Wednesday, January 1, 2014

An open letter in favor of loosening the dress code in BISD schools

Hello, everybody!

I received a Facebook update from one of my friends from my home town, Freeport, TX, asking me to participate in speaking out against a particular post about hair code and personal grooming / body adornment regulations loosening. His request reminded me of why I didn't like the city, the politics, or a lot of the people. Here's the post he was referencing: "Parents: What do you think of the changes Brazosport ISD made this week that allow boys to wear longer hair, earrings and facial hair, so long as it is well groomed? The school board also allowed visible tattoos on boys and girls, so long as they are not gang-related or offensive. Post your thoughts here. Some of them will be published in Sunday's print edition." I happen to think loosening things up is perfectly reasonable because there are far too many other things to really be concerned about.  Want the link to read the battle for yourself?

I posted an abbreviated version of this, as the limit for a post is 8000 characters:

Dear Citizens of Brazoria County, BISD School Board Members, and students of BISD,

I was made aware of this post ironically by a student of Brazosport High School that punched me in the face for allowing a rolled up piece of paper to land in his lap on a bus. He also happened to be a football player. There was no way I was going to let this pass.  This discussion of student control by fear and ignorance is near and dear to my heart. I am a survivor of Brazosport in general and Brazosport High School specifically. I graduated in 1985. The things my friends and I had to persevere could only be likened to living in a prison yard and / or an educational throwback to another time.

My thoughts on the matter can be summarized in some good old colloquialisms. From an historical perspective, I'm pretty sure these sayings were important enough to make it into our present day lexicon:

  • Judge not lest ye be judged
  • Don't judge a book by its cover
  • Clothes don't make the man

Have we all collectively forgotten those? I would highly recommend a Google search on religious persecution or freedom of expression, or perhaps pick up a bible and do some reading on how to love and forgive one another. Check out the concept of separation of church and state. Maybe none of that's important to you because you're just "right." Careful... people that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. That's a good phrase to live by, too.

But I digress.

In the 1980s, Brazosport High School had a draconian dress and hair code, and as far as I can tell, it provided nothing for school safety, educational harmony, or support of free thinking. In fact, the real problem in my opinion was the lack of administrative fairness and educational efficacy. Pretty much the same situation we're living with now. The only constant was the support of the status quo where popular factions were supported by administration and were allowed to cross clear lines of aberrant behavior. Certain groups passed through school on greased skids and  "undesirables" were allowed to get away with their disturbingly violent behaviors. These activities were supported or ignored by teachers that thought it was in the best interest of the school, or perhaps the best interest of their positions in the community. It’s hard to fight the system.  

I have hundreds of examples that happened at BHS, ALL done while we were under a draconian dress and hair code. I can get the victims to support these claims, if they feel comfortable to share. Many still have family in Brazosport that work in places that may suffer consequences for speaking out, so they would have to do that in a more "safe" manner.

While these "back in the old days, things were so much better" hair and dress code rules were in force, we lived through some bizarre situations in middle and high school: educational absenteeism on the part of the teachers; allowed and even sanctioned physical violence; schoolyard bullying; grisly attacks that were met with very little punitive action; rape; drug use; weapon possession; student smoking; teaching from the bible; teachers duct taping faces; teachers physically abusing children; condoned physical assault on in the form of hazing; teachers providing high grades to girls that flirted with them; teachers that slept through class; hung over alcoholic teachers; physical and verbal assaults on homosexuals; football team members that were allowed and encouraged to graduate without being able to read for themselves; and many more unbelievable acts that make my friends and family cringe to this day. If those seem over the top, and I do believe they do, I decide to add some examples:

  • Educational absenteeism: my physics teacher knew no physics. He had the book with the answers, but the way he graded us was to have us write our answers on the blackboards. Whoever convinced him that their proof was most correct got it right.
  • Sanctioned violence: a football player pushed a non-football player through a glass door during a packed lunch period in full view of all the students, faculty, and administration. Nothing happened to the football player, but the other student had to pay to repair the damage.
  • Schoolyard bullying: My group of friends avoided assault by hiding in the library from middle school through the end of high school, due to constant physical attacks that happened on any day the library was closed. We were lucky.
  • Grisly attacks were met with very little punitive action: in gym class, a friend had his MOUTH WASHED OUT BY STEEL WOOL, ripping his gums so badly blood was literally pouring from his mouth. The offender received 3 spanks with a paddle from the gym coach. Why report it to the police?
  • Rape: a female friend was raped on campus. No teachers present in a courtyard, no punitive action.
  • Drug use: marijuana and other drug use were happening on campus in sight of teachers and students.
  • Weapon possession: knives, brass knuckles, and guns brought to school constantly and brandished at students. Reporting this to administration brought on more violence from the offenders.
  • Student smoking: just outside the buildings. Students that came in reeking were not reprimanded.
  • Teaching from the bible: Our biology teacher read from the textbook on evolution and then locked the doors to tell us "how it really happened," while he brought out his Bible and lectured us from Genesis.
  • Duct taping faces: I personally had my face and head wrapped with duct taped by an elementary school teacher during an entire class day.
  • Teachers physically abusing children: I personally was hit in the head along with anyone else that would speak out of turn by a teacher in elementary school. She flipped her class ring inside her palm and walloped us pretty damn hard.
  • Condoned physical assault on in the form of hazing: hazing seemed fun on the surface, yet freshmen were beaten by seniors behind the scenes.
  • Teachers providing high grades to girls that flirted with them: this was actually so rampant that it was a joke to all of us. Personally it irked me because it devalued the effort I put in to pass the classes. This situation of allowing people to pass because the school had a vested interest in them staying in athletics was well known between students and teachers.
  • Teachers that slept through class: my English teacher in intermediate had narcolepsy and often slept through the entire class period.
  • Hung over alcoholic teachers: one of my intermediate school teachers came in so hung over that she would sleep through class while we were told to read from our books.
  • Physical and verbal assaults on homosexuals: things were so bad that in gym class they actually became the helpers that lived in the locked area and handed out towels and things of that nature from behind bars.
  • Football team members that were allowed and encouraged to graduate without being able to read for themselves: my mother substituted and was told she had to read tests out loud to football players, and fill out their multiple choice responses. The regular teachers were actually feeding them all answers with verbal cues.

My point is that a hair / dress code has NOTHING to do with keeping children in a healthy place and in the right frame of mind to learn and to be respectful to an administration. In fact, the opposite is true. The more rules you put in place to "control" behavior, the more you put the administration and teaching staff in a situation where they are expected to enforce those rules, without being able to enforce them in a meaningful way.

Our school system has had its "teeth" pulled from it now, where teachers no longer have disciplinary support from administration, and teacher respect is extremely low. More should be done to support education: smaller class sizes, better educational materials, counseling services that help the families and community, community involvement, etc. Go watch "Waiting for Superman" for all the examples of how to stop making DROPOUT FACTORIES. BHS has been one for years. Go do the research and shock yourselves instead of expecting a dress code to fix it. That is small town thinking, and the more you perpetuate it, the worse you'll make it, and I'm sure the police force can give you the stats... People that graduate without literacy and the ability to perform critical thinking fill their cells. Go ahead... I dare you.

I believe I can share all of these because I do not live in Freeport any longer. I escaped. To those of you children that are living under the sick mentality of the people in power in Brazoria county: you CAN escape it. Get educated. Learn to think for yourself, not just to work inside the system. Find like-minded people that want to succeed at life and protect each other. Find ways to get safe: a supportive teacher, a friend's parents that have a safe home, align yourself with a church group that is free from religious persecution (they do exist, just keep trying them on for size), believe in yourselves, make an escape plan to avoid home violence, get counseling to learn some real life skills, use birth control, and find anything else you can do to keep yourself sane. You are a human being and deserve to be treated with respect. Believe in yourself even is no one else does. There really ARE places that let you be yourself; you'll just have to find them on your own because you may not have the support to have someone help you do it. Save your money in a bank and escape. The roads in Brazoria County can be the start of your journey; don't let them be your prison. Good luck and may the force be with you.


Billy Joe Cain
Austin, TX
Class of '85

Fun facts:

  • Our administration would actually cut students' hair on the campus with scissors if it was "too long."
  • Our vice-principal had the longest hair in the school. He got away with it because it was a comb over.
  • One of my friends was sent home because they wore a concert t-shirt that was "too provocative." The band: Yes.
  • Our intermediate school gym teacher murdered the man his wife was having an affair with. He literally got away with murder by calling it an "act of passion," and he lived the rest of his life on disability, paid for by your tax dollars. He was the one that gave 3 licks to the bully that did the steel wool attack.