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Tales from the Gulag: Vienna, Virginia Dec. 19th, 2018|11:08 am

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It appears that some adults want for children to not only abstain from sexual contact but from all contact whatsoever. One such group of adults is the faculty at the Joyce Kilmer Middle School in Vienna, Virginia. The school, it has recently come out, has a ‘no touching’ policy that not only covers sexual or violent touching but also hand-shaking, high fives and … embracing. A male student at the school recently went afoul of this Draconian restriction when he went over to sit next to his girlfriend during lunch and did the unthinkable: he put his arm around her. Not a mauling, mind you, but a tender gesture meant to convey his affection for a girl who was a happy recipient. His misdemeanour was spotted by an eagle-eyed school security official who sent him to the school office for a dressing down. The absurdity of this situation does not stop here. The seventh-grader was then cited for not one, but two infractions of the school conduct code. Not only did he illegally touch another student, he left his assigned seat in the school cafeteria without permission. He was warned that a third infraction could result in more serious consequences such as detention or suspension.

School head teacher Prison warden Deborah Hernandez has defended the school’s prison’s actions, saying that such measures are necessary because the school prison is overcrowded. She goes on to say that students inmates deserve to have their personal space respected but that some lack the maturity to understand what is acceptable or welcome. Whilst I certainly agree that everybody has a right to his or her personal space, I wonder how young people are expected to learn what is acceptable when they have a total ban on any sort of physical contact. Rather than having the school faculty prison guards provide guidance when they see touching that they consider to be inappropriate, the students inmates are being taught that any touching whatsoever is inappropriate. If they are restricted from any sort of physical contact in what is, for most of the young people, their primary social environment, will they not emerge from the experience deficient in the knowledge of how to interact physically in a social environment? Hernandez claims that she has seen pokes that have escalated into fights. Whilst I do not dispute her claim, I wonder if every poke escalates into a fight. Would it not be better to punish the fighters rather than collectively punish everybody by banning all forms of touching?

I am curious how Warden Hernandez explains the cafeteria routine. Assigned seats in the cafeteria? No getting up and walking around? Are the students inmates allowed to talk? Do they have to chew in unison (Anybody remember the eating scene from Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters?)? Is it not enough to expect them to sit still and not talk in the classroom? In an age of vanishing opportunities for pupils to move around and exercise, why has the lunch period become yet another time when young people are forced to sit still and not move around? Why are they forced to sit in the same assigned seat day after day? How ludicrous can things possibly get?

Kilmer’s webpage announces that its vision is “to provide a safe environment which dares each individual to embrace new challenges”. Odd choice of words there for a ‘no touch’ institution. Young people are free to embrace new challenges whilst being banned from embracing each other. How sad. The school’s prison’s mission statement is “Empowering staff and students through positive opportunities and quality education”. How uplifting! Unfortunately, it may be difficult for disempowered and dispirited students inmates who are not allowed to show any affection for one another or even choose where to sit in the cafeteria to appreciate these ‘positive opportunities’ or to celebrate the successes and joys that such opportunities might provide.

Sadly, the ‘no touch’ policy at Kilmer Middle School Prison is less an exception than it might seem at first. Throughout society, touching — one of the fundamental needs of all humans — is being proscribed. Not only are young people being restricted in how they can touch each other, their teachers (as well as other adults who might be involved in their lives) are being told not to touch them in any way. These restrictions are being promulgated by adults who are also increasingly limited in how and whom they are able to touch socially. Whilst many continue to claim that these restrictions are necessary due to increased violence and sexual harassment in society, James Prescott would opine that these restrictions may actually be the cause of the increased violence and sexual harassment in society.

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