A school sent a 15-year-old student home and banned her from returning until she changed the color of her hair from a purple hue to one that falls within the spectrum of natural hair color.
The student previously dyed her hair reddish hues, which at least fit a school district policy that dyed hair should fall within the “natural spectrum” of hair color. The student’s mother claimed that the change from the girl’s natural brown hair to red helped her “flourish” because she felt “beautiful.” Her mother says dying her daughter’s hair to its natural brown is “not an option.”
Purple, it seems, was just far too much for the school (or, perhaps, her classmates).
This kind of story always gets parents worked up. Part of the upset is summed up with a tired old line: “There ought to be more important things to worry about than a student’s hair color.”
Well, that’s absolutely true. But for me, I mean it from the opposite direction some worked up parents do.
If a student’s purple hair causes a distraction, as school administrators claim, they should have every right to remove that distraction. Even if it means taking away that student’s perceived right to “self-expression” by coloring her hair. School isn’t about “self-expression.” School is about making yourself a productive part of society through education. You can be educated and productive no matter what color your hair is, or, for that matter, whether you have hair at all.
Yes, there are more important things to worry about in our classrooms: how much children learn, how well our education system prepares them to find a job, and how safe they are inside the classroom.
If hair color is so unimportant to the grand scheme of things, the student with the purple hair ought to be able to see that, too. If she’s there to learn, she should be ready to crack open the books with her own natural hair color. Or with a hairdo with adjustments that fall within the school district’s policy.
If hair color truly falls at the bottom of the list of priorities, the parents of the student with the purple hair ought to be able to see that, too. They should be the first ones to say, “You know, they’re right. Daughter, you can wear any color in your hair when you’re out there making your mark on the world, but for now, follow the rules, learn as much as you can, and become that person who’ll change the world.”
And I have to wonder what kind of message we’re sending to our kids these days when we allow them to believe that something that ought to be so “insignificant,” the color of one’s hair, for example, is what defines whether they’re “beautiful.” Or valuable as a person. If someone else suggested to this child that she’d be beautiful if only her hair color were different, wouldn’t women everywhere have something severe to say to that person? (Granted, they should.)
My mom hated and feared school so much that she was physically ill nearly every week of grade school just at the thought of having to go, yet she went because she wasn’t given a choice, and went on to become the first person at her high school to make a perfect, straight-A grade despite all that anxiety. I can only imagine what my mom might have said if I’d decided that I couldn’t go to school or wouldn’t be accepted unless my hair was immediately dyed Chartreuse. It would have been a teaching moment for me, to be sure, even though I probably wouldn’t have liked the lesson. Because back then, what was “more important” was learning.
It’s a shame we’ve somehow lost sight of that.