Arizona fell under scrutiny again after Mesa’s Westwood High School Principal Tim Richards disciplined two students by forcing them two hold hands for an hour in front of their classmates.
After a picture of the teens holding hands went viral on Facebook, some were quick to commend the principal for his unique tactics against on-school fighting, while others criticized him for subjecting them to an hour of homophobic slurs.
On on hand, Richards’s technique doesn’t stray too far from methods used by grade school teachers or instructors in early education facilities. When young children disrupt classroom activity with their fists, they’re encouraged to “hug it out,” spend enough time with each other until they learn to resist their juvenile impulses for violence. For the sophomore and senior who chose their fists — over their words — the situation was no different.
Richards tried something new, broke out of traditional discipline procedure and saved students from missing nine days of school from suspension. When so much of high school education depends on the layering of information — one concept relies on thorough understanding of another — Richards chose a gesture that denotes friendship over truancy.
On the other hand, Richards’s critics accused him of anticipating the subsequent bullying that followed after he issued his punishment. ABC 15 reported that kids laughed at them, called them names and asked if they were gay. Critics continue to argue that Richards shamed the students into playing nice and gave other students an avenue through which they had immunity to taunt with hate speech. Some wonder if Richards could have held the hand-holding session in a private room, in which sheer boredom would have prompted them into conversation. Richards surely anticipated the taunting and certainly foresaw the humiliation — perhaps that was even the point.
Perhaps more people would have been heralded Richards as a courageous educator, if the issue had not been tainted with allegations of homophobia. In an educational system in which students quickly tire from negative reinforcements, the hand-holding embraced kindness over punishment, friendship over suspension. Sex and sexual orientation wouldn’t have been issue, had the proclivity for homophobic thoughts been absent from high school life.
Perhaps the bigger issue is how the school failed to teach students tolerance. The administration took a unique approach to addressing violence in schools, but it might be a step behind in promoting global awareness. While the district does not “condone the choice of in-school discipline given these students,” students at Westwood High couldn’t disagree more. On Tuesday they stationed an impromptu rally in support of the principal, holding hands with fellow students. Despite the controversy surrounding Richards’ discipline tactics, the message was not lost — not even to his toughest critics.
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