Ethics Quiz: The Sixth Grade Dance

A furious mother is making an issue out of a Utah middle school’s policy requiring sixth-graders to agree acquiesce when a classmate asks them to dance.

Alicia Hobson’s 11-year-old daughter, Azlyn was asked to dance by a boy she thought was icky. She “politely” refused, but the principle at Rich Middle School in Laketown, Utah,  intervened, telling the couple to get out onto the dance floor. Was the boy short, fat, covered with acne, bad-smelling, a bully, afflicted with Down Syndrome? Was he poor, have a lisp, or Muslim? Was there a cool boy Azlyn was waiting to play Prince Charming? Never mind: As the principal, Kip Motta, later explained in a letter to Alicia Hobson, the school has a policy requiring students to accept dance invitations, and sticks by it. Motta wrote,

“We do ask all students to dance. It is the nice thing to do and this will continue to be our policy. There have been similar situations in the past where some students have felt uncomfortable with others, and, as stated prior, the issues were discreetly handled. This allowed all students to feel welcome, comfortable, safe, and included.”

Hobson equates the policy with “rape culture,” and is prepared to take the issue to the Utah Board of Education. “Girls HAVE to learn that they have the right to say no and that those around them have to respect that,” Hobson wrote on Facebook. “I’m not going to quietly stand by while my daughter and all of her classmates are being wrapped up in rape culture. No way.”

Ethics Alarms dealt with a similar issue in a different context in this post, about children accepting kisses and hugs from repulsive family members.

Before I pop the quiz question, I have three observations. The first is that that the principal’s fad use of the word “safe” has just got to stop. That’s not what “safe” means, and if we keep using “safe” to mean “insulated from any event, feeling or experience that someone might prefer to avoid,” the word will cease to have any communication value. The second is that equating the social obligation to accept an invitation at a supervised dance with “rape culture” is a hyperbolic crock, and should be identified as such immediately.

The third observation is that the “Today” headline is intentionally misleading and unfairly supports the mother’s inflammatory framing. “School policy forbids kids from saying ‘no’ when asked to dance” presumes the conclusion Hobson wants. “School policy requires students to be kind and considerate when asked to dance” promotes  the school’s rationale. An ethical and responsible headline would be, ““School policy requires students to accept an invitation to dance.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz today :

Is the school’s policy wise and ethical?

This is an ethics conflict. There are sound ethical arguments on both sides. The problem is that #MeToo mania refuses to acknowledge that any rule that requires women to have less than total control is inherent misogyny.

School dances are a legitimate school activity  to teach students about navigating social situations and behaving with kindness and consideration. At the same time, it should not reinforce dangerous attitudes, such as a belief that women are obligated to be submissive. It may be that in today’s absurdly complicated and contradictory social environment, it’s impossible to have a fair and coherent policy governing school dance conduct, which may mean that it’s no longer possible to have school dances. Should a girl be required to accept a dance invitation from another girl? If not, how could a school take the opposite position when a boy offers the invitation….especially if the object of his attention would rather dance with a girl?

Unfortunately, the rule “Don’t be a mean jerk,” essentially the Golden Rule, isn’t enough.

20 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Sixth Grade Dance

  1. When my son was in sixth grade cotillion class, the instructor prefaced dances with “in this class, and only in this class, if someone asks ‘may I have this dance?’ the answer is ‘yes, thank you.’ “ They also switched off having boys ask girls and girls ask boys. The whole point of the class was to learn polite interaction at an age when they’re so confused and might otherwise act weird.
    I thought it was a lovely compromise. This was in about 2005, so it was not so long ago, yet not inflicted with today’s outrageous thinking.

    • My experience was the same as Bryan’s – about a half-century prior. The class was once a week, part of the gym program as well as a “social” activity, I believe, and emphasizing a similar “buddy” system – you partnered with everyone at one time or another. Ours was a smallish class so we got around to everyone else at least twice. We learned ethnic circle dances in lower classes, then box step, fox trot, waltz, and some others, ending the 8th grade (preparing for our first “formal”) with a singularly unsensual rumba. One of my classmates had hyperhydrosis, aka, a surfeit of sweat, and holding her hand was a chore for her partner and an agony for her. It got so we would safety-pin a pair of socks – not necessarily clean ones – under the shirt’s left shoulder to take care of half the problem and then, with her eager cooperation, each would try to touch each other’s palms with as little pressure as possible. It was in fact in sixth grade that a teacher came up with a solution. She went out and bought plain, thin cotton gloves for everyone in the class and said we were all going to wear them the way grownups did, to church, to the theater, and so on — and showed magazine illustrations of (I think) Victorian regimental and Southern coming-out balls. By the time kids in other classes had noticed and started to tease, most of the moms and a gran or two had gone out and bought gloves for their daughters and in some cases, sons (most of whom had a dad or older brother who had worn a uniform not long before) so the teacher’s second brilliant idea was to announce that no one had to wear gloves anymore but anyone who wanted to could wear them whenever they felt like it. I never liked wearing one stitch more than I had to, but about half the girls continued – including the one who had suffered years of pre-glove time (and who turned out to be an excellent dancer) – and the boys did for special occasions. Several of us found out that gloves were de rigueur for military funerals. No more gloves (or hats) these days, but I still think of that kind, smart teacher … whose name I just remembered: Miss Pitsinos … and how she always seemed to settle a fight, solve a problem or teach a simple lesson for every one of her charges at the same time. Now, that’s the real meaning of “no child left behind.”

      • Thanks for sharing that story! I’d like to borrow that at some point as an example of using presentation mindset rather than heavy-handed rules to solve problems. In this case, I would categorize the aspects of presentation mindset that Miss Pitsinos used as interpretation mindset (tactics and semantics) and reputation mindset (strategy and empathy).

        I surmise that she used used interpretation mindset to cleverly explore available possibilities and come up with an existing custom outside the immediate context that fits the situation (gloves for formal dancing) while serving the intended purpose (avoiding skin contact). Reputation mindset would double-check that the use of this custom would promote an impression of dignity rather than humiliation, using foresight to avoid unintended emotional repercussions. A bit of background mindset (semantics serving empathy) might have gone into the idea as well, allowing quick identification of the impressions that fashion accessories such as gloves may evoke.

        Presentation mindset is all about subtle effects, even when actually using it is anything but subtle. It’s about working smarter rather than harder, figuring out how to solve and prevent problems with what’s already available, and which just needs to be applied a bit differently.

        We need more people like your teacher, who can use presentation mindset to resolve problems rather than to distract from them.

  2. Ugh. High school dances. What a horrible venue in which to try to interact with the opposite sex. It’s dark and the band is loud. Ugh. Strangers in a strange room. Maybe schools should stick to the class room.

    • Thanks for bringing back some memories, OB. But, this Valentine’s Day dance was during school hours, presumably with the lights fully on.

      • Of course, Johnny. I guess my point was all these various dances are on the continuum of using dances to socialize kids. I just wonder whether it’s a fool’s errand. Remember college “mixers?” Another ugh.

  3. The school’s policy is both unwise and unethical.
    It is unwise because it does not take into account the multiplicity of genders that we know about today. The policy at the school, in addition to banning the right to say ‘no’, apparently alternated boys asking girls to dance and girls asking boys. No other options, apparently.
    It is unwise, further, because it does not acknowledge that there are polite ways to decline a request, that such denials can be appropriate in social situations, and that kids should be taught them. The corollary, of course, it that declinees also should be taught how to deal with a declination (or, rejection if it comes to that).
    The policy is unethical because it forces children to have physical contact with someone they do not want to have such contact with.
    And, maybe due to my advanced age, I also see this as unethical because it forces kids (11 years old) into situations that are more appropriate for kids at least a few years older. There are dances that do not require physical contact and that are done as a group rather than as a couple, and those are better suited to pre-teens.

  4. My daughters’ school held an annual eighth-grade formal, called the “Courtesy Dance”. Prior to the event, each of the students was taught formal courtesy for meals and other social events, learning such minutiae as the purpose of each fork at a formal meal. The dance was prefaced with a formal dinner, at which the students were expected to demonstrate the courtesies they had been taught. The students were graded on their use of proper courtesy and gracious behavior.

    Since we now live in an era in which people feel they can act like boors in public (and are victims if held to account for their revolting behavior), I would like to see more schools teaching gracious interaction and formal courtesy to their students.

  5. Schools should teach kids how to ask politely, should encourage them to be open-minded and generous about potential partners, how to accept and decline an invitation politely, and how to accept rejection with grace. They should not be required to accept an invitation unless it’s an actual dance class.

  6. I can’t say that this policy is a good idea today. Now, practicing asking, being persuasive, and accepting ‘no’ is a good skill. Being polite, and no going ballistic and attacking when saying ‘no’ is also important.

    The ban on not dancing when asked is probably a holdover from a period where they wanted to encourage shy boys to do more than hug the walls. I bet the boy who triggered this storm would rather never go to a dance again. Is that what these people want, for boys to not go to dances? How are they supposed to know how to act properly if boys and girls never had a safe place to learn and practice these skills before they’re old enough for alcohol to be included too? School is supposed to support girls AND boys.

    My cynical side is saying that not enough of these nuts have actually raised little boys, or focused entirely on their daughters?

    • It is not entirely sarcastic to say that right now, boys don’t count. I just watched two commercials about empowering little girls. Our experience with our son was that teachers regarded boys as badly behaved girls.It’s a toxic environment, and we will pay a price for it.

      • Inveterate wall-hugger here. I think the whole idea of kids that young socializing in that kind of circumstance is foolish. 11-year-olds are one step beyond cooties, and have no sense of what is and isn’t appropriate.

        I think maybe a few classmates did me a favor in 7th and 8th grades by passing the word that I better not show up at one of these events or I would find myself at the bottom of a dumpster, face first.

      • My 9-year-old gets a story every week to read and write about for homework. This week, I asked him, “Do you ever read any stories where the girl wasn’t the hero?” His answer was, “No. You can’t do that because the girls always get mad if you ever say they’re wrong.”

        It’s a frequent topic of conversation among him and his friends: “Girls always get what they want.” “Girls always win all the games because if the girls are losing, the teachers always change the rules.”

        A month ago, two of them explained to me that, “Girls are better because they can do everything that boys can do but boys can’t do everything that girls can do.” I said, “Actually, boys are better than girls at lots of things.” They were gratified to thing that I had said so, but seemed to think I was just blowing smoke to make them feel better.

        • Oh please, RuPaul’s Drag Race shows that men can look better as women than women themselves.

          I really cannot think of a single thing that a woman can do better than a man objectively.

          • Sorry, I failed my Detect Irony check, so I’m not sure how to parse this. I call Poe’s Law. Are you being facetious? Or are you talking about literally all female humans, literally all male humans, and literally all tasks? Humans have so much variation that I suspect your statement may be intended to be ironically absurd, but unfortunately by the same token of human variation, I can’t be certain it wasn’t intended at face value.

            In case it comes up, I did write an article on How Not to Be a Bigot, explaining how people can treat each other ethically even when different groups have insurmountable objective skill differences at important tasks.

            • It was an emotional response to Greg’s comment where his boys were being taught misandrist ideology. The idea that “girls can do things that boys can, but boys cannot do things that girls can” is to me ridiculous and harmful.

              I understand that there is variance among all humans. Certainly Serena Williams would destroy Justin Bieber in a tennis match, for example. That being said, l cannot think of an objective measure where, on average, women have consistently demonstrated superiority over men. Serena Williams would be easily beaten by a top 10 men’s tennis player, for example. Physical abilities aside, even in games such as chess men have demonstrated a higher ability than women.

              I am not a bigot. I am just stating my observations and am certainly open to having my mind changed.

              • Ah, that makes more sense. I figured I was misunderstanding something. As far as “consistent superiority” goes, I seem to recall male humans not being quite as good as female humans on average at “soft skills” (i.e. the ones that are harder to measure objectively), though I may be misremembering. On the other hand, I do distinctly remember the concept that male and female humans (as groups) may have the same average mental capability, but the standard deviation for males is larger, meaning there will be more males than females at highly skilled levels, but also more males than females at generally inept levels. In any case, I prefer not only judging people based on their works, but helping people develop whatever skills they need or want, and I figure we should be able to treat people and groups ethically regardless of what skills they do end up acquiring.

  7. #MeToo intersects with anti-bullying. I understand the point, but it’s poorly implemented. Our children’s Catholic middle school had three dances a year. Only the Halloween dance allowed 5th graders. No dating or PDA for any grade. Lots of group dances and activities so the kids could learn to interact without the trauma of asking someone to dance. Best yet, lots of chaperone staff, but parents of middle schoolers couldn’t chaperone.

    On the other hand when I went to community center dances in 197(mumbles) I asked boys to dance. One dance and I generally had no problems being asked. The key was finding the average, nice guy standing with his friends.

  8. These kinds of things could be used as good teaching moments, as others have pointed out, but instead far too many people choose to indoctrinate.

    Difference between Teaching and Indoctrination

    Teaching is all about communication of information, ideas or skills that can be questioned or discussed and the facts that are taught in teaching are supported by evidence, whereas indoctrination is about communication of beliefs that are not supported by any evidence and the receiver is supposed to accept it the way it has been taught without any argument or questioning.

    When schools choose open indoctrination rather than teaching we know there is a serious problem.

    I keep on saying it and I won’t stop; the irrational social justice warriors have already won the battle of the minds across the metropolitan areas of the United States, damn near all college campuses and infiltrating everything with their irrational poison including local governments and school boards and this is just one more small example that piles on the evidence to prove my argument. It’s happening over and over again and it will not stop until there is a HUGE public blow up somewhere and the shit really hits the fan because some company or University didn’t bow to the irrational social justice army of lunatics.

  9. As someone who can totally relate to Janis Ian’s song “At Seventeen,” I would avoid the whole issue and keep my ugly fat ass at home. There is no need to try and change human nature. One can’t win. I think people need to do more soul searching and realize there are certain times in life one has to face and cope with the cards they were dealt. That’s why I won’t be out running over innocent people’s feet with my electric wheelchair if I am struck crippled just so I can get out of the house. I won’t be complaining I was never on the cover of a magazine, and I won’t insist on being called a “she” when I up and decide I feel like a natural woman. However, if they ever perfect penis enlargement everyone had best get the hell out of my way. Until then, I am stuck with what God gave me, and there is NOTHING I can do about it no matter how much I beg, plead, or ask others to change or make allowances for me. Get real people.

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