The Wild Hair

RedHairWhat do Back to School and Hair have to do with each other? Apparently quite a lot. This year’s call back to the classroom has been peppered with stories about students who have been sent home because of their hair — color, style, length — anything is a target, and an alarming trend.

Hayleigh Black was sent home from school for her “disruptive” hair color on the first day of school her junior year. The problem I have with the school making this particular decision is two-fold. First — Hayleigh dyed her hair to the current color three years prior, so the school system has had ample opportunity to advise her the color was too bright. Why wait three years before taking action??? Second — the highly contradictory statements by Muscle Shoals superintendent Brian Lindsey.

The principal is just following the policy. Several girls were sent home for hair color.

The policy was put in place years ago and it very rarely ever comes up as an issue.

Not to be rude, but which is it? If it rarely comes up, then why were “several girls” sent home for hair color?

Hayleigh’s story lead me to that of Amber Campbell, a high school junior last year, who in November (two months after the start of school) was suspended for not toning down her natural hair color. When Amber stated that it was her natural hair color, the school basically called her a liar and suspended her until she complied with the policy. This is a situation where a quick trip through school pictures should tell the tale, but even so, why would it take the school two months to decide that someone’s hair color was disruptive?

Okay, so both of those examples were about hair color… what about style? Enter twelve-year-old Vanessa VanDyke who was told she could be expelled if she didn’t either cut her hair or straighten it. Kids had been teasing Vanessa about her hair, and her response was that she likes it because it makes her unique. Or we could look at seven-year-old Tiana Parker who was told her dreads were unacceptable, though she had worn the same hair style the previous year.

And what about the most current story about five-year-old Malachi Wilson, a Navajo on his father’s side and Kiowa on his mother’s side, who was sent home on his first day of kindergarten for having hair that was too long. The irony? His school is the home of the Seminole Indians, and on the side of the gym it states, “Welcome to the Tribe.” The school wanted the five-year-old to tuck his long hair down his shirt. Add to this the case of Kamryn Renfro, the nine-year-old who cut her hair to support her friend with cancer who lost her hair and we see that these are not isolated incidents, but an increasingly prevalent concern.

The biggest concern I have with these issues is the trend toward a totalitarian society they signify. I have probably said this before, but if I haven’t … our hair is one of the easiest things we can change to help us express ourselves. Whenever we feel the need for a change, most people start with a change of hairstyle. Why? Because hair grows. We can cut it, color it, straighten it, curl it — do whatever we want to express a portion of who we are. It says something about us. Hayleigh colors hers red to help show she’s not just a good student, Vanessa likes how her puffiness makes her unique, Malachi wants to honor his heritage, Kamryn made a statement to support a friend, and I add pink to my hair for a variety of reasons — the latest of which is in celebration of beating cancer. How do any of these things detract from the ability to learn in school?

Because to me, that’s one of the more frightening aspects of this trend. We are deliberately putting policies in place to reduce the differences between students rather than putting policies in place to help acknowledge and celebrate the differences between students to help promote more widespread acceptance. When you are taught not to be different, then you are taught not to accept what IS different. When you are taught not to be different, you are taught to fear things which are different. Fear has been bred by ignorance. Vanessa has been teased by her classmates because her hair is different. Maybe if all her classmates hair were different, there would be nothing to tease her about because she would have been accepted as being different because that was the “normal” thing to be.

I can’t help but think school policies are going in the wrong direction. I understand they are trying to promote learning by minimizing distractions, but does that really serve our students well? I’ll give you the potential need at the elementary level, but honestly fail to see how Tiana’s dreads or Malachi’s long hair could be a distraction, except that it has now been made an issue by the school administrators. So for Malachi, the issue was created by the administration and his classmates are aware he didn’t attend the first day because of his hair. NOW it’s a distraction it otherwise would not have been. However, in upper levels of school, especially by high school, we should be preparing students to enter the world of adulthood. And adulthood is dominated by distractions. If we have not trained our students how to focus on the task at hand despite the distractions, how will they effectively be able to enter the work place? In my job, I have distractions occur all the time. If I got thrown off by the distractions and allowed it to throw me off track, I wouldn’t have my job. We should welcome the opportunity for kids to continue learning in an environment filled with distractions because it helps them learn how to block them out and better prepares them for college and ultimately the work place. And truthfully, the color, style, or length of someone’s hair would only be a temporary distraction at best.

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