Monday, January 24, 2011

Steelers Jersey Story, Last Time

10 days ago, I sent the following letter to the publisher and the editor of The News Tribune. To this point, I've gotten no response.

I wonder if you could tell me about the decision to make that such a prominent story (Top Story on the web site; front page, below the fold).

I'm discouraged to find it in TNT. While I know that a lot of people routinely unleash stridency in the comment section, if you look at those comments, you'll see they are particularly vitriolic. These comments, then, strengthen the impression that this story invokes serious authority-disorder bias (in this variant, constructing drama and conflict by the 'revelation' that the authorities are out of order--AM), and thus begins my real disappointment.

The schools are an easy target. And it's way too easy to frame a story in such a way that the school looks really bad. I can assure you of several things, though. My daughter confirmed that the school announced several times through the week that it was Seahawk garb only. Schools have several of those "spirit" days where they relax this or that dress code element. I'm sure they repeated several times, and nearly all understood--likely even the subject of The News Tribune's story-- the parameters. I can also assure you that a lot of kids complain about wearing the uniforms (my kids went through Truman) and wish for such relaxations. A lot of kids want more of this relaxation. The school leadership likes to use such special days as a reward, because most kids hew to the line really well for the vast majority of the year. Indeed, Truman has (or at least used to have) a behavior/citizenship incentive that has some opportunities for relaxed dress as one of the rewards. Further, I can tell you that if (now, likely when) they cancel such days, many (including some parents) will complain.

So, school leaders are reviled (by some) because of the uniform demands. They are reviled by others (look at the comments on the article site) because they occasionally relax those demands. Still others want more of those periodic relaxations.

And one 'violator's' personal story is way too easily constructed to make the school leadership appear ridiculous.

Obviously, I don't know this boy's story, but I will also tell you that there are plenty of kids at every school who push a little here, and stretch a little there. Do some thought experiments about other things he might have worn that violated, and imagine how the school should respond. What if he wore a polo with print? A polo with a Steeler's logo pinned on it? What if he wore a Seahawks jersey with a gang sign added to it? What if he wore Mariners--or Huskies, Cougars, etc.--jersey? The permutations go on. And some kids love to find those little angles and test them.

And, of course, when we enforce against that little push, the constant refrain is "I didn't do anything." So, here's a student who was in fact warned, then invited to change, then (and only then) sent home. He did do something. You may argue with the decision about allowing jerseys at all. You may argue with the allowance for only Seahawks jerseys. Fine...I may so argue. But given that (rather innocuous) decision, the student should follow that rule.

So, ultimately I'm discouraged that for his taking a stand on a fundamentally immaterial issue, you've facilitated this youngster getting his 15 minutes of fame.

(And, by the by, though I'm not assuming this of the student in this case, I can tell you there are plenty of kids who make such irrelevant stands on principle--or should I say, stands on irrelevant principle?--who don't make nearly such a stand on doing their school work, respecting others, etc.)

Finally, the schools have been looking bad for some time now. But you know as well as I do that plenty of good and hard-working teachers are sinking over at Baker (or whatever other failing school) for a whole lot of reasons way beyond the school's control. If journalism is supposed to check, monitor, watchdog, or comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable...whichever you choose, then tell this jersey story better.

Thanks. I know you get a lot of blowback on a lot of things about your coverage, so I appreciate you hearing mine. (As it turns out, I don't know if they did hear it.--AM)


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