Was The Arizona Principal Right To Make These Boys Hold Hands As Punishment?

December 13, 2012  |  

This story about an Arizona principal’s choice of punishment kind of slipped through the pages of the blogosphere but it bears noting and repeating.

According to the local Arizona ABC news affiliate:

Two East Valley high school students were forced to hold hands in front of their classmates as punishment this week for fighting. Now that punishment is drawing criticism.
The students at Westwood High in Mesa were apparently given the option to hold hands instead of being suspended. “Kids were laughing at them and calling them names asking, ‘Are you gay?'” said student Brittney Smyers, who saw the punishment play out at the school earlier this week.

“It was funny,” said student Mickey Shull. “I’ve been in ROTC and it’s no different than some of the stuff you have to do there. It works.” Most students at the school thought the punishment was better than getting suspended. They acknowledged it was humiliating, but thought it would teach them a lesson.

While the community and most of his students were behind the school administrator, who is said to be in his first year at this high school, one of the male students told the reporter that he was so embarrassed that he wanted to yell at them, but couldn’t so he put his head down in shame. The school district administrators said that they do not approve of the tactic and will be investigating it further.  And if you ask me, rightly so. I mean the boys certainly did get a lesser punishment but it’s probably not the lesson we want to teach the next generation.

Did it get to the root of why these boys were misbehaving? Or was the sole intent to shame and humiliate them into “good behavior”? And let’s not forget all the unchecked homophobia. This is one of the reasons why I’m becoming more and more trepidatious about these public shaming tactics used by some adults as corrective punishments for children. I don’t think the principal should lose his job over it.  In this instance, I am sure the principal meant well and probably was trying to teach the boys how to interact in more loving, non-violent ways. The problem isn’t the hand holding, it was having the boys sit on display as their classmates encircled them, laughing, mocking and making statements that could be misconstrued as homophobic. What could have been a teachable moment for the entire lot of children became another lesson on the subtle ways in which we as a society condone hazing – if not bullying.

Likewise, having kids hold hands as a form of punishment or consequence to bad behavior sort of reinforces the notions that there is something negative about not just homosexuality, but straight men and boys being affection and kind with one another.  This is important in an era where hyper-aggression, particularly in the media, is the norm in all of American society and anything remotely “feminine” including hand holding, is considered weak or less than masculine. Shouldn’t the message we should be sending every single day that it is okay for men in any circumstances to embrace and show affection?

Hopefully there is some discussion with staff and students, in particular the ones who pointed and laughed. If anything, I say kudos to the young men in this story, who were secure enough in themselves to hold hands in the face of ridicule and shame. Because everybody knows, a behind whipping by mom and/or dad for getting suspended from school is ten times worse than what ignorant stuff your classmates have to say – unless you were one of those kids, who never had to fear the wrath of your parents. In that instance, you too have to wonder about any students, who may decide to take the suspension over temporarily looking awkward.

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