Did Paul Gomille Deserve a Suspension for This?

Canadian high school student Paul Gomille has recently found himself at the centre of controversy.  Gomille wrote a Valentine’s Day letter to the young women of his Catholic high school in Ajax Ontario that ended up netting him a two day suspension.  Here is the text.  (The bold letters were not bolded by Gomille, but I will refer back to them in what follows.)

Could I please have your attention for a few moments? I guarantee you won’t regret listening to what I have to say. You definitely won’t regret hearing this in your life time, especially from a man of dignity. It’s an idea that I have held close to my heart even before the kilt controversy arose in the media. [A trustee had recently caused a stir by commenting that the young women were wearing their school-issue kilts too high above the knee.]  This message is not meant to address the kilt controversy directly by any means, but rather, this message is a general and all-encompassing statement. It is a message about the qualities that really matter in a woman, and what really makes a woman attractive. Although this speech has some relevance to the way women dress and present themselves nowadays, the message in this speech goes far beyond one’s preferences, or feelings of pressure, as it relates to the way they dress, and it goes far beyond any concept of modernity. [sic?  modesty, perhaps?] It strikes at the very core of humanity itself, in an attempt to make a revelation of truth apparent to all of you, with awe inspiring certainty. If you read this, and receive anything less than a feeling of absolution from it, then I have committed a grave sin, a sin against myself and a sin against all of you.

The people this message concerns are the young women of this school, and of the world. In particular, it concerns the silent ones, the intelligent ones, the ones that don’t talk about people behind their backs, the ones that guys don’t flock to in droves, the ones that don’t dress in revealing clothing, the ones who would love to be in love, and the ones that are continually disappointed in their appearance because the only thing they have to compare themselves to are the women that have been put on pedestals by our society. This message also concerns those of you who may consider yourselves the so called “opposite” to the demographic I just described. The ones who do dress in revealing clothing, and the ones who try to fit in with the crowd.

You don’t need to dress or act a certain way to fit in, to feel attractive, or to BE attractive. You’re all far more attractive than you realize. All of you. But that’s not to say that you should all dress in revealing clothing. No, not at all. Sure, a girl who dresses that way might turn a few heads, and get some compliments. But real attractiveness doesn’t come from wearing the latest fashion, and it doesn’t come from being scantily clad in public, or putting on make-up, or having a pretty face, or a nice body. No. Real attractiveness comes from having a certain dignity. It comes from having class. It comes from being true to yourself, being yourself, and being comfortable in your own skin. This message is for all young women within the sound of my voice and beyond. You’re all beautiful. You all have inner beauty AND outer beauty.

Now, to give the whole story, Gomille wasn’t suspended for simply writing this letter.  He approached the school principle hoping to read it over the PA system.  The principal was basically happy with it but felt that some of it lacked sensitivity (namely the bolded phrases above), and asked Gomille to alter those parts of the letter before it could be read over the PA system.  Gomille declined and chose, instead, to distribute it by hand in the school cafeteria.  He was suspended for “opposition to authority.”  I’m sorry, but reading the letter over the PA system without permission (which would falsely imply the backing of the school administration) would constitute blameworthy opposition to authority.  Handing out a letter privately does no such thing.

Now, I’m not saying Gomille’s prose is above reproach.  Certain people could be justly offended by the bolded letters if they felt singled out by them.  But does that justify suspending him from school?  Which of us hasn’t done things much worse and avoided such penalties?  What does his suspension say to the young people at the school?  What does it say about sex?  What does it say about beauty?  What does it say about independent thinking?  What does it say about freedom of speech?

Mr. Gomille’s letter wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty darn good.  He’s 17, for goodness sake!  He strikes me as a young man of integrity and obvious good intentions who needed perhaps a little guidance and advice from someone with a bit more experience.  Instead, the Catholic school system won the praises of one Heather Mallick, a sure sign they made the wrong decision and sent the wrong message.


Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto. He is a father of three (so far) and husband of one. He is the co-author of How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating.

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  • Rodak

    He strikes me as a pretentious (e.g. referring to himself as ‘a man of dignity’), self-righteous, little twit. That said, I question his suspension. The principal did tell him to revise what he had written, which he did not do. Distributing it on school grounds after not revising that section and running the revisions by the principal before handing it out to fellow students comes pretty close to defiance of authority. But suspension seems overly harsh, given the generally innocuous (if obnoxious) nature of the letter. I don’t find what he said to be wrong, but I definitely question his motives.

    • brettsalkeld

      From what I can gather, she told him to revise what he had written if he wanted it read over the PA system.

      It is possible, of course, that he is pretentious, but I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and guess that the weaker aspects of the letter have more to do with him being 17 than with any condescension. The girls at his school did not seem offended. My guess is that they would know his character and be able to judge his motives better than we outsiders.

      • johnmcg

        My guess is that they would know his character and be able to judge his motives better than we outsiders.

        Wouldn’t the same apply to the principal?

        • brettsalkeld

          Quite possibly. It does make one wonder how the principal and the students came to such different conclusions.

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        “My guess is that they would know his character and be able to judge his motives better than we outsiders.”

        Perhaps so. But once it’s been made an issue for outsiders, those outsiders have to evaluate it based on the information at hand.

        • brettsalkeld

          Agreed. Though that information includes how the girls at his school responded; and, as John McG points out, how the principal responded. Of course the fact that they responded so differently makes our job tougher.

  • Rodak

    He strikes me as a pretentious (e.g. referring to himself as ‘a man of dignity’), self-righteous, little twit. That said, I question his suspension. The principal did tell him to revise what he had written, which he did not do. Distributing it on school grounds after not revising that section and running the revisions by the principal before handing it out to fellow students comes pretty close to defiance of authority. But suspension seems overly harsh, given the generally innocuous (if obnoxious) nature of the letter. I don’t find what he said to be wrong, but I definitely question his motives.

    • brettsalkeld

      From what I can gather, she told him to revise what he had written if he wanted it read over the PA system.

      It is possible, of course, that he is pretentious, but I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and guess that the weaker aspects of the letter have more to do with him being 17 than with any condescension. The girls at his school did not seem offended. My guess is that they would know his character and be able to judge his motives better than we outsiders.

      • johnmcg

        My guess is that they would know his character and be able to judge his motives better than we outsiders.

        Wouldn’t the same apply to the principal?

        • brettsalkeld

          Quite possibly. It does make one wonder how the principal and the students came to such different conclusions.

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        “My guess is that they would know his character and be able to judge his motives better than we outsiders.”

        Perhaps so. But once it’s been made an issue for outsiders, those outsiders have to evaluate it based on the information at hand.

        • brettsalkeld

          Agreed. Though that information includes how the girls at his school responded; and, as John McG points out, how the principal responded. Of course the fact that they responded so differently makes our job tougher.

  • Brian Martin

    As a father of two lovely daughters, I approve this kids message.

    Heaven forbid that a male suggest that girls are something more than sexual objects….

  • Brian Martin

    As a father of two lovely daughters, I approve this kids message.

    Heaven forbid that a male suggest that girls are something more than sexual objects….

  • johnmcg

    It seems to me this is a case for subsidiarity.

    Obviously, this high school has a different culture than the one I went to, since it is difficult for me to imagine any student at my high school approaching the principal with a letter similar to this, and if they did, getting any answer other than a succint “No.”

    Given that, I don’t think I’m well-positioned to comment on whether this punishment is in lines with the values of the school. It seems that the administration wanted to accommodate the student’s wish, and perhaps they have an expectation that this will be reciprocated, which it was not by the student distributing the letter,

    In any instance, I’m inclined to defer to the principal’s judgement.

  • johnmcg

    It seems to me this is a case for subsidiarity.

    Obviously, this high school has a different culture than the one I went to, since it is difficult for me to imagine any student at my high school approaching the principal with a letter similar to this, and if they did, getting any answer other than a succint “No.”

    Given that, I don’t think I’m well-positioned to comment on whether this punishment is in lines with the values of the school. It seems that the administration wanted to accommodate the student’s wish, and perhaps they have an expectation that this will be reciprocated, which it was not by the student distributing the letter,

    In any instance, I’m inclined to defer to the principal’s judgement.

  • http://www.religiousleftlaw.com David Nickol

    I’m sorry, but reading the letter over the PA system without permission (which would falsely imply the backing of the school administration) would constitute blameworthy opposition to authority. Handing out a letter privately does no such thing.

    Brett,

    I am not completely sure that handing out a letter in a Catholic school cafeteria is handing it out “privately.” It seems to me (in a Catholic school at least), school authorities can discipline a student for handing out anything the authorities don’t like, whether they have seen it previously or not. The school could argue that if the principal didn’t approve it for reading over the PA system, then the principal didn’t approve it.

    My personal opinion is that the kid did not deserve a suspension, and that what he did was perfectly defensible. But on the other hand, having gone to Catholic school, I know that students have very few rights (or at least in my day, in a Christian Brothers school, they didn’t), and the word of the principal is law.

    Gomille would have been wiser to make the same points in different words and read his letter over the PA with the school’s approval. Then he could have been an official, school-approved dork instead of a dork that got suspended for two days. 😛

    I am sympathetic to Gomille, but given the way Catholic school works, and the way I think people who send their kids to Catholic school want it to work, principals don’t have to be fair.

    I really enjoyed your interview with James Alison in Commonweal, by the way.

    • brettsalkeld

      Thanks David.

      For the record, I certainly do think that a school could discipline someone for handing something out “privately.” But I think there could be many things handed out privately without any concern that would certainly not be read over the PA system with the sanction of the administration. I think this letter falls into that category. Sounds like we’re agreed on that much!

    • Animal

      David, I don’t know if you’re from the US, but the fact that in Canada Catholic schools are usually PUBLIC…may effect the “free speech” aspect of this.

  • http://www.religiousleftlaw.com David Nickol

    I’m sorry, but reading the letter over the PA system without permission (which would falsely imply the backing of the school administration) would constitute blameworthy opposition to authority. Handing out a letter privately does no such thing.

    Brett,

    I am not completely sure that handing out a letter in a Catholic school cafeteria is handing it out “privately.” It seems to me (in a Catholic school at least), school authorities can discipline a student for handing out anything the authorities don’t like, whether they have seen it previously or not. The school could argue that if the principal didn’t approve it for reading over the PA system, then the principal didn’t approve it.

    My personal opinion is that the kid did not deserve a suspension, and that what he did was perfectly defensible. But on the other hand, having gone to Catholic school, I know that students have very few rights (or at least in my day, in a Christian Brothers school, they didn’t), and the word of the principal is law.

    Gomille would have been wiser to make the same points in different words and read his letter over the PA with the school’s approval. Then he could have been an official, school-approved dork instead of a dork that got suspended for two days. 😛

    I am sympathetic to Gomille, but given the way Catholic school works, and the way I think people who send their kids to Catholic school want it to work, principals don’t have to be fair.

    I really enjoyed your interview with James Alison in Commonweal, by the way.

    • brettsalkeld

      Thanks David.

      For the record, I certainly do think that a school could discipline someone for handing something out “privately.” But I think there could be many things handed out privately without any concern that would certainly not be read over the PA system with the sanction of the administration. I think this letter falls into that category. Sounds like we’re agreed on that much!

    • Animal

      David, I don’t know if you’re from the US, but the fact that in Canada Catholic schools are usually PUBLIC…may effect the “free speech” aspect of this.

  • Pinky

    I agree with the gist of the letter, and I don’t see anything disobedient about passing it out. I admit that a pretty face can make me overlook a lot, but that’s a character flaw on my part.

    As for Mallick’s column, I never would have thought of the letter as over-controlling. I don’t know where she’s getting that. She thinks that men should only say complimentary things (and how shallow is that?), but she overlooks that the message of the letter is that all women are more attractive than they realize. Would Mallick prefer that boys judge girls by how much they look like magazine covers? It doesn’t make sense.

  • Pinky

    I agree with the gist of the letter, and I don’t see anything disobedient about passing it out. I admit that a pretty face can make me overlook a lot, but that’s a character flaw on my part.

    As for Mallick’s column, I never would have thought of the letter as over-controlling. I don’t know where she’s getting that. She thinks that men should only say complimentary things (and how shallow is that?), but she overlooks that the message of the letter is that all women are more attractive than they realize. Would Mallick prefer that boys judge girls by how much they look like magazine covers? It doesn’t make sense.

  • Kurt

    Hey, unlike what is happening on this side of the border, he didn’t call anyone a “slut” or a “prostitute” for using family planning. Raising the bar to that level is about all I am hoping for right now.

    • brettsalkeld

      Indeed, though in her most recent post, Heather Mallick puts Gomille and Limbaugh at the same level.

  • Kurt

    Hey, unlike what is happening on this side of the border, he didn’t call anyone a “slut” or a “prostitute” for using family planning. Raising the bar to that level is about all I am hoping for right now.

    • brettsalkeld

      Indeed, though in her most recent post, Heather Mallick puts Gomille and Limbaugh at the same level.

  • Jordan

    While I believe that Heather Mallick has been excessively harsh and sarcastic towards Paul Gomille, Mallick makes an implicit point in her editorial which must be recognized.

    I agree with Mallick that all women of all ages, indeed all persons, should be regarded with dignity. This dignity is independent of the way a person dresses or behaves. All too often, men have demeaned, objectified, and even controlled women according to their behavior or dress. Mallick contends that the surest way to ensure the autonomy and dignity of women is to respect their free expression, even if it does not meet another person’s “standards”. By analogy: I’m certainly not a fan of pride parades, to put it mildly. Yet, as a friend of mine who is a veteran marcher told me once, “you may find some pride parade behavior obnoxious and undignified. Remember, it’s the people who have marched who have earned the right for you to speak openly about your sexuality.” I have felt the crushing force of objectification many times in my life. Because of this I as sensitive to Mallick’s concerns, despite disagreeing with the manner of her response.

    So, while I absolutely reject what I perceive as the lewdness and promiscuity of pride parades and the “pride” lifestyle, I cannot demand objectification for some gay people but not others (am I inherently more dignified than the promiscuous because I am chaste?). Mallick could have made her point with a bit more sensitivity, but the issue she raises is certainly complex and sensitive.

    • brettsalkeld

      I agree that there is an underlying grievance that she flags up, however inappropriately. The strange thing to me is that she sees Gomille as her enemy in this. He seems to me her ally.

      • Brian Martin

        My thought as well. It would seem that someone speaking against the objectification of females would be treated as a friend rather than a foe.

      • Andrew

        It seems to me from the article that she is suggesting that men have no right to express opinions about women’s appearance whatsoever (except in a very superficial complimentary way), and that any such expression is automatically passing judgement and oppressive towards women. I’m not agreeing with this stance; I’m just indicating what I preceive it to be.

      • Kurt

        I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that the girls of this school feel a lack of control over their own lives. They feel they must dress a certain way because males expect or demand it, even if it is not their preference. Then another male is critical of the way they dress. They may well feel damned if they do or don’t, reminded that they feel little control over personal decisions, and a host of other issues.

        Without commenting on the discipline, maybe the young man would have been well advised to direct his letter to the members of his own gender and suggest to them they hold off on pressure, demands or expectations that women dress a certain way.

        • brettsalkeld

          Re: your second paragraph. That is exactly the kind of advice from someone with a bit more experience that I had in mind. That would be a great idea.

      • Thales

        The strange thing to me is that she sees Gomille as her enemy in this. He seems to me her ally.

        Brett and Brian, exactly.

        Sure, Gomille could have shown more prudence in the language of some of the passages in his letter, but it’s clear that his primary intent, his main theme, his final message to his classmates was: “[True beauty] comes from being true to yourself, being yourself, and being comfortable in your own skin. This message is for all young women within the sound of my voice and beyond. You’re all beautiful. You all have inner beauty AND outer beauty.” Who can disagree with that? In our world of pencil-thin models, unrealistic photoshopped images, and eating disorders, isn’t Gomille echoing the prevailing message from every women’s and feminist group? That you have inner and outer beauty? It’s weird that Ms. Mallick doesn’t see an ally, but sees a foe. (The paragraph where she criticizes the way he looks in his newspaper photo is particularly bizarre. Who does that?)

        It seems to me that her bizarre and visceral reaction is more of a revelation of some insecurity on the part of Ms. Mallick, than a thoughtful critique of Gomille’s actions.

      • Dan

        @Brett – Not entirely. She sees Gomille’s commentary as the flipside of the same coin. It is still veiled objectification, despite the language he uses. To fight against objectification on the one end by implying that women only have dignity if they choose to adhere to an external standard, whether modesty or immodesty, puts the determination of worth of the woman in the hands of an external party, rather than implicitly with the woman. I think this is Jordan’s point.

        • brettsalkeld

          But I think it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t think a woman’s dignity comes from any external standard. I know she doesn’t think this, but I think she’s wrong.

      • Julia Smucker

        This is why I have trouble relating to many manifestations of feminism. They don’t all sound as shrill as that (Feminists for Life being a noteworthy example of a much more even-handed take), but the ones that do can read misogyny into everything, with a vengeance, and thereby end up seeing enemies where they could have made allies. We become what we hate: such a polemical modus operandi is every bit as uncharitable and irrational as a Rush Limbaugh or a Glenn Beck.

      • Dan

        But I think it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t think a woman’s dignity comes from any external standard

        Well, it obviously isn’t that clear or that woman wouldn’t have written what she did. Even though he does explicitly state the message is for all women, there is a tenor in that note that does seem to imply a certain external standard of modesty and virtue as a prerequisite for value. I don’t agree with the woman who wrote the rebuttal, as I think she put a disproportionate amount of focus on the one fallen apple in the orchard. But I can see how, if someone focused exclusively on that one insignifcant issue, they could perceive the note as a reinforcement that a woman needs a man’s opinion on what is considered attractive to feel like they have worth.

  • Jordan

    While I believe that Heather Mallick has been excessively harsh and sarcastic towards Paul Gomille, Mallick makes an implicit point in her editorial which must be recognized.

    I agree with Mallick that all women of all ages, indeed all persons, should be regarded with dignity. This dignity is independent of the way a person dresses or behaves. All too often, men have demeaned, objectified, and even controlled women according to their behavior or dress. Mallick contends that the surest way to ensure the autonomy and dignity of women is to respect their free expression, even if it does not meet another person’s “standards”. By analogy: I’m certainly not a fan of pride parades, to put it mildly. Yet, as a friend of mine who is a veteran marcher told me once, “you may find some pride parade behavior obnoxious and undignified. Remember, it’s the people who have marched who have earned the right for you to speak openly about your sexuality.” I have felt the crushing force of objectification many times in my life. Because of this I as sensitive to Mallick’s concerns, despite disagreeing with the manner of her response.

    So, while I absolutely reject what I perceive as the lewdness and promiscuity of pride parades and the “pride” lifestyle, I cannot demand objectification for some gay people but not others (am I inherently more dignified than the promiscuous because I am chaste?). Mallick could have made her point with a bit more sensitivity, but the issue she raises is certainly complex and sensitive.

    • brettsalkeld

      I agree that there is an underlying grievance that she flags up, however inappropriately. The strange thing to me is that she sees Gomille as her enemy in this. He seems to me her ally.

      • Brian Martin

        My thought as well. It would seem that someone speaking against the objectification of females would be treated as a friend rather than a foe.

      • Andrew

        It seems to me from the article that she is suggesting that men have no right to express opinions about women’s appearance whatsoever (except in a very superficial complimentary way), and that any such expression is automatically passing judgement and oppressive towards women. I’m not agreeing with this stance; I’m just indicating what I preceive it to be.

      • Kurt

        I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that the girls of this school feel a lack of control over their own lives. They feel they must dress a certain way because males expect or demand it, even if it is not their preference. Then another male is critical of the way they dress. They may well feel damned if they do or don’t, reminded that they feel little control over personal decisions, and a host of other issues.

        Without commenting on the discipline, maybe the young man would have been well advised to direct his letter to the members of his own gender and suggest to them they hold off on pressure, demands or expectations that women dress a certain way.

        • brettsalkeld

          Re: your second paragraph. That is exactly the kind of advice from someone with a bit more experience that I had in mind. That would be a great idea.

      • Thales

        The strange thing to me is that she sees Gomille as her enemy in this. He seems to me her ally.

        Brett and Brian, exactly.

        Sure, Gomille could have shown more prudence in the language of some of the passages in his letter, but it’s clear that his primary intent, his main theme, his final message to his classmates was: “[True beauty] comes from being true to yourself, being yourself, and being comfortable in your own skin. This message is for all young women within the sound of my voice and beyond. You’re all beautiful. You all have inner beauty AND outer beauty.” Who can disagree with that? In our world of pencil-thin models, unrealistic photoshopped images, and eating disorders, isn’t Gomille echoing the prevailing message from every women’s and feminist group? That you have inner and outer beauty? It’s weird that Ms. Mallick doesn’t see an ally, but sees a foe. (The paragraph where she criticizes the way he looks in his newspaper photo is particularly bizarre. Who does that?)

        It seems to me that her bizarre and visceral reaction is more of a revelation of some insecurity on the part of Ms. Mallick, than a thoughtful critique of Gomille’s actions.

      • Dan

        @Brett – Not entirely. She sees Gomille’s commentary as the flipside of the same coin. It is still veiled objectification, despite the language he uses. To fight against objectification on the one end by implying that women only have dignity if they choose to adhere to an external standard, whether modesty or immodesty, puts the determination of worth of the woman in the hands of an external party, rather than implicitly with the woman. I think this is Jordan’s point.

        • brettsalkeld

          But I think it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t think a woman’s dignity comes from any external standard. I know she doesn’t think this, but I think she’s wrong.

      • Julia Smucker

        This is why I have trouble relating to many manifestations of feminism. They don’t all sound as shrill as that (Feminists for Life being a noteworthy example of a much more even-handed take), but the ones that do can read misogyny into everything, with a vengeance, and thereby end up seeing enemies where they could have made allies. We become what we hate: such a polemical modus operandi is every bit as uncharitable and irrational as a Rush Limbaugh or a Glenn Beck.

      • Dan

        But I think it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t think a woman’s dignity comes from any external standard

        Well, it obviously isn’t that clear or that woman wouldn’t have written what she did. Even though he does explicitly state the message is for all women, there is a tenor in that note that does seem to imply a certain external standard of modesty and virtue as a prerequisite for value. I don’t agree with the woman who wrote the rebuttal, as I think she put a disproportionate amount of focus on the one fallen apple in the orchard. But I can see how, if someone focused exclusively on that one insignifcant issue, they could perceive the note as a reinforcement that a woman needs a man’s opinion on what is considered attractive to feel like they have worth.

  • http://gravatar.com/digbydolben digbydolben

    Whether or not the punishment is “just,” it is also cruel, excessive and uncharitable. The boy, after all, is ONLY A BOY, and he deserves a sufficient amount of tolerance to be given time to get over being a “self-righteous little twit.” At his age some of the most idealistic and generous-spirited future men were just the same as he is. I will point out to some of you that children of his age don’t always have the best judgment, and so, when he was explicitly told he couldn’t read it over the school’s public address system, he may have thought that meant that it was OK to disseminate it in a different way. Sophisticated analysis of adult discourse is not a forte among adolescent boys. Let’s hope he can get over his hurt at being treated this way and realize that his principal is probably just being stupid, rather than callous or malicious.

  • http://gravatar.com/digbydolben digbydolben

    Whether or not the punishment is “just,” it is also cruel, excessive and uncharitable. The boy, after all, is ONLY A BOY, and he deserves a sufficient amount of tolerance to be given time to get over being a “self-righteous little twit.” At his age some of the most idealistic and generous-spirited future men were just the same as he is. I will point out to some of you that children of his age don’t always have the best judgment, and so, when he was explicitly told he couldn’t read it over the school’s public address system, he may have thought that meant that it was OK to disseminate it in a different way. Sophisticated analysis of adult discourse is not a forte among adolescent boys. Let’s hope he can get over his hurt at being treated this way and realize that his principal is probably just being stupid, rather than callous or malicious.

  • Rodak

    “I will point out to some of you that children of his age don’t always have the best judgment…”

    Right. Which is why they are expected to do as they’re told (which they fully understand) and to expect consequences when they don’t (also understood.) The question here is whether the boy understood that he was being disobedient prior to his act, or only after it when he got busted. If the former, he should just serve his time proudly, having made his point. If the latter, he should accept that punishment with contrition and gratitude for the object lesson he’s received. But my guess is that he has maintained his holier-than-thou attitude and not learned a damned thing.

    • Andrew

      This is an aside, but I find it troubling when the primary lesson from (Catholic or otherwise) school is to learn “to do as you’re told.” That seems to me to be the pathway to a society of sheep-like followers, instead of vibrant, independent thinkers.

      I would much prefer that our educational systems encourage our young people to think for themselves (even if it’s the wrong way at first), and teach them over time to do so intelligently, rather than discourage them from doing so until some nebulous time in the future when they are “supposed” to be wise enough.

      (This attitude may explain why I am always clashing with the Catholic school I send my daughter to, however.)

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        @ Andrew —

        I tend to agree with you. But, if that’s the case, the kid in this story has nothing to complain about. He bucked authority, and when you do that authority comes down on you. But anybody who thinks that they can do anything they want to in this world without consequences, based on their conviction that “being right” entitles them to a freebie, is not facing reality. You either obey, or do the time.

      • Andrew

        @Rodak

        I don’t disagree with what you have written as such, but it kind of depends on what you mean.

        Overall, I found his letter to be generally thoughtful and positive, albeit a bit pompous. It’s a lot better than anything I could have written at 17 or probably even at 25. What could he do with such expressiveness and uplifting outlook on life, assuming it were honed properly? Could he write a positive book that inspires millions? Could he be the speechwriter for the next “I Have A Dream”? He is far from that now, but perhaps the seeds of it are there.

        So if the lesson you think he should be learning is that there are advantages to working with others instead of in opposition, and that there are benefits to compromise, then I am all for his learning those things. If the lesson is that when you have something important to say, and it is based on love and comes from your heart, you should shut your trap if the authorities disapprove, then it is my sincere hope that he in fact doesn’t learn a damn thing, as you put it. The world may thank him later for not having learned it.

        *

        Getting back to the original point, I can’t really fault the school for handing out a suspension. To do otherwise runs the risk of setting a precedent of allowing missives of all kinds to be distributed without school oversight. (Imagine if the next student who wanted to pass out a letter at lunchtime was doing so on a platform of anti-Semitism or something.) Having said that, I also approve of his efforts to fight the suspension with the superintendent. (http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1139739–student-fights-suspension-over-letter-praising-women-s-inner-beauty) I understand Rodak’s pragmatic ideas about being accepting when authority comes down on you, but he is well within his rights to appeal to an even higher authority if he thinks he can win his case.

  • Rodak

    “I will point out to some of you that children of his age don’t always have the best judgment…”

    Right. Which is why they are expected to do as they’re told (which they fully understand) and to expect consequences when they don’t (also understood.) The question here is whether the boy understood that he was being disobedient prior to his act, or only after it when he got busted. If the former, he should just serve his time proudly, having made his point. If the latter, he should accept that punishment with contrition and gratitude for the object lesson he’s received. But my guess is that he has maintained his holier-than-thou attitude and not learned a damned thing.

    • Andrew

      This is an aside, but I find it troubling when the primary lesson from (Catholic or otherwise) school is to learn “to do as you’re told.” That seems to me to be the pathway to a society of sheep-like followers, instead of vibrant, independent thinkers.

      I would much prefer that our educational systems encourage our young people to think for themselves (even if it’s the wrong way at first), and teach them over time to do so intelligently, rather than discourage them from doing so until some nebulous time in the future when they are “supposed” to be wise enough.

      (This attitude may explain why I am always clashing with the Catholic school I send my daughter to, however.)

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        @ Andrew —

        I tend to agree with you. But, if that’s the case, the kid in this story has nothing to complain about. He bucked authority, and when you do that authority comes down on you. But anybody who thinks that they can do anything they want to in this world without consequences, based on their conviction that “being right” entitles them to a freebie, is not facing reality. You either obey, or do the time.

      • Andrew

        @Rodak

        I don’t disagree with what you have written as such, but it kind of depends on what you mean.

        Overall, I found his letter to be generally thoughtful and positive, albeit a bit pompous. It’s a lot better than anything I could have written at 17 or probably even at 25. What could he do with such expressiveness and uplifting outlook on life, assuming it were honed properly? Could he write a positive book that inspires millions? Could he be the speechwriter for the next “I Have A Dream”? He is far from that now, but perhaps the seeds of it are there.

        So if the lesson you think he should be learning is that there are advantages to working with others instead of in opposition, and that there are benefits to compromise, then I am all for his learning those things. If the lesson is that when you have something important to say, and it is based on love and comes from your heart, you should shut your trap if the authorities disapprove, then it is my sincere hope that he in fact doesn’t learn a damn thing, as you put it. The world may thank him later for not having learned it.

        *

        Getting back to the original point, I can’t really fault the school for handing out a suspension. To do otherwise runs the risk of setting a precedent of allowing missives of all kinds to be distributed without school oversight. (Imagine if the next student who wanted to pass out a letter at lunchtime was doing so on a platform of anti-Semitism or something.) Having said that, I also approve of his efforts to fight the suspension with the superintendent. (http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1139739–student-fights-suspension-over-letter-praising-women-s-inner-beauty) I understand Rodak’s pragmatic ideas about being accepting when authority comes down on you, but he is well within his rights to appeal to an even higher authority if he thinks he can win his case.

  • Bruce in Kansas

    It seems like this young man has noticed – especially at St. Valentine’s Day – young women struggling and suffering with problems of self image and peer pressure with behavior and appearance. A noble, if juvenile, motive animated that letter. A genuine love of others. For an adult to call him a self righteous twit is shameful. For him to suffer a suspension for his well-intended act is a beatitude. Handing out encouraging letters at school on Valentine’s day? Really? This world needs more young men like this.

  • Bruce in Kansas

    It seems like this young man has noticed – especially at St. Valentine’s Day – young women struggling and suffering with problems of self image and peer pressure with behavior and appearance. A noble, if juvenile, motive animated that letter. A genuine love of others. For an adult to call him a self righteous twit is shameful. For him to suffer a suspension for his well-intended act is a beatitude. Handing out encouraging letters at school on Valentine’s day? Really? This world needs more young men like this.

  • http://gravatar.com/digbydolben digbydolben

    Rodak, the point I’m trying to make, in case you didn’t understand it, is that this boy may not have UNDERSTOOD that he was “disobeying.” Do you actually want to punish children regardless of their intentions? If you do, please understand that that disqualifies you from taking any role in the education of youth, or in giving advice to educators.

    • Rodak

      @ digbydolben —

      I believe that I took into account the possibility that he may not have understood that he was disobeying (3/8/12, 1:45 p.m.). If so, he subsequently learned that he had. What he (hopefully) learned was this: it is necessary for moral agents to examine their OWN intentions BEFORE they act. A difficult, but necessary, thing that we all need to learn. Examine your own intentions, with the knowledge upfront that they will be judged by witnesses–often incorrectly, unfairly, sometimes with malice aforethought.
      And if, having done so, you choose martyrdom, don’t whine about its consequences.

  • http://gravatar.com/digbydolben digbydolben

    Rodak, the point I’m trying to make, in case you didn’t understand it, is that this boy may not have UNDERSTOOD that he was “disobeying.” Do you actually want to punish children regardless of their intentions? If you do, please understand that that disqualifies you from taking any role in the education of youth, or in giving advice to educators.

    • Rodak

      @ digbydolben —

      I believe that I took into account the possibility that he may not have understood that he was disobeying (3/8/12, 1:45 p.m.). If so, he subsequently learned that he had. What he (hopefully) learned was this: it is necessary for moral agents to examine their OWN intentions BEFORE they act. A difficult, but necessary, thing that we all need to learn. Examine your own intentions, with the knowledge upfront that they will be judged by witnesses–often incorrectly, unfairly, sometimes with malice aforethought.
      And if, having done so, you choose martyrdom, don’t whine about its consequences.

      • http://gravatar.com/digbydolben digbydolben

        I’m sorry, but after careful perusal of the situation, as described, and knowing what I know about the inability of most school administrators to effectively communicate even the most basic of school regulations to populations of parents and students, I think that it’s pretty clear that, at least technically, he had NOT “disobeyed.”

  • http://renegadetrad.blogspot.com A Sinner

    In one article I read, it said students were receiving detentions for talking to the media!!

    I called and left a strongly worded message to someone there.

    Punishing the kid for alleged insubordination is one thing. But to then try to hush the whole thing up and enforce silence against the media and journalists…as if the school has a right to some closed-lips policy to prevent information or opinions about the internal life of the school from getting out…just smacks of cover-up and repressive secrecy.

    • Bruce in Kansas

      I don’t know, but I suspect the alluded-to “kilt controversy” may have influenced the school administration to take an “avoid the media” approach to this situation.

    • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

      @ digbydolben —

      Although I’m not necessarily most interested in the question of whether he disobeyed, or not, I simply point out that if there is a sense in which he “technically” did not disobey, there is also “technically” a sense in which he did. It’s a push.

      The important thing that he may have learned is that authority is oppressive by nature. If one sets out in relative weakness to confront power, one must first carefully examine one’s motives and weigh their positive value against the negative value of the probable, or possible, consequences. As Barretta used to say: “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        @ digbydolben —

        Here is the technical sense in which the boy did not disobey:

        Father: I told you never to hit your sister again.

        Son: I didn’t hit her. I kicked her.

        • brettsalkeld

          The difference between doing something that implies the backing of the administration (i.e., using the PA system) and something that expresses a private opinion is much bigger than that.

      • http://gravatar.com/digbydolben digbydolben

        Well, maybe that’s the “life lesson” that YOU want children to learn, but I also want them to learn that structures of authority that apply punishments when those punishments are unjust because they exceed the limits of the law are unjust authorities and must be rebelled against, on some level.

        P.S. I think it’s really weird that I’m explaining this to a PROTESTANT!

  • Brian Martin

    Dan,
    I suspect this is a case of “it isn’t about the message, it’s about who the messenger is.”
    That is to say, if this was not a male attending a Catholic School (a double dose of patriarchy, if you will) but a female in a public school, the message would be applauded. It would be more politically correct for a female to use the very same language.
    This reminds me of an issue where two groups were attempting to stop a strip club from opening, both for the same reasons. One was a religious group, the other a group of feminists. They refused to cooperate with each other because they were “enemies”.
    I am all for adolescent males and females embracing the message expressed. Mothers and fathers should be teaching their kids this message.

  • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

    @ digbydolben —

    How are you missing the fact that I am making exactly that point. But you seem to feel that one can rebel against authority without facing the inevitable consequences. You seem to feel that authority, once bucked, should be expected to pat the rebel on the head and put a gold star on the chart next to his name. That would be nice, but life’s not like that. Is it?

    • http://gravatar.com/digbydolben digbydolben

      Excuse me, but, if the “authority” is illegitimate because its applications of the law are unjust and, indeed, in themselves and at the very least a technical violation of written statutes (most school districts have RULES for administrators to follow before thay can apply “consequences”), then it’s the “authority” that has to face “inevitable consequences.” not the person who’s been unjustly, and, it would appear, illegally treated.

      That school district needs a lawsuit to be filed against it–as a whole lot of ’em in the United States do, in my experience. School administrators in the United States are, for the most part, fools, who have “risen to their level of incompetence” and don’t have half the sense or educational background of most of the poor teachers who have to suffer their poor, oft-times politically-driven decisions.

  • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

    @ brettsalkeld —

    Apparently he could have used the PA system, had he been willing to remove the language to which the principal objected. The real issue, then, was the language, not the medium of delivering the language. The student in question chose to deliver the language in printed form, rather than verbally: he kicked after being told he couldn’t hit.

    • brettsalkeld

      Yes, he could have – if he wanted the backing of the administration. Apparently his original wording was more important to him than such backing. If the printed form carried the same kind of connotation of approval from administration as the verbal, your analogy would hold, but it doesn’t.

  • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

    @ brettsalkeld —

    His goal was not to get the approval of the administration. His intention was to deliver his message. He was not brown-nosing; he was acting out his intentions as best he could regardless of the instructions of authority as to what was permissable. He knew that the language of his original letter was objectionable to the principal, but he distributed that language–on school property, during schools hours–anyway. In my analogy distributing that language to the student body is analogous to the intention of delivering pain to the sister’s body.

    • brettsalkeld

      I still think you analogy fails to take into account the essential difference between an act like his having the sanction of the administration and it not having such sanction.

      • Rodak

        @ brettsalkeld —

        Again, what was not sanctioned was the delivery of the specified language by this student to other students within the context of the school in question. It was not even his basic message that was objected to, but certain of his comments made to emphasize his point. He knew very well that the principal did not want that language addressed to students at that school, and he tried to go around that proscription. And was punished for it.
        He might have the basis of a first amendment lawsuit against the school, if he had distributed his letter across the street from the campus, and then was punished. As it stands, he has no basis for complaint that I can see.

        • brettsalkeld

          I agree. It wasn’t sanctioned. It doesn’t even give the impression of being sanctioned. It contained no stamp of approval from admin. That’s precisely my point. And that’s why your analogy fails.

          Not everything said or written in a high school needs to be sanctioned.

    • http://renegadetrad.blogspot.com A Sinner

      Yeah, Rodak, from the details we have, the administration didn’t say, “This language is unnacceptable. Period.”

      They merely told him that some of the language was too controversial to be included IF he was going to spread the message publicly via the PA system (thus implying the sympathy of the administration.)

      The way it sounds to me, and the way I would have understood it as a student, was that the administration merely did not want to make it look like they were associated with certain verbiage, and so wanted him to change it before he used the PA system. Nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t sound like they said that language was forbidden in general, merely that they did not want to be associated with it if they were to give the speech their “stamp of approval” by letting him use the PA system.

      Passing it out on his own, however, implies no sympathy or agreement or sanction or “stamp of the approval” from the administration, and thus I would have assumed that the administration wouldn’t have cared about the controversial language in that case, as they were not being associated with it one way or another.

      It’s one thing to say, “You can’t say ‘I approve this message’ about what you’re saying.” It’s another to say you aren’t allowed to say it AT ALL.

      • Bruce in Kansas

        It’s a pretty safe bet many other students at that school were handing out and being handed letters, notes and cards on St. Valentine’s Day the contents of which the administration had absolutely no awareness. Told the use of the PA system was not appropriate, this boy resorted to handing out his Valentine messages the same way all the others kids do.

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        Then he was punished for…what?

      • johnmcg

        We are now reading between the lines of a conversation we were not present at. Seems like a good path to error.

      • Bruce in Kansas

        My point is this happened on St. Valentine’s Day. The defining characteristic of St. Valentine’s Day in schools (around the USA anyway) is that kids hand out and receive cards, notes, and letters expressing affection and encouragement to each other. So handing out an encouraging letter on St. Valentine’s Day is different from handing out a letter on other days.

  • Rodak

    Come on, somebody… What was he punished for? What did the administration decide that he had done wrong?

    • Thales

      Rodak,
      I think your questions are exactly the point, at least in the minds of some of us: he was punished for no good reason; the administration was silly to think that he had done wrong or punished him for some supposed prohibition that he had not been made aware of beforehand.

  • Bruce in Kansas

    The administration decided the crossed the line of insubordination when he handed out his letter after being told he couldn’t read it aloud over the PA.

    We second-guessers are going way out on a limb and either supporting the administration for suspending the boy for going around their decision, or supporting the boy for the administration over-reacting, perhaps after a recent case of under-reacting (the “kilt-case”).

    And, as is usually the case, we are revealing more about ourselves than we are about the case.

    • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

      I agree with with Bruce in Kansas.

  • whodunit

    Oh please. He’s an inadvertent creep. And this should be a cold, hard wake-up call to him. Women do appreciate all those things he mentioned… IF you’re attractive and not creepy.

    • Bruce in Kansas

      So whether the suspension is justified or not relies upon Mr. Gomille’s attractiveness and not being creepy… It’s been a while since I went through, but we have two daughters currently in high school. The phenomenon of awkwardly earnest teenaged boys has not vanished. Nor should school administrator expect it to.