Alex Blaze

High School Bans Touching; A Student Fights Back

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 20, 2011 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: New England, personal space, touching

A high school in New England has banned all touching other than handshakes in their school, and an anonymous student is speaking out:

holding-hands.jpgDear Free-Range Kids: I am a senior at a a small New England high school. A few days ago, the administration implemented a new rule: No physical contact at any time. The only appropriate touch, we are told, is a handshake. Presumably, this is to thin out the kissing couples who clog up the halls. I have no problem with that. But am I wrong in thinking that banning all touch goes too far? This morning I was in the library and saw a boy and girl studying at a nearby table. She had her arm around his shoulders. A librarian rushed over and loudly harangued them. They were forced to sit two feet apart for the remainder of the period.

It's just plain sad to me, since touching, both sexual and non-sexual, seems to be a requirement to being human. While it's hard to put a value on it in the same way as we can see value in drinking water, eating food, and going to the bathroom, I personally don't want kids to be sent even more messages that anything not related to be a little robot that absorbs knowledge and regurgitates it on tests is without value in a school. If this particular school has a problem, the students should be taught the appropriate boundaries of nonsexual touching in a public space.

A few years back, just before I left for France for the first time, I worked in a public school that said teachers were only allowed to touch students in one of three ways: 1) a high-five; 2) on the shoulder, one hand at a time only; 3) a half-hug, performed by turning sideways and using one hand, and only if the student initiates.

It seemed so mechanical and is now one of my favorite stories to tell out here to French people who don't really get just how weirded out Americans are by any sort of touching, how we sexualize absolutely everything because no one's going to argue against us getting further and further apart. Serious People argue for more restrictions on socializing; hippies and pedophiles and perverts argue that humans are social animals that need other people to live.

Here's the full petition this high school student is passing around:

We, the undersigned, call for removal of or significant amendments to the new "No Touching" policy at our high school. The case for our request rests on several points:

  • Interpersonal touch is not inherently sexual, and to treat it as such is to make it so. Touch can be a powerful bonding mechanism between friends, and any rule that fails to differentiate between acts of sex and acts of friendship seems arbitrary and inherently draconian.

  • High school students will soon be turned loose and made responsible for their own decisions. Is it not the responsibility of educators to impart valuable life skills and ready us for autonomy? Outright bans are not the way to do so. Rather than be taught to see interpersonal touch as inherently bad, we should learn the nuances of what is and is not appropriate for public venues. Don't force us to look at the world in black and white. Show us the shades of gray.

  • Imposing limits on interpersonal relationships merely divides "school" and "life" into separate and often warring factions. This further alienates many teens who already fail to find much real-world meaning in school. School should be a holistic place in which social as well as academic needs are met. If we're expected to integrate education into our lives, we should be allowed to bring our lives into our place of education.

  • According to the World Book encyclopedia, "[m]ost teenagers mature psychologically at the rate set by their society. As a result, psychological adolescence normally lasts at least as long as the period of legal dependence." In other words, micromanaging merely infantilizes us. Trust us to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate touches, and we won't let you down.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

There are a great many opportunities for "touching" outside of school. Teachers and school administrators are already challenged with incredible issues regarding safety, discipline, protecting students from sexual harassment, as well as trying to teach in between, that I see nothing wrong in trying to de-sexualize the school environment by eliminating touching. Don't you know how kids act? If one guy sees another with his arm around a girl, he is going to have to one up him in some regard, having his hand on her lap, for example. Of course, the touching then becomes a generalized distraction for he entire class. Teachers have more to do than to monitor this stuff. Unlock the entwined bodies and let them learn something. All the recent academic surveys seem to indicate that US high school students have taken a huge dive downwards in what they are learning. Maybe if they focus less on touching, they just might learn something. The home is a good environment for appropriate touching to be taught and exampled. Why should the government (schools) be thrown this responsibility also?

I think the argument this student is making is that there's space between "entwined bodies" and an absolute ban on touching. And that's pretty much my argument too: We live in an age where touching is highly sexualized and where the most paranoid fantasy rules, no matter how unrepresentative it is.

All the recent academic surveys seem to indicate that US high school students have taken a huge dive downwards in what they are learning.

The NAEP doesn't (about half-way down):

PISA says the US is doing better than average for a first-world country:

Why should the government (schools) be thrown this responsibility also?

Learning social skills is one of the big reasons we send kids to school. It's supposed to prepare them for real life. Learning how to behave in a public space is part of real life.

Wow, a school banning touching. Not banning bullying or punching mind you, but touching.

Did you know, that touching someone does build a bond? That by denying touching others, they eventually just seem to be 3 deminsional cut outs. Not even human any more. Just things that make noise.

The only 'touching' I experianced in school was punches, kicks and even a few knife jabs.
I learned so much from not touching. It made my life in the military so much better too.

Humans, just 3 deminsional cut outs that hurt you constantly.
So, yeah. That no touch policy is gonna get us a bumper crop of combat ready troopers who have no problems with thier new job.
No touching required.

welcome back to the 50's...

Amazing. It's right out of '1984 ' or 'Brave New World'. And honestly I find it very difficult to imagine this happening in the US of my school days 25 or 30 years ago, outside of (what were then) fringe fundamentalist religious schools - the proposal would have been laughed out of the meeting! Not now apparently. Which seems to me a very bad sign as to the direction of the country : we are much more amenable to arbitrary , and often bizarrely twisted, authoritarianism, and much less committed to the basics of civilized social intercourse ( here exemplified by things like hugs, pats on the back, and handclasps ) as a cornerstone of shared humanity . I agree with Gina9223, this is the way to turn out killer robots.

I have to tell you that THIS... "no touchy touchy rule" is nothing new. I've been traveling through out this country (USA) over the pass 20yrs and 7different school districts, from Annapolis, MD, Valdez and Juneau, Ak, Pittsburgh, PA and more... I saw it over and over again.

The GOOD NEWS is this... they rarely enforce it. It's one of those make the PTA HAPPY and "feel" like their actually doing something rules.

Give the dog a bone and they don't get so SNAPPY.

So, we have rules for adolescents that we think are important enough to write down but then we don't enforce them because we think they're silly?

Right...that makes a lot of sense for adolescents when consistency in applying rules is critical for normal development.

This is just another example of the small-minded thinking that predominates in public education in our country and one reason why our students perform so badly compared to others around the world. The focus is not on education. It's another effort to reinforce in immature parents their fantasy that their adolescent children are not sexual creatures like their parasitic preacher told them last Sunday morning. Cover your eyes and ears and nothing bad will happen.

Let's focus our schools on learning in a respectful and civilized learning environment. Let's ensure teachers who guide our students' learning are critical thinkers and creative and exhibit the values of honesty and integrity. They are the role models. And let's ensure that the curriculum is based in knowledge and not influenced by anyone's "beliefs." Our children grow up today unable to separate fact from fiction. It's experts who must determine curriculum content and instructional methods--not "book burners" or religious groups or parents themselves who think they have some knowledge about education. Why do we empower the ignorant ones? We have a long way to go... Rather than a continuous curriculum improvement approach, we invest so much of our educational dollar into overcoming the entropy of ignorance in our wonderful country. Where did we go wrong?

As an educator I have to chime in on this. I spent six years teaching in Catholic high schools and five years teaching in colleges where the touching I saw was friendly. Although I was taught that the only appropriate touching of students was on the hand or shoulder or the "side hug", I realize that sometimes kids (like all humans) need to be touched. It depends on the person. I would hug kids the same way I would hug my neices or nephew. Sometimes I would hold a kid's two hands as I talked to him or her so that he/she would focus on me and understand my sicerity. I never touched a kid as part of a disciplinary action or lecture. It was ususally when a student was extremely stressed out, upset, or in emotional crisis. I never touched a kid when the two of us were alone in the classroom. I always made sure there were other students or teachers around so that nothing could be misinterpreted.
Last sememster I worked as a long-term sub in a public middle school. The touching I saw between students was almost always sexual/ flirtatious in nature or violent/ treatening. I had to constantly tell students not to touch people and to keep their hands to themselves. I never touched a student (except my last day when a group of them came up to hug me goodbye). It was sad to take that away from students, especially those who live in homes where touching is part of personal interaction, but that is what I did.