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:) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) Smiley Faces Banned at Meeting

April 29, 2010

It’s so easy for a kid to join a gang, to do drugs. We should make it that easy to be involved in football and academics.
• Snoop Dogg

It’s true. I was once asked to remove my watch at a meeting of teachers—after school—in a high school library. The face of the watch was a smiley face, a gang symbol, I was told. No students were around. I was not an employee of the school district. I was an invited guest at the meeting. I reluctantly removed my watch (at least they didn’t confiscate it), and here’s what I wondered as I also thought about how often schools push students out with arbitrary and sometimes senseless rules: Why don’t gangs adopt the clothing of mainstream upright uptight folks. What would we do then?

Suits and ties would be verboten for principals and other male administrators and teachers. Ladywear would be restricted for their female counterparts. No suits or dresses or pencil skirts. Sansabelt slacks would be forbidden for teachers and visitors alike. Muumuus and other loose and comfortable dresses, polyester slacks with lots of stretch, and dozens of other choices meant to provide room for visiting the all-you-can-eat buffet after school without pain would suddenly be off limits.

No more sweatshirts and t-shirts and track pants with school logos. No one could wear those probably very comfortable yet truly ugly shoes that promise good arch support and practicality right down to their soles. Every comfortable and traditionally uncomfortable piece of clothing would be co-opted. Parent conferences would be a nightmare as clothing police personned the doors, banning unsuspecting folks who’d come to school in inappropriate attire.

And then there would be the gang that festoons itself with holiday-themed clothing. Elementary school teachers everywhere would awaken each morning with nothing to wear. Instead gang members would glitter with rhinestoned snowmen and show off their sequined valentines and bunnies and firecrackers. Crocheted pumpkins and cornstalks, bats and belfrys, holiday trees and menorahs brightly adorning vests on male and female alike would be off limits for staff and proudly worn by youth. You’d be able to see them coming for miles on a sunny day in their sparkly and colorful garb. (Hmmm—delightful as this is to imagine, it’s improbable that such visibility would be appealing to any gang.)

And colors? No more navy blue or maroon or forest green. Forget about plaid jumpers and striped ties. White button-down shirts? Polo shirts? Nope. All gone. As fast as a school could come up with a list of the forbidden, the gangs would move on, adopting the allowable in an ongoing dance of futility.

It’s not that gangs aren’t a serious issue in schools. They are, and not just the organized and sometimes violent gangs that plague larger—and even some small—cities. Everywhere that outsiders are created by groups of “others” is fraught for opportunities for bullying and violence, mental and physical. Technology has made bullying even more prevalent. But it’s not a problem to be solved by banning smiley faces :).

What can schools at all levels do to support inclusiveness? What can you do?

I had friends at school, but I was never part of a gang and I dreamed of that sense of belonging to a group.
• Emily Mortimer, British actor

Every city in the world always has a gang, a street gang, or the so-called outcasts.
• Jimi Hendrix

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