It’s Gotten Better


At McK­int­ley High School, out­side of Boston, a new wave of equal­i­ty is tak­ing over the stu­dent body. After a tumul­tuous three years of increas­ing­ly emo­tion­al bul­ly­ing, cafe­te­ria and after school fights, eat­ing dis­or­ders and hier­ar­chies upon hier­ar­chies based on shirt or bracelet col­or, par­ents and stu­dents have had enough.

An over­whelm­ing out­cry from par­ents has flood­ed the PTA meet­ings in recent weeks. The par­ents’ atten­dance has been the largest for any school-relat­ed event ever. “Yes, usu­al­ly I’m work­ing late in the city,” says Shan­non Col­man, a cor­po­rate lawyer who leaves before her kids wake up and reg­u­lar­ly comes home after 9 PM, “but this is impor­tant. I need to ensure that when I pass my kids off to school, they be treat­ed as best as possible.”

“We’re bring­ing every­one up to the high­est com­mon denom­i­na­tor. We looked at what was going on,” says Prin­ci­pal Lennon, “and we’re now we’re imple­ment­ing a whole new set of guide­lines. We, as edu­ca­tors, need to rec­og­nize that the nat­ur­al pro­gres­sion of teach­ing chil­dren means that these chil­dren, they are all the same, and we don’t care if you’re black or white or rich or poor or have a severe learn­ing dis­abil­i­ty and prob­a­bly should­n’t be in the same class­es, every­one is in the same classes.”

For instance, all stu­dents have been placed in the advanced tracks for read­ing and writ­ing. While this has cer­tain­ly boost­ed the self-esteem of many stu­dents, it has result­ed in under qual­i­fied teach­ers strug­gling to teach strug­gling stu­dents. Lennon explains that, “while it’s impor­tant the kids learn, it’s more impor­tant they’re feel­ing they’re learning.”

McK­int­ley admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials went even fur­ther than just using the tra­di­tion­al equal­iz­ing tac­tics such as school uni­forms or con­sol­i­dat­ing water foun­tains. The dress code, or “ensem­ble pil­lars,” is based on the most recent Urban Out­fit­ters styles. Any­thing that is on an Urban Out­fit­ters man­nequin is allowed.

“Before,” says Prin­ci­pal Lennon, “the most pop­u­lar girls would be were wear­ing pur­ples and blues, and col­ors such as green were rel­e­gat­ed, were asso­ci­at­ed with the more qui­et kids. It’d be easy to pick out a nerd from a hot girl. Now, every­one is wear­ing hip col­ors and the lat­est cuts of jeans.” He shows me his own “ensem­ble” of chi­nos, a sol­id pur­ple shirt, wool pea coat and black and white kef­fiyeh. “Even me, the prin­ci­pal, feels cool like every­one else.”

Not every­one, though, can see the enlight­en­ment. “Look, this is ridicu­lous,” cries James Amer­son, a stuffy child psy­chol­o­gist at Har­vard spe­cial­iz­ing in low­er edu­ca­tion, “this isn’t help­ing any­one, least of all the chil­dren. Of course I don’t like how kids are emo­tion­al­ly tor­ment­ed, but the fix is not to make schools arti­fi­cial worlds of equal­i­ty, but rather to hold par­ents account­able, to make sure their kids aren’t jerks. No one is lis­ten­ing to me. It’s the par­en­t’s faults that they are let­ting their chil­dren be bad humans.” 

Mean­while, dur­ing recess at McK­int­ley, stu­dents are not allowed to talk to any one per­son for more than fif­teen min­utes at a time. Friend­ship Advi­sors roam the cafe­te­ria and hall­ways ensur­ing that close friend­ships do not form, which could lat­er mature into cliques. Fur­ther­more, to coun­ter­act dis­com­fort and bul­ly­ing that can arise from homo­sex­u­al rela­tion­ships, a “Full Court Kind­ness” pol­i­cy has been enact­ed. If any stu­dent, regard­less of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion or intent, hugs one per­son, they have to hug every­one. With­in three weeks, there was no more hugging.

“Please. Please let these kids form strong friend­ships and failed rela­tion­ships,” Amer­son goes on, “They’re going to be social aliens, or cod­dled adults. As soon as they receive a let­ter of rejec­tion or they don’t get hired, we’re going to have grown peo­ple weep­ing in the streets.”

Upcom­ing plans include giv­ing A’s to each stu­dent, plac­ing them all at the top of the class; adding the entire stu­dent body to the each sport teams’ ros­ter; sub­si­diz­ing fan­cy meals in the cafe­te­ria; stilts for short­er stu­dents; a 550-strong cast for A Cho­rus Line this spring; and, last­ly, blue col­ored con­tact lens­es, since, “[they] all deserve to be on an equal play­ing field of hav­ing some­one lost in their dra­mat­i­cal­ly soul­ful eyes.”

“It used to be that near­ly 30% of the kids were real­ly drag­ging down the school’s self-esteem quo­tient, but now it’s fair­ly nor­mal­ized, right at the top.” Prin­ci­pal Lennon cites the Line Dance Prom as a “the real deal” equal­iz­er. “There’s a very strict list of songs that can be played at our school dances. All stu­dents spend their gym peri­ods learn­ing dances to the songs so when played at the dance they all syn­chro­nize beau­ti­ful­ly. Some of our alter­na­tive­ly abled stu­dents do have to wear exoskele­tons to help them move, but still, every­one ends up look­ing like Ush­er.” The dances last for hours, allow­ing for each child’s solo in the mid­dle of a giant cir­cle made up of all the oth­er students. 

Shan­non Col­man is all for it. “It sounds like the right thing for my chil­dren,” Col­man says over the phone while rush­ing from her impor­tant office to a lunch-time ren­dezvous on the east side of town, “My chil­dren deserve to be as unique as every­one else.” ♦