In Grand Junction, Colorado, Caprock Academy student Kamryn Renfro was banned from attending her school after shaving her head in support of a friend undergoing chemotherapy to treat neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancer. Academy administrators told Renfro’s family that they would not permit the little girl to return to class after spring break because her shaved head violated a school dress code requiring that female students’ hair to be “neatly combed or styled. No shaved heads.”
This is obviously the kind of anomalous situation that calls for, indeed screams out for, a compassionate exception. Any school administrator who couldn’t see that is not just unqualified for his or her post, but not sufficiently intelligent or rational to be trusted with the welfare of children, or, I would say, to take tolls in the Lincoln Tunnel. If there really were a competition to see which enforcement of a “no-tolerance policy” would stand as the most outrageous of all time, I would suspect that this would be an entree. (It still wouldn’t win, though.)
As with many of these astounding examples of human cruelty and incompetence at work, this incident doesn’t even serve the school’s own interests. Terrible publicity is assured: anger from parents, cancer support groups, and the community is guaranteed, as is abuse and mockery from the national media and blogosphere. How can supposedly educated and responsible professionals be so foolish? How can people so foolish be involved in a field that would seem to require better quality of thought, like education?
It is a continuing mystery, but many of these fiascos could be avoided if the Ethics Incompleteness Principle were studied, learned and understood by anyone who may have to enforce a rule some day. I’ll republish the whole description from the Ethics Alarms glossary, just in case any aspiring school administrators are reading, especially those who might want to torture young children some day:
The Ethics Incompleteness Principle: Czech-born mathematician Kurt Gödel’s two Incompleteness Theorems, which relate to mathematical proofs, are the inspiration for this observation that applies to normative rules, systems, moral codes, laws and other principles. The human language is not sufficiently precise to define a rule that will achieve its desired effects, that is work, in every instance. There are always anomalies around the periphery of every normative system, no matter how sound or well articulated. If one responds to an anomaly by trying to amend the rule or system to accommodate it, the integrity of the rule or system is disturbed, and perhaps ruined. Yet if one stubbornly applies the rule or system without amendment to the anomaly anyway, one may reach an absurd conclusion or an unjust result. The Ethics Incompleteness Principle suggests that when a system or rule doesn’t seem to work well when applied to an unexpected or unusual situation, the wise response is to temporarily abandon the system or rule and return to basic principles to find the solution. No system or rule is going to work equally well with every possible scenario, which is why committing to a single system is folly, and why it is important to keep basic ethical values in mind in case a pre-determined formula for determining what is right breaks down.
The EIP tells us that no rule is perfect, and since that is true, “no-tolerance” policies and strict enforcement of any measure, no matter how generally reasonable, are doomed to create ridiculous scenarios like publicly punishing a little girl for wanting to support a cancer-stricken friend. In this case, however, the Eithics Incompleteness Principle should not have been necessary. All that was required is some compassion, common sense and humanity by those on charge, and those qualities were lacking.
Facts: Raw Story
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