Friday, August 1, 2014

The Backpack Scandal

Never argue with a teenager. It doesn't matter how many reasonable, well-thought-out points you make. If they feel they are right, nothing you say will convince them otherwise.

It was Friday at the continuation high school. The counselor followed Juan into the room to retrieve his backpack. She left with two.

(The continuation high school does not permit backpacks. I've always assumed the ban was to discourage the bringing of weapons and/or drugs to campus, considering the makeup of the student body.)

Juan was incensed. It was one of those drawstring bags (kind of like this one), and it only contained a folder, his cell phone charger, his keys, and some hand sanitizer. (Which he pulled out before the bag was taken away. Which he could retrieve at the end of the day.)

Why, Juan wanted to know, couldn't he bring that to school when girls are allowed to bring purses?

And he grilled me on this.

(Because I am somehow responsible?)

After ten minutes of his haranguing, I explained that complaining to me about this policy was about as useful as arguing with the wall.

The policy is, I agree, a bit sexist. I understand the distinction, but the girls do take advantage of the purse exception. Some of them carry bags that hold about as much as a backpack does. But there are some things that a girl does need a purse for.

I tried to argue the distinction with Juan, but he shot down every one of my points. I don't know why I bothered. Even if I could find a good argument, Juan would have found a way to argue against it.

(This is not the first time I've been in this sort of situation.)

Somehow the class finally settled. But Juan was still upset. He decided to write a letter to the principal. He even suggested starting a petition and asked his classmates if they'd sign it. Even the girl in the room with the offending purse agreed.

I did not know Juan was writing this letter until he brought it over to me. He asked me to read it. I offered a few notes. (I checked the grammar. It was a bit rambly and had just a basic argument, but it made his point, so I told him it was "good".) By the end of the period he had it ready and he said he was going to take it to the office.

It'll be interesting to see if he gets anywhere with this. (It's within the realm of possibility that he could get the administration to make some sort of a change. Probably not everything he wants. Several policies have changed in the past, so it's possible.)


  1. Tell him that when he has to carry supplies for menstruation, he can carry a backpack, too.

  2. Good for him doing some constructive with it rather than take his anger out about it in a less positive way, know what I mean? I hope they do look into the policy and see if there is a way they can allow backpacks without the fear of a weapon.

    Total agree with you, it is hard to win an argument with a teenager or a young adult sometimes.....


  3. I'm glad he found way to channel the injustice he felt. It's definitely an unfair rule, imo.

  4. I think what you did for Juan is educational.

  5. I commend him that he took his anger and decided to use it in a constructive manner and felt comfortable enough (and with some respect too I feel) to bring it to you to review his letter. This does not only happen with kids and teens but adults too. I have explained our rules regarding Credit Counselling and people will choose not to understand the other side. Just last week, when I explained our reasons, the man still argued. I told him there is no use in arguing as this is how it is and he said "Well I guess you are just a Dumb, F$%#@ Bitch" Yup I hung up on him. Thankfully this person was not in my office. Good luck to you with dealing with this

  6. Ah...the days of adolescence when you're SO smart. I think we really grow when we learn to listen to others. Of course, some people never do. I've known quite a few know-it-all adults.

    1. True. I'm sure some of these know-it-all teens will grow up to be know-it-all adults.

  7. I admire both Juan's willingness to follow through using "official" channels to effect change and your willingness to help. I agree the purse rule is sexist. There are plenty of handbags that are as large as backpacks. I was recently in a museum that doesn't allow backpacks. While men were forced to check their packs, women were allowed to carry theirs over one shoulder like a purse. Excuse me?

    VR Barkowski

  8. He got a chance to develop his persuasive writing skills! There are a lot of unfair dress rules favouring girls and women. I can understand Juan's resentment.

    1. Maybe he'll try letter writing more in the future.

  9. Determination can get a person far in life. And sometimes everything starts with a letter. Might as well work to exercise one's skills at a young age, especially via writing. That, and learning that life isn't fair. Important lessons for Juan and other youngsters.


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