One day my son chose (very purposefully, I might add) not to wear a coat on a day that was sunny and in the 40s. We walk to school, so there is no way this choice could be construed as forgetting or a mistake. They had recess that day, which they don’t every day. My son’s teacher forced him to wear a school coat on recess. Even though he refused, in tears, and told her that I would say he didn’t have to (which is true). There is nothing in the school handbook that says coats are required at a certain temperature. The teacher also forced a boy who wore a sweatshirt as a jacket that day to wear a school coat. The sweatshirt instead of a coat was also clearly a decision okay’d by the parent, to my way of looking.
So my question is, without a rule to say that a coat was a requirement for recess that day, why did his teacher feel it necessary to force a coat onto his body? Couldn’t she have easily said, “I’ll take a coat out in case you change your mind.” Or she could have listened to him, and if he was cold, he would have learned to take a coat next time. It was not a situation where he was in any danger. She also told him he’d get sick from the cold, to which he replied to me, “does she really not know that’s not how it works?”
What’s the big deal over a coat?
A long time ago, I decided that learning to make decisions was one of the most important skills I wanted my children to learn. I am not a great decision-maker. It’s a skill learned just like any other. Kids need a chance to make decisions and have control over their bodies so they are well prepared as they get older.
My kids decide if they will wear coats. My 6-year old checks the temperature, and then goes out of the front porch to help himself decide. And if it is really cold, I’ll throw his coat in the car or our bag as a back-up in case he changes his mind. We all change our minds sometimes, right? Even adults regularly change their minds. And this is an easy decision to let him make, with very low risk. He is learning to listen to his body and trust himself. He is learning to make decisions and to know that his body is his to take care of.
The coat incident was preceded by an instance where the teacher forced him to eat canned pumpkin even though he said no. How can forcing food on anyone ever be okay? We don’t force food on our kids at home, because we want them to listen to their bodies. We offer a range of foods and model eating healthy foods. My daughter would have thrown up if forced to eat something against her will, so I guess the teacher was lucky that didn’t happen.
“Your body is mine to control”
And since day one at school, the kids have been forced to hold hands and shake hands at a hello song. They are required to “hug themselves and hold a bubble” any time they are walking in the hall. This means they are to wrap their arms around themselves and puff out their cheeks. If you don’t do those things, the entire line stops and you are corrected, even if you are quiet and keeping your hands to yourself.
The teacher assigned seats even when the kids are sitting on the carpet in front of the smart board. She marked their spots with tape on the floor, until they can be completely quiet.
Why does it matter?
The issue is twofold. First, bodily autonomy is an important issue. Article after article tells us why it is important to fight rape culture, to fight against normalizing other people being in charge of your body. We are teaching kids that no doesn’t really mean no when the authority figures in their lives don’t accept no as an answer.
Bodily autonomy is about kids learning decision making skills. It is important for kids to learn to listen to their own bodies, minds, and comfort levels. Kids learning to speak up for themselves is an important skill, and if they are willing to speak up, especially to an adult authority figure, it is important that they are heard. Consent always matters, even when adults like to pretend it doesn’t.
Secondly, why the tight control? It really comes down to a lack of trust for children, which is the saddest thing of all.