My friends and I were of the opin­ion that our school’s author­ity fig­ures were more or less out of touch, irrel­e­vant and unaware of the things that mat­tered to us — and, I think, many of us also knew that the things that mat­tered to us … didn’t really mat­ter. The game of “grow­ing up” was exactly that: A game. We got baf­fled some­times when Someone In Charge would get ter­ri­bly seri­ous and grim over some­thing that was barely worth noticing.

It’s worse now in some respects — just let a kid show up in school with a toy gun and see what hap­pens, and let’s not for­get that in our soci­ety kinder­garten­ers have been charged with sex­ual har­rass­ment — but the valence of authority’s stu­pid­ity appears to be about the same as ever.

It’s good to know that the cur­rent crop of trouser drib­ble is fac­ing the same kinds of prob­lems, more or less, that I did. In a bla­tant fluff piece, the WA Post goes on the offen­sive about how hard it is for cur­rent school admin­is­tra­tors to han­dle slo­gan tees. Tees that read things such as “yes, but not with u!,” “Your Boyfriend Is a Good Kisser” and “two boys for every girl”. (I per­son­ally find the sec­ond one amus­ing. It would be out­right hilar­i­ous if a guy was wear­ing it. The third one just sounds like a good idea.)

I was dis­rupted, though, by the fol­low­ing com­ment from an admin­is­tra­tor com­plain­ing about how hard it can be to read the slo­gans and decide if they’re accept­able (under fairly vague def­i­n­i­tions) or not.

It’s almost like a live-​​action Pac-​​Man game. You see them com­ing through the hall, and they’re try­ing to avoid you,” said Myca Gray, an assis­tant prin­ci­pal at Gar-​​Field Senior High School in Prince William.

Ignore for a moment the issue of kids play­ing dodge-​​em with admin­is­tra­tors, and look at the complaint.

A live-​​action Pac-​​Man game?

Jesus Horatio Christ, has this (wo?)man not played a sin­gle video game since 1981? How can these admin­is­tra­tive types pos­si­bly hope to even know what’s pass­able and what isn’t, when they’re not even slightly aware of the cul­ture, when they likely view the idea of a kid hav­ing a web­cam as a wide-​​open invi­ta­tion to moles­ters, when they believe — hon­estly believe — teens are doing Rainbow Parties, but refuse to lis­ten to plau­si­ble denials? (And so what if the kids are doing those par­ties? Where’s the harm, pre­cisely? There’s a strong argu­ment to be made in favor of prac­tice, isn’t there?)

Here’s another sign of irrelevance:

One day, Assistant Principal LaTanya Catron saw sopho­more Paula Akanni wear­ing a tight black T-​​shirt that said, “I AM TOO HOT TO HANDLE.” The word “Hot” had gold studs on the letters.

Are you too hot to han­dle?” Catron asked with a smile. “Is that for the boys?

It’s for nobody,” Akanni replied, walk­ing away.

I guess it’s a good thing we couldn’t see into Ms. Akanni’s head. I’m rea­son­ably sure I have an idea what was going on in there: Fuck, get a clue and get off my back already, you les­bian cunt!*

And lest you think this is a prob­lem lim­ited to adults, here’s some­thing from a kid who got old fast.

When I see a T-​​shirt that says, ‘100% sin­gle,’ then you’re com­pelled to go up and talk to them,” said Paul Barrett, 17, a senior at Osbourn Park. “But if they’re not sin­gle, it’d kind of [tick] me off, like they’re a tease. I wouldn’t let my girl­friend wear that.”

He wouldn’t let his girl­friend wear some­thing? What a prat. Looks like the College Republicans will be get­ting his mem­ber­ship appli­ca­tion pretty damn soon.

The girl wear­ing the “yes, but not with u!” shirt was also forced to explain her­self to an adult who either had an agenda and was try­ing to push it onto the shirt, or who had an agenda that involved try­ing to prove the girl had an agenda.

Keana said her shirt’s mes­sage was ambigu­ous. “It could mean, ‘Yes, I want to go to the movies, but not with you,’ ” she said. “If I wanted to be sexy, like on MTV, I would just buy low-​​cut tight shirts.”

What it means, folks, is what it says; it does not say “Fresh free milk­shakes”. It would seem some school admin­is­tra­tors would ben­e­fit from attend­ing classes right along­side their charges. Why not revisit some of those English courses that require you to think and apply ratio­nal inter­pre­ta­tions to words, before you try to find “inap­pro­pri­ate” mes­sages where none exist?

How is it pos­si­ble, after all these years have passed, that I can still get so worked up about school author­i­ties bust­ing kids’ balls? I think it has to do with the idea of free expres­sion, and with the tremen­dous dis­ser­vice adults do in appar­ently always assum­ing the worst of kids — work­ing under the impres­sion that kids will always, always break every rule placed before them, must always be kept in line and under con­tain­ment, will — at the drop of a hat — just rip off their clothes and fuck each other silly. (As though, again, that would be a bad thing somehow.)

Yes, kids push lim­its. Yes, they test bound­aries. Yes, they want to get laid. And yes, it’s all a giant game to them. What seems to be lost on school author­i­ties is that every­thing is a game. All of life is a game. It’s the biggest fuck­ing live-​​action Pac-​​Man game in the world … and the sec­ond you lose sight of that, the sec­ond you take your eye off the fun and free life-​​ups in it, is the moment you lose the game.

Get off the kids’ backs. They’re not mur­der­ing each other, they’re not doing ter­ri­ble hard drugs, they’re not tak­ing too many chances with sex, and they really are doing all right. And if they want to wear a shirt that pushes the edge a lit­tle, so the fuck what?

Pushing, test­ing, try­ing and explor­ing free­dom is what the US is really sup­posed to be about, after all.

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* Don’t even bother; I know that’s “inap­pro­pri­ate” to write, but in con­text it fits, and any­one who protests it will auto­mat­i­cally mark him– or her­self as being one of the clue­less masses I’m mock­ing in this piece. If you can’t imag­ine why I’d put those thoughts inside the head of a teenager being has­sled by the admin, well, all I can say is you either for­got your high school years … or lived on a dif­fer­ent planet back then.

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