That characteristic feature of our age, the impressively feckless adolescent indulged by a craven and cynical media, reared its head this past October 15 in the rural community of Randle, Washington.  For reasons known only to themselves, the authorities at the 188-student White Pass High School invited their charges to attend class that particular morning dressed as their favorite celebrities.  Chronicles readers may not be surprised to learn that the young people tended to favor the more lurid end of the show-business spectrum when adopting their livery.  I saw photographs of some of the costumes, and the thought struck me that we should all pause and consider life without a continued supply of comparatively sane teachers, as opposed to those who embrace a kind of corrosive babyishness masquerading as empathy, hipness, and novelty.  No wonder, I thought, that when children today leave school, few of them leave childhood behind.  They’ve never been told to grow up.

But the reason the Randle debacle stands out isn’t because it serves as an example of all that is patronizing and depressing in our modern high schools.  It’s because two male tenth-grade students who chose to appear on campus clad as female celebrities were sent home.  Again, readers may not be amazed to learn that the “celebrities” in question were of the more evanescent variety—one boy came as the pink-haired rapper Nicki Minaj, while his friend opted for a generic Miss America.  The following morning, their fellow students made the issue a rallying cry by organizing a “Crossdressing Day”—arguably nothing new, as some of us have long noted the tendency among young adults of both sexes to resemble members of some androgynous bowling league with vampiric tendencies, but enough to land the whole thing in the national media.

Of course, the tone of the coverage was that the free-spirited kids of White Pass High were being cruelly oppressed by the fascist ancien régime, embodied in their 54-year-old principal (and sometime Republican office-seeker) Gary Stamper.  CNN uncritically quoted the two sophomores as asking plaintively, “Why punish someone for being spirited and all that?” and opining, “It’s really awesome that all the kids support [us] and support the decisions that we made.”  To Arturo Garcia at Raw Story, the school authorities had simply “freaked out” in their reaction, while Bob Knudsen  at took what could loosely be called the sociological angle.  “The major problem is that there is somehow clothing that should be considered implicitly ‘male’ or ‘female,’” he wrote.  “Then we lead into the overt bigotry that seems to still [sic] be acceptable in our society with regard to anybody outside of the gender binary that has been pushed forward as normal.  Transgenders are one of the most discriminated-against groups in our society . . . ” and so on, ad nauseam.  All quite a way, you may think, from the original story about two teenaged kids having a laugh by playing dress-up with frocks and mauve wigs for a couple of hours one wet Wednesday morning.

Needless to say, the crack investigative teams at CNN and the rest failed to report any of the other salient facts of the matter, such as the detail that the “Nicki Minaj” figure illustrated his role by adopting both a skirt of the most sparing cut, and apparently a pair of rather full prosthetic breasts.  (The “Miss America” clone was almost demure by comparison in a purple ballgown and tiara.)  Before last October, White Pass High was known, if at all, for the abysmally low reading and writing skills of its student body (with a “satisfactory” rate of 47 percent and 27 percent against state averages of 69 percent and 71 percent, respectively), which, again, the media didn’t report; and for the fact that it scores a lowly four out of ten for overall academics, as ranked by the nonprofit, which might lead one to wonder why the school didn’t see higher scholastic priorities for its pupils than to have male students break out the rouge and high heels.

In fact, no one uttered even a good-natured rebuke to the two original chumps, or their enablers, let alone a breath of censure.  On the contrary, several media outlets reported how indignant the “local community” was at the tyrannical attitude adopted by Principal Stamper and his crew, while KING-TV in Seattle somehow wondered if the school authorities might care to offer an apology in the matter.  It’s always painful watching an adult who should know better pandering to the whims of juvenile delinquents, and Columbia School District Superintendent Chuck Wyborney came close to doing so here.  None of the students who took part in the show of solidarity would be disciplined, he announced, in the course of promising to review his schools’ dress code as a whole.  “If it happens again, we’ll handle it differently,” Wyborney added.

We can debate whether the curious tale of White Pass High School truly concerns a young person’s right to self-expression, or if it perhaps touches upon the familiar human aversion to hearing the word no—that there are limits that even reasonable people might place on their willingness to endure someone else’s lifestyle choices when these are thrust in their face.  What’s beyond doubt is the wisdom of 1 Corinthians 13, when Saint Paul reminds us, “When I was a child I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  How can a modern teenager be expected to put away childish things when so much of the adult world tells him it’s perfectly fine not to?