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July 26, 2006, Volume 13 Nr. 50, Issue 218

Banning Body Jewelry.  
Stretching Ear Lobes While Shrinking Free Speech

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

The neo-cons who have high-jacked the United States government continue straight-jacketing the nation with their ideology.  The corporate ethic rules.  Corporate icons are everywhere, appearing as celebrities, philanthropists, military experts, even educators, paragons of fame and success.  The corporate climate is pervasive.  Pin-stripped, clean cut, meticulously coifed, the business set tells us how to behave, what to think, what to wear, what is and what is not acceptable.  The corporationist mindset permeates the schools.  A recent example is the Arlington, Texas, school district ban on excessive body jewelry and other items.  The website article entitled, "School District Bans Mouth Jewelry. Other Items.  Grills, Other Fads Banned From Arlington Schools", quotes school board trustee, Gloria Pena, that the reason for the student ban is,

We want to instill in them a sense of modesty and a sense of community.  We're preparing them for the work force, and in the work force there are rules.

One has to give Ms. Pena some credit.  She is truthful in assessing the main reason why state schools exist, that is, to create cogs from students for the neo-liberal machine that best takes advantage of their surplus labor value.  Who cares about education when rules such as workers' dress codes, are on the line?  Since when do the schools determine what "modesty" is.  Is the Arlington school district, when it lets military recruiters propagandize and deceive its students, concerned about the indecency of their deception?

Ms. Pena is not being completely honest with her students as huge numbers of jobs, for which her school district is supposedly preparing its students for, are heading offshore, to Asia, Mexico, etc.  While the Arlington school district is heavy-handedly serving up the rules by which students must function in the U.S. job marketplace, the corporate masters are eliminating them.  Talk about immodest.  And, many of the jobs Ms. Pena is preparing her students for are heading to countries where body jewelry is common.  

The February, 2004, issue of the International Herald Tribune reports that,

Software developers who earn $60 an hour in the United States get $6 in India; data entry agents who cost $20 an hour in Topeka run $2 in Calcutta.

Ms. Pena, you should consider getting a nose piercing as a way of preserving your job.  Having body jewelry in today's off-shoring job marketplace appears to be a positive asset.  Just wait, Ms. Pena.  Your job and your teachers' positions are about to be eliminated.  You are going to be replaced by foreign educators and teachers with body jewelry!  These other fad-endowed educators and teachers even have the audacity of speakong English correctly.  Unlike "Texan" G.W. Bush, they can pronounce the word "nuclear" properly and not mangle verb tenses.  G.W. Bush said, "If our country fails in its responsibility to educate every child, were likely to fail in many other areas."  This explains why the Bush administration is such a failure.  The above sentence is copied directly from the White House webpage on July 26, 2006.  It incorrectly uses the word "were", instead of the contraction, "we're" or the words "we are".  Touché, George.  Modeling being educated is the least of your skills.  The following two quotes by G.W. Bush on education speak volumes:

We want our teachers to be trained so they can meet the obligations, their obligations as teachers. We want them to know how to teach the science of reading. In order to make sure there's not this kind of federal—cufflink.

One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures.

Ban It All

Malcolm Turner, the Arlington, Texas, school district's student services director gave another, seemingly more plausible rationale, for the student mouth and body jewelry ban:

The district is having to respond to fads because they've become distracters or a safety hazard for those around them.  

School administrators and many teachers are intimidated by students who dare to be themselves, who culturally identify themselves outside the system's dominant paradigm, and who dare to express themselves.  The real hazard to getting an education is not student body jewelry.  The hazard is the lessening of student freedom in the name of getting an education.  Unless, of course, the lesson is that state control and uniformity trumps individualism.  

If the professional educators have their way, the brave new world that’s coming will be a hostile environment for anyone with a sharp wit and a wiseass attitude.  (Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone, Gene Healy.  

Controlling students is not limited to banning jewelry.  It includes banning foreign languages.  In Kansas City, a student was suspended from school for speaking Spanish.  The Washington Post on December 9, 2005, printed an article (Spanish At School Translates to Suspension) by its staff reported T.R. Reid:

Most of the time, 16-year-old Zach Rubio converses in clear, unaccented American teen-speak, a form of English in which the three most common words are "like," "whatever" and "totally." But Zach is also fluent in his dad's native language, Spanish -- and that's what got him suspended from school.

Imagine it.  Getting suspended for speaking a foreign language, perhaps, the dominant language spoken at home.  You would think that educators would pat students on the back for being bi-lingual.  Again, it is a matter of control.  Since most teachers and school administrators don't speak Spanish, they don't understand what Spanish-speaking students are saying.  When I was a student, I spoke Polish.  Many students spoke Italian.  So what?  Imagine what might happen if a student were to wear mouth jewelry and speak a foreign language?

Benjamin Dowling-Sendor writing in a column on school law for the American School Board Journal on-line, states,

as the Supreme Court stressed in Tinker, school officials can regulate or ban expressive conduct by students only if their forecast of disruption rests on substantive facts, not on mere speculative fear of disruption.

Where is the disruption caused by mouth jewelry at the Arlington, Texas, schools?  Where is the disruption when students speak a foreign language?  There is none.  The Arlington school district, like the rest of the "No Child Left Behind" indoctrination youth centers, says it is preparing its students for the "real world".  That is, it is their mission to create obedient consumers.

During my 30-year teaching career, I recall one student coming to school everyday dressed in combat boots, fatigues, flamboyant earring and what some teachers considered, "provocative" tee shirts.  His skinhead appearance troubled some of the staff, as did the music that he listened to.  That was their problem.  Today, this fine member of the community in which he was once a student, is a successful family and business man.  His unique food products are popular and highly praised.  He is a baker of fine specialty breads.  

Given a choice between banning expressions of free speech out of fear of disruption in school, and protecting free speech even if it may be disruptive, I chose the latter.  The author Salmon Rushdie said, 

What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.

We, in the United States, have become afraid of being offended.  We are offended by body jewelry, body piercing, foreign languages, dissent, questioning authority, non-Christian religions, no religion, socialism, anarchism, anything other than what resides in our suburban SUV-like comfort zones.  We are afraid of anything unfamiliar.  We attempt to control that which makes us uncomfortable.  Institutionalized control, however, necessitates the presence of fear.  And, institutionalized fear narrows people's options.  And that, of course, is the point.  Isn't it?  

Our schools are but a microcosm of what is taking place nationally.  The Bush regime routinely uses fear to push through its agenda.  And, we the people, have allowed our fears to let the neo-cons have their way.  We are told to accept perpetual war for perpetual peace.  And when the people object a bit too much we can expect another dose of fear.  David Cogswell writes, 

When the population starts to feel a little too free, and bold enough to question its rulers, another attack or two should straighten the rabble out. (Bush's Trifecta: Control Through Fear, June 29, 2002)

Schools are the training grounds for adult behavior.  An inculcation of fear in early life creates pliant adults that accept whatever line the State spews out.  Today, in July, 2006, half the United States population surveyed, still states that Iraq had weapons of destruction.  Fear makes people stupid.  Fear takes away freedom.  To the Arlington School District, I say, "Teachers, leave those kids alone".

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski is co-editor and co-publisher of Metaphoria along with his life partner and wife, JeanneE.  He is 30-year veteran retired teacher and a member of Veterans For Peace.  His writings have appeared in Metaphoria, After Downing Street, Buzzflash, Counterpunch, Thomas Paine's Corner,, Omni Center, Rutland Herald, Times Argus, and others.  

©2006 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

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