Saturday, December 10, 2005

Are High School Proms Decadent?

There seems to be a growing debate about an American institution, The Senior Prom. Certain Long Island High Schools are canceling the events claiming moral grounds for doing so. Or are young adults being denied yet another right of passage into adulthood that prevents them from ever discovering responsibility, joy, and farewell to their teens?

From the article;

"I think there is a general desire to bring religious values into public life, and these actions against the prom seem like signs of that," said John Farina, a researcher at Georgetown University who studies the intersection of religion and culture. "To some extent, it reflects the influence of John Paul II - his willingness to confront and resist the dominant culture. As a teacher, I wish more educators had that kind of backbone."

An opposing view was expressed by George M. Kapalka, a professor of psychological counseling at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J.

Resisting unacceptable behavior and banning it, he said, represent two different spirits in education. "This is just another example of the 'just say no' policy, which has failed miserably wherever it's been applied," Professor Kapalka said. "It would be better to start the conversation with kids about values earlier than to wait until senior year and ban the prom."


William J. Doherty, a professor of family studies at the University of Minnesota and author of "Take Back Your Kids," a study about overscheduled children, said in a phone interview that prom excesses like those cited by Brother Hoagland and Father Williams were typical of what he calls "consumer-driven parenting."

"We have parents heavily involved in orchestrating their children's experience because of this notion that experiences can be purchased," Dr. Doherty said. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, he said, he knew of one mother who did not want her daughter to go on a senior class trip to Cancun, but would not forbid it. "Her comment was 'how sad' it would be if her daughter was the only one at her lunch table to miss that experience.

"It's not that a whole generation of parents is crazy," Dr. Doherty said. "It's that there is a subset of parents who are crazy - and the rest don't want their kids to miss out."

Prom night may never replace abortion on the front line of the culture wars, but in small increments, the issue of prom night does seem to be forcing itself onto the agenda generally described as family values.

It seems to me that students and guidance counselors need to have a conversation about what the behavioral boundaries are in thinking about the senior prom so that students have a clear understanding of responsible behavior. Such conversations may pre-empt, to the degree possible, the isolated irreponsible event that could bring this issue to the forefront in shame or injury.

To summarize the article; material excess, drugs, and sexual behavior are all topics students need to talk about, understand the consequences of, and come to terms with on an individual basis. Parents and the school are not thought or behavior police who can magicallty prevent irreversible harmful activities. The community of students at EO need to support each other in defining and exercising right from wrong.

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