“Don’t Tell Your Parents” Part 3: The Weird Beard Incident, an Idiot Dean, and Ballistic Parents

Let me make something clear: I don’t need, I don’t even want, to know every detail of my children’s lives. I don’t need to know if my daughter gets 3 ticks against her name in one day at school (if she gets 4, I’ll know because she will be serving a detention). I don’t need to know if a teacher threw a tantrum if it is something she can take in her stride, knowing from experience that all adults have bad days. By now I would in fact expect her to know that teachers are human, and while ideally they would have no mode other than Shining Example, there are times when they will simply be in rotten moods – just like there are days when she snarls and when her mother erupts and spews. But when she was small and a teacher’s behavior scared her, she always should have been able to tell me about it without fear. Then we could have talked about it and turned the incident into a teachable moment. But when talking about an incident is prohibited, that all too often means that there is something really wrong, which is exemplified in the particular experience, or the “don’t tell” command is a warning that those in authority are not to be trusted.

Let’s look at the weird beard  and Duke cases [see yesterday’s post] and consider the difference the “Don’t tell your parents” command made.

I can imagine several scenarios for the aftermath of the weird beard exercise. The kids were not, it seems, distressed by the shaving itself. Thus I imagine half of them at least responding to the “how was school today?” interrogation with the typical one word answer: “fine.” Now consider the more talkative ones’ answer: “Mr. McLane had 3 girls shave off his beard and then we had to write essays about it.” There would be some parents who, distracted by traffic and a screaming infant, would have said, “That’s nice, dear,” and that would have been that. Some might have said, “Yeah, right. I don’t know why you insist on making up stories about your teacher.” And a few would have taken their kids seriously and asked for details. And then maybe they would have put a call into the teacher.

This is likely the possibility that worried McLane and led to the Christmas party threat, for how could he have explained such an odd event. Would he have said, “The kids have been pestering me about my beard all year so I told them if they didn’t like it they could shave it off.” Or perhaps, “The kids are writing essays about what they think various jobs would be like. This week barbering was the topic. Next week they are going to consider what a dental assistant’s day is like. I plan to ask several to floss my teeth. Other careers they will explore are stripper/pole dancer and proctologist.”

The point is: he knew what he was doing was creepy whether the kids did or not. So he had to issue the “Don’t tell your parents or you’ll sit out the Christmas party” threat. And if you think about it, the threat itself would have been a hard one to carry out. Surely there would have been a room mother bringing in cupcakes. How exactly would he have explained why one or two of the kids weren’t allowed to participate in the party: “Don’t give Mary any treats. She told on me.”? But 8-year olds don’t consider how their teacher would explain his actions to their parents. Who knows? Maybe none of the kids would have thought the shaving episode interesting enough to report to their parents. What did him in was the distress caused by “Don’t tell your parents” or else.

I haven’t seen a follow up to the January article about the weird beard incident. At that time the teacher was back in the classroom. A fifth of his students’ parents had requested  transfers for their kids. Maybe next year the principal will tell his teachers not to dare tell kids what they can and can’t tell mom and dad.

The Duke situation is bizarre too. The administrator who told the athletes not to talk about the accusations made against several of their teammates, Dean Sue Wasiolek, apparently thought the whole thing could be hushed up with the aid of a lawyer whose license  had been suspended for 3 years for ethics violations and who “was careful never to enter into a formal attorney-client relationship with most or all of the players” (complaint paras 170, 173).

Get real, woman. Maybe if one of the player’s parents were doing fieldwork in Mongolia they would never have needed to know what was happening in Durham. Maybe.

I’d like to know how many of these 18, 19, 20, or 21 year-old men actually obeyed her and the coach who relayed her directive. One must have disobeyed because a number of parents learned about the situation — which began the night of March 13-14 2006  — when a lawyer who “independently learned” of the “plan for uncounseled interrogations” called them in the “middle of the night” of March 21-22 (complaint para 199) — over a week later.

Let’s consider the scenario had the “Don’t tell your parents” idiocy not occurred. Some of the men might have called their parents for advice or emotional support. I imagine a number of the players – maybe most — wouldn’t have,  hoping like the Dean that it would all blow over and figuring what their parents didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. And that’s fine. These are adults. They can tell their parents what they please. Moreover, they – and their teammates — had, it was later proven, done nothing more serious than attend a rowdy party, and in the beginning no one could have anticipated how nasty things would get.

Then the story broke. I imagine the uninformed parents calling their sons and reading them the riot act for not telling them what was going on, for their having to find out about it on the news or in the middle of the night from a lawyer they had never met. As it happened, the sons were spared their parents’ fury. When the media blitz hit or the lawyer called and angry parents demanded explanations, the sons could justly blame Dean Sue and their coach.

Still,  I hope some at least then heard, “Haven’t I said time and time again if someone in authority tells you not to tell, then TELL!!”

Ballistic parents, Duke: That is what “Don’t tell your parents” wrought.

I wonder if the outrage that the parents feel toward Duke was exponentially heightened by that 4-word command. I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of dollars it will cost the University.

I wonder if anyone will learn — even if they don’t care about the ethics and morality of the issue — just how damaging that phrase can be.

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