A lesson in community and tolerance

This is one of the hardest entries for me to write. But it needs to be said, and I have a tie-in for the Houston locals out there reading this.

This story has been mentioned/written about in so many places that I’m going to just make a list for the links rather than stringing it together in prose:

  1. HRC Back Story blog
  2. Baby Rabies
  3. lezgetreal.com
  4. Candace Gingrich (huffingtonpost.com blog)
  5. rightpundits.com (older article)
  6. Libby Post (timesunion.com) (older article)

The summary: Constance McMillan challenges a school policy that prom dates must be of the opposite gender. Constance takes school to court. Court finds school district is wrong to deny Constance attendance, but does not actually order school district to run the prom. School district cancels prom. Parents and private citizens offer to run prom for the school instead, details of which are kept mysterious and Constance isn’t invited. School reinstates prom at country club, where it’s attended by a total of seven students, two of whom have learning difficulties, plus some teachers and the principal as chaperones.

Obviously, the rest of the students wouldn’t stay home from “the prom.” So “the good kids” had their prom elsewhere, and the school district just happened to be in on the setting up of a decoy prom for Constance, her date, and the outcasts.

The actions of those involved in this shell game are despicable and inexcusable. We’re talking about a school district here, an entity whose very reason for existence is teaching. And teach they did, whether they realize itor not. What has the school district taught the entire senior class, and possibly the entire population of the school, by their actions regarding the 2010 prom?

The lesson taught to these kids is that discrimination, ostracism, and cutting out a few from a community for arbitrary reasons is acceptable. Now, the kids will do this on their own without any help from the school district. In fact these kind of silly checkers games are exactly what students do on their own without any help.

The school district and the parents in the community are supposed to be better than that. The right thing for the principal to do is to address at least the senior class, if not the student population about tolerance, and turn this entire ordeal into a lesson about building community that will last for a lifetime. The lesson that setting personal discomfort aside is sometimes what it takes to build a community. A lesson that appears to be lost on a fair number of people.

I dread what these young adults will be doing some years from now, when it’s not the high school prom anymore, but the adult social scene.

In a few years time, it won’t be about the prom. It’ll be about the block parties, cocktail parties, bachelor/bachelorette auctions, Halloween and New Year’s Eve parties. The kind of events that make a community amazing.

I feel for Constance and the other students that were deceived by their own school board. The same school board they and their parents trusted to look out for their best interests. And they did the exact opposite.

It’s simple enough, isn’t it? So I’m sure some of you may be wondering why it was so hard for me to write this.

Something very similar to what happened to Constance has been happening to me for the past year. This “community” we have in Houston… I mean, the people came from all over. Some are lifelong locals, others came from cities like Denver, Miami, New York City, Los Angeles, others from smaller towns like Beaumont or Conroe. But many of them appear to have been taught the exact same lessons that the Itawamba County School District taught Constance and her classmates. And the sad thing is, some of these people I’m talking about went to private schools where the faculty should know better.

People in the arts have a reputation for being stuck-up and exclusive. I refused to believe that; I wanted to believe those people were just average people like me. Similiar things could be said for the tech and marketing/PR crowds, to a lesser extent, but my experience is the stereotype of those surrounding ballet, opera, dance, orchestra, and similar events is one of noses twenty feet in the air, and thus is probably the best example.

The good news is, a community is not like a piece of glass. It may be broken, but it can be fixed. And it should be fixed. Because cutting people out isn’t how you build a community. It’s how you destroy one.

No, I’m not perfect. Nobody is. I’ve made my mistakes. But I think we all would do well to learn from what happened to Constance McMillan. And since most of us are long since out of high school, I’d like to think we’re above the way high school kids act.