Never take a dare in the land of the politically correct
Tim Whyte · June 8, 1997
We're going to talk about sex here today, so if you're offended by words like "bra," "kiss" or "Jolly Rancher," please turn the page now.
OK. I think we're alone now. Did you hear what little Kyle Smith did? He was sitting behind this girl in an assembly at school. There was a fellow Peachland Elementary School student sitting in front of him, and -- parents, cover your eyes -- her B-R-A was showing.
Actually, to be more specific, her bra strap was showing. You know. She was wearing a little off-the-shoulder number, I guess. And her bra strap was showing.
Kyle was sitting with a friend, a fellow sixth-grader who noticed the strip of strap, and the friend dared Kyle: If Kyle said something to the girl about her unintentional exposure of an undergarment, the friend would give him three -- count 'em, three -- Jolly Rancher candies.
You know how it is with a dare. Any somewhat-doable dare untaken is tantamount to an admission that one is a sissy, a pansy, a banjo hitter.
Kyle took it.
"Nice bra," he said.
Haw haw haw haw haw.
Now. That wasn't a very nice thing to say, and it was a juvenile thing to do, as juveniles are prone to do. And if the girl was embarrassed, or her feelings hurt, it's the kind of thing that should prompt a trip to the principal's office and a scolding, followed by an apology.
In my day, that's exactly what would have happened, and I dare say we did and said worse things to the few sixth-grade girls who had the good fortune to possess the prerequisites for brassieres.
We were insensitive punks, and it's a good thing the statute of limitations has expired on bra snapping.
Kids in my sixth-grade class -- never me, I swear -- were occasionally caught snapping girls' bra straps, an altogether vicious means of inflicting pain. If we had committed a relatively minor offense, like saying, "Nice bra, hyuk hyuk hyuk," and the girl was offended to the point of turning us in to the Highlands Elementary gendarmes, we would have been called to the principal's office for a little intimidation and a warning that, if there were repeat offenses, we'd receive a stiffer penalty.
But in the Newhall School District, they rule with an iron fist. Kyle was brought up on the grade school equivalent of sexual harassment charges and tried, convicted and sentenced without so much as a Miranda warning.
And, in compliance with the district's politically correct sexual harassment policy, Kyle was suspended from school.
Heck, if he'd snapped her bra, he'd probably be doing five to ten in a California Youth Authority slammer. In that respect, I guess Kyle was lucky: It was only a one-day suspension. But, unfortunately for Kyle, the formal punishment is the kind of thing that will probably go on his PERMANENT RECORD, which may be technically considered confidential, but these things have a way of falling into the wrong hands -- you know, maybe a clever human resources manager catches and unwitting clerk on the phone. Next thing you know, he's blackballed in the aerospace industry.
"Thank you for applying for the design engineer position at ACME Aircraft, Mr. Smith, but we checked your PERMANENT RECORD and it seems you have a history of sexual harassment. We frown upon that sort of behavior here at ACME, so we suggest you find other employment."
Which, of course, would send young Mr. Smith into the only profession in which such a black mark on his PERMANENT RECORD will not count against him: Journalism.
All of this is the height of silliness. In the wake of the Jolly Rancher incident, Kyle's dad, Craig, has urged school officials to review the sexual harassment policy, aptly described by Mr. Smith as political correctness run amok. A kid who says, "Nice bra," is more sternly punished than a schoolyard bully.
And it's not even like Kyle was making a sexual advance toward the girl. Not even so much as an unsolicited kiss. He was just trying to get his Jolly Ranchers. (By the way: I wonder what flavor?) In my day, we didn't get our Jolly Ranchers that way, but that's another story.
Anyway. The school district didn't call Mr. Smith to talk it over, and Kyle wasn't given a chance to make restitution via an apology. He was sent home with a suspension notice that said he was being suspended for "making verbal comments about a girl's personal clothing (bra) that has sexual connotations."
Let's be crystal clear: I am not advocating what Kyle did. In any day and age, it's not OK for kids to behave this way toward each other. However, the punishment should fit the crime. In our zeal to provide an educational and work atmosphere where people feel comfortable and unthreatened, we have taken the definition of "sexual harassment" to an absurd extreme. The punishments can be career-threatening, or, as in this case, silly.
Kyle Smith now has a black mark on his PERMANENT RECORD for saying two words: "Nice bra." A suspension for saying "nice bra" is akin to getting the gas chamber for cheating on your taxes. The Newhall School District has gone too far.
Of course, that's good for the newspaper business. After all, our local schools are going to be churning out plenty of journalists.
Tim Whyte is the magaging editor of
The Signal. His commentary appears on Sundays.
© 1997, THE SIGNAL -- ALL RIGHTS RESERVED