School misses a chance for real learning

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Taylor Pugh is a four year old in pre-kindergarten in Mesquite, TX. He hasn’t been to class since November.

His school has placed him on in-school suspension as his parents tangle with the school board over the length of his hair, which reaches his collar and is in violation of the district’s dress code policy. The district offered to allow him to keep his hair in braids if he would keep it from growing past his ears. His parents refused, and things are now at an impasse.

The school board claims it’s dress code is necessary because “students who dress and groom themselves neatly, and in an acceptable and appropriate manner, are more likely to become constructive members of the society in which we live.” That’s a reasonable argument. Except Pugh’s hair doesn’t in any way violate that standard. As far as I know, no one has suggested that Pugh’s hair is dirty or unkempt. It doesn’t smell funny or have lice. It’s just a little longer than most boys’.

The battle over men’s hair is just silly. It was silly in the 1960s and it’s silly now. I thought we’d all accepted that some guys like to wear their hair long and moved on. Apparently not.

The Mesquite school district is behaving absurdly. In the name of fostering a positive educational environment, it’s isolating a child over something as unthreatening as the length of his hair. It’s standing tough against something that’s not hurting anyone.

Ordinarily, it’s best to err on the side of schools. Educators have some of the toughest jobs in this country, and they deserve the benefit of the doubt most of the time. But sometimes, the rules just don’t make sense. Sometimes they get in the way of real learning.

Pugh does plan to cut his hair at some point: when it gets long enough to be donated to a charity that makes wigs for cancer patients.

Pugh’s school should be celebrating his conscientiousness, not punishing it. This is an opportunity to teach children about charity and giving. It’s a chance to show young students that in a world that can be scary and cold—a world many of these kids already know too well—there are ways to help those who are less fortunate. That’s a lesson a school would be lucky to teach.

“I miss my friends,” Pugh recently said. The Mesquite school board should let him come back to class. When his hair gets long enough, his teachers, his parents, and his friends should all be there when he gives it to charity.

Nathaniel French is a junior theater major. He can be reached for comment at nfrench@smu.edu.

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