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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Principal fired over controversial hand-stamping--analysis

CBS Video

Daily Mail (UK)

Raw Story


Apparently, it was once common practice to stamp elementary students' hands if their parents hadn't paid their child's lunch bill. Notes home may have gotten lost. Upon being told by a parent, Principal Roni was "outraged"  (see above video) at the potential humiliation and told the cafeteria workers to stop the practice. The practice continued and she spoke with school leaders and the cafeteria manager. Three weeks after it appeared Roni had won, she was fired.


I find myself siding with Roni over the loss of her employment.  However, what's interesting from this vantage (with only one person's testimony) is that you can see two stories running parallel, by projecting yourself in other people's shoes (a habit my mother got me into as a lad). The following is, of course, supposition but it illustrates a possible underlying issue systemic today's education in the United States: a lack of good conflict management.

Roni agrees with parent that child was humiliated. Her belief, stated in the video, suggests that she may have expressed a hint of outrage to cafeteria workers.

The cafeteria manager likely felt incensed as well:  "Why is this lady telling my workers what to do? Why doesn't she ask me?"

When the workers failed to respond, no doubt principal Roni's anger grew, which was why she went to her leaders as well as the manager--instead of just the manager. Her impassioned plea won the day.

The manager may have felt they'd tied his hands, perhaps frustrated he was not able to make budget or whatever. He has his bosses to please and workers to pay.

What happened next is shrouded in closed-door school-board mystery. Possibly the manager had friends; possibly Roni stepped on toes in the process. Something went awry. She lost her job.

Resolution (the too-common over-reaction):

Should she have lost her job? If she'd been there eight years, probably not, but she might have stepped on so many toes that others used the opportunity to rally against her. The biggest loser here is everyone. The hero should have been conflict management.

The first step in this process should have been the parent approaching the cafeteria manager: "I'm really sorry I forgot to pay. I understand that must be frustrating not to have received compensation for your work. You deserve payment. Here it is. I get forgetful working two jobs. Is it possible that you can email (phone) me instead of stamping my child? Surely there's a way to send a mass electronic phone call or emails to us forgetful types. My daughter has felt humiliated."

And then Ms. Roni could have done some conflict management, not to mention the superintendent and the school board. The higher up you are, and the longer you've been in the field, the better at this skill you should be. Education is an intersection of many types. There will be conflict. Why aren't leadership better prepared? It seems everyone's reaction is "My way or the highway!" and "Heads will roll!", not "How can we put our heads together and come up with a working solution?"

This isn't to say I'm a superstar at conflict, nor do we humans not make mistakes, but somewhere along the process, someone has to say, "Yes, I see what you're saying. How can we work this out?" Stop it before it gets out of hand. As John Lennon might have said: Give peace a chance.

Heart and Hardness (the benefits of pain):

Also, interesting is that we feel it necessary to shelter kids from feeling pain. I  no longer speak of the child's stamp, but in general. Can pain benefit us? If we touch the stove, we may learn not to do so again (probably the cafeteria's philosophy). Children exposed to bacteria tend to have healthier immune systems. The question that should most concern us:  Does our over-protection of children make them feel privilege, as if they were owed something that they are not, creating spoiled generation?

The most important benefit of pain may be empathy. We need empathy to support one another through troubles. I vaguely recall a quote by Flannery O'Connor that writers can start writing stories once they've exited high school because by then they've experienced a complete set of emotions. I could not find it. If it exists, it is probably from her letters or Mysteries and Manners.

The smarter path for teachers and parents is to balance both heart (protection) and hardness (let them feel some pain). Of course, it is a question of where the fulcrum should lie.  When do we give, when not? The answer probably springs from the answer to "Is what we're doing preparing the young people to become the next guardians of children, neighborhoods, schools, cities, nations, planet?"

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