In his column a week ago, Leonard Pitts had this to say:
Sometimes — times of pain, times of commiseration, times of affection, times of joy — you just need to be held. So I was appalled to read this week about a school in Texas — Fossil Hill Middle in Fort Worth — where students are banned from hugging or even holding hands. And it turns out Fossil Hill is not the only one.
From Bend, Ore., to Oak Park, Ill., to Des Moines, Iowa, to Orlando, Fla., to, believe it or not, Cornwall, England, schools are banning hugs. Some say it’s because hugging creates congestion in the halls. But there are others who say these ”PDAs” — public displays of affection — are a gateway to sexual harassment.
My, my, my.
Honey, chill out
No one is pro-sexual harassment or, for that matter, pro-hallway congestion. But surely there are better solutions.
We’re not talking about kids groping and making out. We are talking about hugs. To hug is to reach across. It is to reaffirm common humanity. That is a powerful instinct.
Now the hug joins that long list of banned things. I guess kids who need consolation, kids primed for celebration, kids who just want to know that they are not alone will henceforth have to write text messages instead.
And progress marches on.
What Mr. Pitts did not talk about was what this school ban of hugs is really based on: fear of adolescent sexuality. Hugs can be amazingly sensual, sexy things. And administrators don’t want that in their hallways. But hugs are, as Mr. Pitts points out, also amazingly human.
And we must not dehumanize the school building more than it already is – with guards, metal detectors, regular locker searches, concrete yards, no windows in the classrooms. It sounds more like a prison than a school. And now we’re beginning to regulate genuine, humanizing touch between the young people at these institutions.
Perhaps what we need is more hugs, not less. Perhaps we need to recognize the humanity, including the need for physical touch, that exists in young people, rather than lock them away and treat them as though they are criminals.
When Asa Coon terrorized and shot his teachers and fellow students in Cleveland yesterday, it was not because he had experienced a shared humanity, or perhaps a shared anything, with them. Rather, it was because he had experienced violence as the solution in his personal life, he was ostracized, he felt excluded and laughed at. There is, of course, no excuse for what Mr. Coon did. Nevertheless, it is critical that we pay attention to what was behind his actions so that no one else chooses to take those same actions again.
Because here’s the thing: we don’t need more metal detectors, as has been called for in Cleveland. We need to make sure that teachers, counselors, students, everyone will reach out to anyone in pain. A person who is that angry, that full of grief and loneliness, will always find a way through any but the most extreme safety measures. And as Mr. Pitts says elsewhere in his column:
I’m just not convinced what we gain is worth all that we lose.