Last term at my kids' school, the grades fives and sixes were talked to by their teachers about 'boyfriends' and 'girlfriends'. In line - most likely - with most primary schools, the official position was that primary school students are too young to have relationships*. While the rule is mostly around public displays of affection, it seemed to Una that the rule was too broad and applied to all definitions of 'a relationship' (remember in primary school 'going together' didn't necessarily mean touching), and she came home and wrote this letter. She's given me permission to post it here.To Mr ____,I very strongly believe that students at our school should be allowed to be in a strong relationship with each other. This, in other words, is having a boyfriend or girlfriend.A lot of boys and girls in our school have a boyfriend or girlfriend. However, teachers spoke to their students about us not being allowed to anymore. I think this is outrageous! I have some reasons to support my thoughts.My first reasons is, I think it helps us practice handling big emotions. When we are older, we will become more serious about it, but in the meantime, we should practice. We need to know what to do with them. No teacher expects a prep child to be able to read in a day, right? They need to PRACTICE! And so do we with big emotions like the ones some of us have!My second reason is, love is, of course, a normal part of life! Almost every human being loves someone at the very least ONCE in their life! And so children at our school do too!And my third and final reason is that it is certainly not necessary to feel ashamed about the emotions you have toward someone else! I think it is disappointing that our lovely school would turn down something like that!Concluding, I hope that you will agree with me and make sure we take away this terrible rule.Sincerely,Una
I had previously written a longer blog post about some unintended consequences of this rule, the fact that by making bans, students may not feel safe to access support and guidance from teachers and school leaders in matters of interpersonal relationships. It was brought to my attention that, by writing about a specific situation Una was in might lead to people in the community identifying a particular boy. While I feel no judgment or animosity against any child, I'd hate for people to think I was finger-pointing, and so I've eliminated that story from this blog. I will only say that it has been resolved with help from the school.
However, I will stand by this: I believe strongly that instead of shutting down conversations by making bans or denying some students' feelings, students need to be given vocabulary to deal with their feelings. The simple and key message here, to me, is 'no means no'. Students can and should, be given the language and communication skills to negotiate interpersonal relationships, including consent. A clear message that 'no means no' helps any student not ready for 'crushes' to set a clear boundary, and offers institutional support to all students. It also sets girls and boys up for more complex scenarios later.
I have worked hard with this school over the past two years to help them communicate their strengths. I advocate for this school because I believe in the community. It's a great school, and I feel lucky that my kids have such a strong and caring place - think how safe and trusting Una must have felt to write this brave letter. I'd hate for anything I wrote to reflect poorly on the school. I believe in the values of the school, and I think this letter encompasses them. I also believe in authentic student voice - these are Una's own words and her own values, and I respect her for writing this letter.
I posted this on my blog because I was proud of Una, and because I think she's right, and because I felt it spoke to a broader conversation about young people's rights and responsibilities, and I find her views offer a balanced, and refreshing, perspective.
*I was later told this is not an official position of the school and it was only Una's class that had this talk.