Editorial

Reinventing the bathroom

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Remember when schools were there to provide an education, not to respond to every parent and group's worries about "rights" and political correctness?

Twenty-four hours apart this week, stories broke of Waukee school board voting to require high school students to say the Pledge of Allegiance after being approached by a single parent, and a Des Moines high installing "gender neutral" bathrooms for a few transgender kids. I'm guessing that some people who like one of those moves will probably hate the other.

Personally, if people want to say a pledge, say it, I figure. I doubt that it injures anybody. But as a parent, if we're going to recite things, I'd just as soon it be done before school or in homeroom dead time, if such a thing still exists, instead of subtracting it from teaching time in classes. That's just me.

Waukee folks may want to be careful here, too, in these litiguous days. They can offer students a chance to say the Pledge, but I seriously doubt if they could force them to, especially when it comes to mandating that children from families that are not Christian utter those words "under God."

For the past 25 years or so, policy has stressed separation of church and state, or at least keeping classrooms from becoming places of religious ceremony - for good or bad, you can decide for yourself.

It seems we're headed back in the other direction now, ever so slightly. If we can require "under God" to be recited, we can certainly expect groups to begin lobbying again for prayers at school events, teaching of Old Testiment dogma as part of science class, and so on.

I've always found it tough to get worked into too much of a snit over it. I doubt that the world would grind to a halt if kids sing "Silent Night" in addition to "Jingle Bells" at a holiday concert.

However, I will say that we need to guard those all-to-few hours our kids get in the classroom, to be used for the skills they need to learn to be successful in life. And we don't have to agree with people of different faiths and cultures, but we do have to respect their right to life.

I don't think churches need to teach chemistry or algebra, and I don't think schools need to be churches.

We have fine examples of parochial schools in our reagion that parents can opt for if they do want specific religion to be part of their child's daily curriculum.

We need to apologize for patriotism. I see no reason a classroom shouldn't have an American flag. If I was sending my child to school in Israel or Ireland or Paraguay, I would expect their flag to be in their schools, and I would have no reason to complain about it if that country were providing my child with an education.

A little respect for country isn't a bad thing to teach. And when it comes to God, well I can recall praying for intervention more than once when it came to those algebra tests. It's not the Waukee School Board's opinion that matters here - if the families of a community want a pledge, go for it. Then get on to the job of learning.

Gender neutral bathrooms in schools is the next hot topic, from Iowa to San Francisco. Buena Vista University has already created a couple of them, but what it done at a private university to accommodate students who are paying for their services is a tad different than a public school on the taxpayer's dime.

High School bathrooms used to be places to grab a smoke, possible barter for a little weed, or maybe roll a freshman for his lunch money. Most of us avoided them unless it was, shall we say, an emergency. The only choice in bathroom selection was with grafitti (crapper next to the gym) or without (sneaking into a staff john.)

Being a teenager was complicated enough without having to decide whether you wanted to pee like a boy, a girl, a girl becoming a boy, a boy becoming a girl, a girl dressing like a boy, a boy dressing like a girl, a boy who likes boys, a girl who likes girls, a boy or girl who likes boys and girls, an unencumbered being that is neither boy or girl... well, you get the picture.

As a parent, I could care less if they send kids to a gender-neutal lounge or a two-holer outhouse behind the school. I would care if my dollars were being spent on potties for a couple of kids instead of on teachers, books and computers for the classrooms we all are counting on.

If schools can simply repurpose a bathroom, and that's what their communities desire, great. Transgender people deserve to be treated with respect too, and again, differences should be accommodated as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others.

There's no end of matters that can be debated when we start fretting over who should have what rights and who's going to sue who if they don't get what they want. I doubt if it's possible to make everyone 100 percent happy, and I'm not sure I'd want to be a school administrator today who has to try.

If people want to say a pledge while going number two in a gender-neutral bathroom, to each their own.

But let's not forget as we debate and accommodate, that the real purpose of our schools is to teach classes. Education is the right that matters the most.