I want to applaud officials at Iroquois High School for their anti-twerking stance.
It’s not easy in the era of Instagram and instant gratification, where an endless variety of porn is available to any teen with a cellphone (i.e., all of them), to take a stand for limits, taste and decorum. But officials at Iroquois have, admirably, constructed a small dam against the rising tide.
Ya gotta draw a line in the sand somewhere. And barring teens from bumping, ‘bodily grinding’ and simulated-sex moves at high school dances seems to me like a reasonable place. If the kids want to twerk in the privacy of their own homes, presumably while Mom and Dad are out, there’s not much – as any parent dishearteningly knows – anybody can do about it.
But official sanction of public displays of partner-bumping isn’t something school districts ought to condone. Unless school curriculum has been expanded to include a course on pole dancing, in which case State Ed has more on its hands than tweaking Common Core standards.
An apparently over-zealous display by a student couple at an October dance prompted Iroquois officials to recently issue a “New Dance Rules” edict. It codifies not just acceptable dance moves, but underlines the obvious zero-tolerance alcohol policy. Kids have to pass through an alcohol sensor to get into a dance. That doesn’t preclude anybody from stuffing a flask in his pants, or popping prescription drugs. But it seems like a decent check-and-deterrent.
The 11 dance-conduct rules are not on historic par with, say, the 10 Commandments. But they mark a valiant effort to let the good times roll, without any kid getting collared for public lewdness, collapsing in an alcoholic stupor or otherwise doing something he or she will regret on Monday morning.
What’s not to like?
Granted, laying down the law for high school dances seems like shouting into a hurricane, in an age when teen courting often includes cellphone pics of private parts. Social media, cable TV and pop culture has pushed societal boundaries to the point where the once-obscene is now normal. If Ozzie and Harriet were time-warped to network TV 2016, she’d be mouthing slang terms for his junk. Somehow, I don’t think the world would be a better place.
It’s hard to make a pro-morality argument without sounding like a prude, fogey or fundamentalist. Or acknowledging that much of this is beyond parent or teacher control. Teens navigate a social jungle the dimensions of which parents and teachers can barely imagine. Which doesn’t mean that rules should disappear, standards should evaporate and adults should stop trying.
That is precisely Dennis Kenney’s point. The Iroquois High principal raised three sons and has spent 35 years educating kids. He’s not afraid of looking eye-rollingly old-fashioned, in service to a larger cause. Hence, the “Dance Rules” (iroquoiscsd.org).
“They won’t say it, but deep down, I think adolescents appreciate structure,” Kenney told me by phone. “In a building of 900 students, you have to have rules and accountability. But you also want the kids to enjoy themselves.”
In the course of raising two now 20-something daughters, I attended my share of prom-related events and Charity Ball affairs. I’m more familiar than I’d like to be with tales of classmate over-indulgence, embarrassment and regret. Peer pressure is a powerful force, alcohol smothers social anxiety and it’s hard not to make-like-Miley when pop stars set behavioral standards, for better or worse.
Imposing self-evident anti-alcohol rules and drawing a no-twerking boundary may seem like feeble gestures against the pop-culture tide. But ignoring the outrageous and inappropriate sends an implicit message that it’s all OK, that there are no rules, that anything goes. As much as teenagers moan about not being ‘understood’ and groan (often justifiably) about clueless adults, I think that they subconsciously appreciate lines being drawn, boundaries set.
“Obviously, we can’t control everything, there’s always pushback,” Kenney said. “But if I think it’s the right thing for kids, I do it.”
Rock on, Mr. Kenney.