Kamloops This Week has reported on a situation in a Kamloops Elementary School which has pitted an 8-year-old girl and her mother against the girl’s teacher, principal, and, by extension the policies enacted by the SD73 Board of Education.
It is conflicts like these that provide opportunity to examine the process of making rational decisions that impact a wide variety of people with conflicting views. If you take a few moments to read the comments below the article at KTW, you will quickly realize that there are people who strongly support the student and her mother and those who strongly support the teacher and principal.
It is not my intent here to declare one side right or wrong, but to explain the factors that I would consider in making a decision.
Some of you will remember the bumbling detective Lt. Columbo from the TV series. Instead of coming at difficult issues with bold pronouncements and more bluster than intelligence, Columbo would simply ask questions. Lots of questions. The questions that he would ask were designed to probe and explore the claims being made, and in the process, suss out the truth of the matter.
So how would Columbo’s process fit with headscarves in elementary school? The questions to ask are intended to explore the rationale for the different claims being made. For example:
- How did the administration (teacher/principal/BoE) come to the conclusion that headwear should not be worn in a classroom?
- Are the reasons given for not allowing headwear good reasons? Why or why not?
- Are the conditions that led to the policy still relevant today?
- Are the rationales based on false assumptions?
- What does the mother mean by her daughters ‘right to express herself’? Is self-expression a right?
Notice that these questions are not related to how much we like a particular viewpoint, but on collecting and evaluating evidence.
Just the facts Ma’am
Once the evidence is gathered, it is important to make decisions based on that evidence and not on other factors. Factors that are irrelevant to this discussion might include:
- personal characteristics of any of the people involved such as where they are from, whether they are likable or not, their age, religion, ethnic background, and so on.
- the preferences or biases (we are all biased) of those making the decision.
- any number of ‘what if?’ scenarios. We can all imagine a multitude of counter-factual arguments (what if she distracts other students?) Sometimes these are valid considerations, often they are not.
- inflammatory statements or questions. (Do you feel like a real man now?)
Factors that are relevant might include the actual impact of headwear in class on:
- student learning.
- gang activity.
- distractions in class.
- respectful student-teacher interactions.
- spreading lice.
Anyone else? Anyone? Anyone…?
The consideration of alternate viewpoints or solutions is important in the process of refining our response to the conflict. This includes considering not only both sides’ views, but also the views of those who have no stake in the outcome. These disinterested parties can provide much-needed objectivity to the process.
It is also important to consider alternate policies that might solve the same problem.
- If the rationale for not allowing headwear is to prevent the spread of head lice, is an outright ban (except for religious headwear…) the best solution? Is it an effective solution? Would it be better to educate children and their families about lice and that it is important to not share headwear?
- If the rationale for not allowing headwear is to ensure that students are learning, is there any evidence that wearing a hat or hoodie or scarf actually prevents learning? Would it be a better use of resources to support teachers in planning engaging and effective learning experiences?
The process I’ve outlined above probably isn’t exhaustive, but it provides a place to start. I base my comments on the following assumptions:
- the importance of earned mutual respect in classroom interactions,
- the importance of using data and evidence in decision-making,
- the danger of making decisions based on emotional biases and false assumptions, and,
- the foundational skills of critical thinking that we ought to model for our students.
Comments and questions are welcome!