways of expressing praise or compliments which avoid the implication that the praiser/complimenter is in a position to pass judgement over the praisee/complimentee. That sounds more contorted than it really is.)

    * it has been used in seriously messed up situations and often helped — I mean gang/police conflicts, among Palestinians and Israelis, between right and left wing Israelis, between warring tribes in Rwanda, among prisoners in jail, stuff like that.

    * To the degree that I’ve been able to employ it dealing with my kids it seems to have helped me and them.

    * I’ve gotten a positive response when I’ve employed it with loved ones, friends, and acquaintances.

    * Since I’ve been focusing on it I have felt no desire to post angry rants about conservatives on my blog. :) You may see that as a plus or a minus. :)

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