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When Good People Do Nothing

See Update Below

Last Week’s Story about the teacher-student sex scandal in a Colorado school — the principal and vice principal were indicted for failure to report the case, as required since they’re “mandatory reporters” of child abuse under state law — is followed up this week by another that really applies to the whole mindset. That would be the Utah school where girls (and boys? Unclear) are not allowed to say no when asked to dance:

Demanding Dances

“You guys are misunderstanding again,” Natalie Richard told her daughter. But it wasn’t the sixth-grader who was mistaken: Kanesville Elementary School in West Haven, Utah, really does have a policy that at its Valentine’s Day dance, “no” is not an acceptable answer. “We want to promote kindness, and so we want you to say yes when someone asks you to dance,” said district official Lane Findlay. Students aren’t required to attend the school’s event, and Richard was able to get the principal to mention the rule on a permission slip. But she couldn’t get him to let girls say no. “Sends a bad message to girls that girls have to say ‘yes’,” Richard said, and it “sends a bad message to boys that girls can’t say ‘no’.” Students are asked in advance to list five schoolmates they’d like to dance with, and Findlay said if a student was uncomfortable with a request, that “can be addressed.” (AC/KSTU Salt Lake City) …It can be addressed more easily by letting them say no.

There was a quote that Alexander left out; we only have so much room! The mother, Ms Richard, noted (speaking of the principal), “He basically just said they’ve had this dance set up this way for a long time and they’ve never had any concern before.” She hit it on the head with a restatement of her problem with the whole idea: “Psychologically, my daughter keeps coming to me and saying I can’t say ‘no’ to a boy,” she said. “That’s the message kids are getting.”

This is not the message to give kids — yet a Utah school is doing just that.

Indeed so, and that’s exactly the problem. They aren’t allowed to say no. They are also taught “don’t talk about” anything to do with sex — so when they can’t say no, or the boy (or teacher!) does something to them anyway even if they do muster up the courage to say no, they don’t have the encouragement, or maybe even the vocabulary, to tell their parents there’s something going on that’s making them uncomfortable. That’s one of the many reasons child predators get away with so much for so long.

In True’s most recent podcast, Kit and I talk about the failures involved in the Colorado school case, which (because the school officials allegedly failed in their “mandatory reporting” duty) led to the same teacher molesting even more children. Such cases can grow to absolutely ridiculous proportions, as Kit and I discuss. It’s certainly not an “entertaining” episode, but it’s definitely an important one, and I urge you to listen to it — especially if you’re a parent, or a grandparent, of young children. It’s sobering, but you need to know this stuff. Here’s last week’s story so you don’t have to go looking for it:

When the Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Crime

In August, Brian Vasquez, 34, a social studies teacher at Prairie Middle School in Aurora, Colo., was arrested, charged with sexual abuse. Now, Principal David Gonzales and Assistant Principal Adrienne MacIntosh are also in trouble: when the student complained about Vasquez three years prior, they “impress[ed] upon her the devastating effects her disclosure would have on his career and family,” and urged her “to recant her disclosure of sexual abuse by Vasquez,” investigators say. When the frightened 14-year-old did as they demanded, Gonzales and MacIntosh forced the girl to apologize to Vasquez and hug him — and then suspended her for “making up” the accusation. Vasquez now admits he did abuse the girl, and went on to victimize “several” other children. Vasquez, who has been teaching full time for 10 years, is charged with at least 31 felony child-sex counts. The school administrators, who claim they “don’t remember” the incident, have been charged with failing to report child abuse or neglect — a simple misdemeanor subject to a fine of $50-750, and zero to six months in jail. (RC/KMGH Denver) …Which is how we know we have “courts of law” rather than “courts of justice.”

The podcast, by the way, has a significant update on that story.

Meanwhile, simply because I told the story last week, and pointed to that podcast, about two dozen readers unsubscribed. Only one had the guts to actually write and protest about it. “Piano Guy” in South Carolina complained, “I have been a subscriber a lot longer than your records seem to indicate. Although I have enjoyed it, this most recent edition was rather dark in tone, which is not what I have come to expect from your newsletter.”

“The records” show he got his (free) subscription in 2009. Sure he could well have subscribed longer, for instance at a different address, but either way, he has read thousands of stories over the years. But he can’t take one that points out how adults failed the children they’re paid to be responsible for, so he’s turning his back to guard against ever having to see such a story again. He refuses to be alerted to the fact that anyone — piano teachers included — can (and should!) watch out for kids who may be abused, and get them help.

Yep, it’s an ugly problem: you sure as hell can hear that in my voice in the podcast. But this is what thinking is about: seeing the issues involved and why this stuff is so important. We can’t talk about difficult subjects every now and then, among the “entertaining” stories? Really?

And that’s another of the many reasons child predators get away with so much for so long. They’re counting on you to look the other way. Let’s stop cooperating with that expectation. Girls, boys, women, and men shouldn’t merely be able to say no, they should be empowered to do it. And they should be able to get help when someone doesn’t take no for an answer.

Update

The Weber School District “got the message,” CNN reported Tuesday (February 13 — ahead of the dance).

“In the best interest of our students, we are re-examining the procedures surrounding these dances,” the district says in a written statement, “and will make any necessary changes to promote a positive environment where all students feel included and empowered in their choices.”

Um, that sounds pretty non-commital, so they continued: “We have advised our schools to eliminate any sort of language in the instructions surrounding these dances that would suggest a student must dance with another student.” Yeah, that’s the clarity needed.

In this day and age, when all kids should be learning they have the right to say “no,” the school district has lurched into the 21st century. Sometimes it takes a little prompting, and then good people do something!

(Source)

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27 Responses to When Good People Do Nothing

  1. Beth, Washington DC 612 February 12, 2018 at 6:12 pm #

    It’s always okay to say no. Maybe they should teach them to say no politely, when asked to dance. That would be more helpful.

    • Susan, NY February 12, 2018 at 6:21 pm #

      And teach the boys how to handle rejection — heck, teach all the kids how to cope. Everyone has to hear no once in a while.

  2. Michelle, Iowa February 12, 2018 at 6:34 pm #

    What a HORRIBLE message to girls. This needs to be changed immediately. If I had kids in this school they would NOT be attending this.

  3. Dox, Calif. February 12, 2018 at 6:52 pm #

    I’d adjust that policy: “don’t say ‘no’, say ‘no, thank you'”. We should encourage politeness in both sexes.

  4. Robert in Oklahoma February 12, 2018 at 6:59 pm #

    It’s certainly heartbreaking learning about all this. Keep up what you’re doing, even if it means that some issues are “dark”, I don’t want to be left in the dark about this. Perhaps the more often child abuse (on all levels, not just sexual), we can actually start protecting these children and rid society of the monsters who would take advantage of our young like this.

    I can keep it up if readers continue to support the publication. Thanks for your 15 years (and counting) of support! -rc

  5. Dan, Michigan 718 February 12, 2018 at 7:18 pm #

    Is it ok if they say, “get away from me?”

    One would hope. -rc

  6. Skip, Oklahoma 719 February 12, 2018 at 7:19 pm #

    This is what happens when you try to enforce the minimization of hurt feelings through rules and legislation.

  7. Lynne, Colorado February 12, 2018 at 8:07 pm #

    GRRRR!!!!

    One of the first books I bought my daughter when she was 4: “Your Body Belongs To You”. It teaches that you can say no to ANYONE — Grandma, Mommy, Daddy, even — if you don’t feel like a hug or a kiss, it’s okay to say, “Not right now”. Kids MUST know it’s okay to establish boundaries when they’re little — otherwise how do we expect to prevent them from being victimized?! For crying out loud!

    I *get* that they want to spare the boys the pain of rejection, but a blanket “No saying no” is NOT the way to do it. THINK, PEOPLE!

  8. Tom, Fairbanks AK February 12, 2018 at 8:12 pm #

    The world seems to have gone crazy. People in authority don’t seem to be able to think, or see both sides of an issue. So many OBLIVIOTS!

    • Gary--Tianjin, China February 20, 2018 at 11:01 pm #

      I like that new word Tom….”Obliviots” is just the perfect word to describe all of these so-called enlightened people! Oblivious to any and all common sense!

      “Obliviot” is the This is True word for the sort of person who frequently appears in the stories. -rc

  9. Jackie, Tacoma WA February 12, 2018 at 10:30 pm #

    Just wanted to say thank you for both stories, but especially for the dance story. I’m an adult and have taken ballroom dance lessons for years. One of the most significant issues I had with the teachers there was the rule that you have to say yes if someone asks you to dance. I argued with them up one end and down the other about this; I personally can just ignore it and say no, but I hated hearing new people told this. I appreciate the idea behind it — they don’t want a school where people only dance with their friends and ignore new students. They want the new students to feel comfortable approaching anyone to dance.

    BUT…. How many women have been raped or assaulted out of the students there, and you’re telling them that they can’t say no to someone who makes them feel uncomfortable? So not cool. Dancing is very gendered and has a lot of rules about men telling women what to do as the lead, at least in ballroom. Adding the dynamic that women can’t say no makes it so much more threatening.

    And even if it’s not threatening, it can be annoying. I remember at one point it was fashionable for some of the guys to come out mid-dance and grab you away from your current partner. Unless it’s a mixer, that’s so not okay. If you want to dance with me you can ASK; just dragging me away from someone that I wanted to be dancing with at the time was in my mind rude. They finally got the hint that I wasn’t okay with that when I started just walking off the floor if they’d try that. Some people thought I was rude. I didn’t care. I GET TO SAY NO.

  10. Starr, California February 12, 2018 at 10:33 pm #

    I had such a visceral response to this story that it’s difficult to write rationally. Was this principal someone who had been turned down often during his school years? Is he coming from a place of not wanting other males to suffer humiliation as he did? I had a male supervisor who insisted on forming teams to do different things, and those of us who were “captains” naturally selected those we wished to have on our teams. I remember my supervisor saying to me in an aside: “When I was a boy in school, I was always the last one chosen by any team, and I want to make sure no one here is left out the way I was.” That very telling remark stayed with me.

    Yet, even if former rejections is what is driving this principal with his “Don’t Say No” campaign, it’s not an excuse to deprive children (and adults) the right to say no. Children need to know they have a right to their personal space.

  11. wayne, UK February 13, 2018 at 2:04 am #

    I also recall a story about a teen girl who was suspected of the heinous crime of having a paracetamol on school grounds to alleviate her monthly pain period, who was strip searched by the PC Principal who justified the abuse by quoting ZT ‘school regulations’ prohibiting any drugs on school grounds. Or the kindergarden girl who was screamed at by her principal for some minor offence, who then peed herself, and he called the police and had her arrested for assault.

    Too many stuff-shirted martinets are in places of authority that also have the uncaring PC support of their district’s school boards that allow them to abuse children like this.

    I didn’t cover the second story you mention, but I think the first one refers to Savana Redding — an amazing case indeed. -rc

  12. Gail, Virginia February 13, 2018 at 5:43 am #

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” –attributed to Edmund Burke

    It seems to me that when “good people” witness evil, they DO do something, since otherwise they’re definitely not “good people.”

    Which brings me to the blistering obliviot, “Piano Guy” (and anyone else who unsubscribed in protest). It used to be, I couldn’t believe it when long-time readers would cancel over one story after enjoying the newsletter for a long time, but as I’ve read along through the years, you have helped tune my eyes to really observe how people act, and I sure believe it now. The failure to simply think is breathtaking. I can just see him literally turning his back on a child being raped: this really is how “child predators get away with so much for so long.”

    As you said in reply to an early comment here, you need support from readers to keep going. I know free readers like “Piano Guy” do little if anything to actually help, so once I post this comment, I’m going to use the Contribute to True’s Mission form to make up for his lack of thought. Keep up the good work: we need more people like you pointing out the stupidity of people like the Utah principal, and more voters paying attention. Thank you.

    Thank you, Gail, for your 9-year (and counting) Premium subscription, and for the generous extra contribution you sent right after this comment. Many free readers do pitch in contributions now and then too. It all really helps keep things going. -rc

  13. Ed, Shaftsbury VT February 13, 2018 at 10:14 am #

    The “can’t say no” rule may make sense in a class where the instructor can explain the agreement to is practice the presented skill (dance, CPR, first aid, etc.), not to do anything else. It does not make sense in a social dance setting. Putting all control into the hands (and minds) of one group and eliminating freedom in/forcing submission of another group at an event that is supposed to be fun for all groups makes zero sense.

    One of a school’s functions is/was preparing youth for adulthood and the real world. This school seems to promote sunshine, lollipops and rainbows without acknowledging reality.

    I don’t expect the school administrators to recognize any hypocrisy between this ridiculous ukase and any campaign against bullying.

    I love the word ukase (“An authoritative order or decree; an edict.”) I just checked to see if there were any updates to the story (such as a reversal of the policy). I found none, and the school’s PTA Facebook page is completely silent, with nothing posted in the past 11 days. -rc

    • Jackie, Tacoma WA February 18, 2018 at 9:43 pm #

      Ed, I inderstand where you’re coming from on the first bit about saying yes being a requirement for a class or something. I’d just like to say from personal experience that there are people who will get into classes like that (the kind where you get to have physical contact with other classmates as a part of the class) for the purpose of groping them or otherwise getting their jollies in a way that is not okay with the other person. So while it is true that if you go to a class on CPR, dancing, etc you can expect some physical contact, you still get to choose to say no. (Not that I think you’d disagree with me on that point, actually, but I did want to put that out there.)

  14. Jay, NJ February 13, 2018 at 11:51 am #

    Parents can make a significant statement here by simply not allowing their daughters to go to the dance. Would the school permit boys to say no? Would this uptight school even allow boys to dance together? Either way, no girls would send a clear message.

    It would indeed. Alas, but I think many parents would be so clueless, they’d insist their girls attend. -rc

  15. Don, Oregon February 13, 2018 at 3:44 pm #

    The story and the comments I read skew STRONGLY toward this being an unbelievably insensitive school. I totally see it the other way around. They seem sensitive. The commenters seem like the ones that have gone off the deep end. How dare the school make such a rule? This is sixth grade we are talking about here, not high school or college. Is sixth grade so sexualized that being required to say yes carries lots of overtones? (I admit it has been a very long time since I was in sixth grade, but I did go to sixth grade in Utah, and yes I was typically chosen last for whatever.) It is or should be social, not sexual. On the other hand, I will totally agree we should do what we can to train kids to be nice to each other, and everyone to be nice to everyone. But, wow, we are over-reacting I think.

    Look at the age the girl in Colorado was when she was molested. We’re pretty much talking about the same age here! -rc

    • Kristin in Texas February 19, 2018 at 6:20 pm #

      It’s setting a tone: girls are taught that they must accommodate the boys’ desires, so that the boys don’t have to deal with the pain of rejection. Sure, a sixth-grade dance there’s probably not anything sexual going on — but think about what you are teaching these children. You’re teaching the girls that they are responsible for the boys’ comfort, and the boys that the girls are responsible for making them not feel bad. What do you think happens when those sixth-graders are eighth-graders (or high schoolers, college kids, etc) and now that dance does have sexual overtones? Do you think those girls are suddenly going to switch mindsets and have the self-confidence to say no? Or those boys are going to take the rejection in stride?

    • Jennifer in Berkeley, Calif. March 9, 2018 at 8:52 am #

      I remember being in 6th grade. Yes, we were interested in sex. We were starting to grow breasts! Hell, I remember talking about sex in the 4th grade. We called it “making babies” but we sure weren’t talking about raising families! We just didn’t have better vocabulary, and it was a 9 year-old’s euphemism.

      Yep: I also remember being quite fascinated by the occasional Playboy magazine I got my hands on …at age 8-9. And whether or not the kids are interested in, and talking about, sex, certainly the pedophiles are interested in them. So the bottom line, again, is kids need to be able to say no, and be able to set boundaries that adults actually respect, rather than push through them because they’re “silly” or “shouldn’t be concerned about that.” I sure hope Don is starting to get it. -rc

  16. george, San Luis Obispo, CA February 13, 2018 at 4:33 pm #

    I read This is True for my metal health. After reading stories like these two, my blood boils and I must calm myself. It is a very good exercise: Breath deeply, etc.

    The other stories I enjoy very much, laugh out loud, sometimes, and that is good for my metal health also.

    So all in all for a brief time each week, I can get my mind in to near perfect harmony with universe, and in this day and age it gets harder and harder to do.

  17. Jennifer -- Los Angeles, CA February 13, 2018 at 9:04 pm #

    Fifth-graders and sixth-graders are between the ages of ten and twelve. Those are ages when children become sexually aware. They tease each other and some become flirts. The more aggressive kids become bullies. If children are taught that they cannot say no, the bullies will know they can get away with whatever harm they want to perpetrate.

  18. Bronwyn, Norfolk, VA February 17, 2018 at 8:15 am #

    To start with: I’d just like to say that I completely and totally agree with everything you’ve said. Even at a “harmless” middle school dance, telling girls that it’s kinder to say “yes” even if you don’t want to lays the groundwork for much harsher consequences later.

    For the people like “Ben in Oregon,” above, I’d like to add another perspective here. I was “that girl” in middle/high school — the quiet, overweight, unpopular girl who wasn’t conventionally attractive. Between sixth grade and twelfth grade, I attended a total of fifteen dances — seven dances hosted at my middle school, two junior cotillions, two high school homecoming dances, my junior class Ring Dance, and my senior prom. At those fifteen dances, I danced with a grand total of four different people, and I only danced with one of those more than once.

    One boy asked me to dance, probably because he noticed that I was the only one who hadn’t been danced with all night and he was a gentleman like that. One boy I asked to dance, sort of jokingly, and apparently surprised him into a “yeah, why not?” One boy was my best friend/crush (it was difficult for me to sort out my emotions at the time), and if we were both at a dance, one of us was bound to ask the other to dance at least once. The fourth person I danced with was my female best friend, and that was kind of a mutual “I came to this dance to dance and all these boys are being stupid and ignoring us, let’s dance together” thing. I asked two other boys to dance with me on two different occasions, one I knew and one I didn’t. Both of them said no, which, yeah, that stung. A lot.

    But here’s the thing. I was at one of the dances, and the DJ announced that he was playing a slow dance, and “if someone asks you to dance, you have to say ‘yes’!” You’d think that would have been the perfect opportunity for someone like me — go ask the hottest, most popular boy in the room before anyone else does! Get the chance to dance with SOMEONE tonight, since the one person I can count on to dance with me isn’t here! But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I knew that no matter who I asked to dance, I would…well, I’d be able to tell that they didn’t want to dance with me; middle-school boys aren’t exactly subtle. But I would much rather have asked someone and heard a “yes!” when they had the option of saying “no,” because then I would know that they wanted to dance with me. I would know that they had a choice, and they picked me. Nobody wants to know that someone only danced with them because they had no choice.

    The “just don’t say no” thing really doesn’t do anybody any good, and does a whole lot of people harm. I’m glad the school backed down — for everybody’s sake.

    Well there you go: an awkward middle-school girl years ago, when there weren’t headlines just about daily about sexual abuse and a “#MeToo” movement, clearly had more brains and maturity than an adult, presumably well-educated, school principal in Utah in an era where there is such awareness. This isn’t rocket science: it should be obvious why the principal’s policy was a problem. And for most, it is. You really have to wonder about those to whom it isn’t completely obvious. -rc

  19. frank. CT February 18, 2018 at 1:31 pm #

    The problem with the school in the “cant say no” story is, everyone in this country lost their minds when Obama was president. This continued into the resist Trump crowd. They belive that life should be rainbows and unicorns and if you do not like rainbows and unicorns you are a racist Trump spporter and must be attacked and destroyed.

    Not everybody is equal. Some girls will think a boy is creepy, others wont like him because he is too short and others would be so happy that they got to dance with him. You cant force children to be nice.

    The proper way to handle this is to reward those who dance with any boy that asks and to talk to the girls who refuses to dance with a boy, to find out way she does not want to dance with him. As long as she has a reason that is not mean or cruel, let her say no. If she has a mean or cruel reason, use it as an opportunity to teach her. Ask her how would she like it if no boys asked her to dance? The girls should be taught to be polite, dance with a boy who is not perfect, but dont be afraid to say no if it doesnt feel right. And dont be afraid to knee him if he touches you inappropriately. Even if you get suspended.

    • Bethany from Texas February 19, 2018 at 4:42 pm #

      If the reason is, “He gives me the creeps,” that would be mean or cruel, but who are you to say that her intuition is off? At that age, they may not be able to verbalize what he does that annoys them, but they still feel the urge to get away from that person and should not be forced to dance with him because it would be mean or cruel to say that.

  20. Deborah, Orlando February 18, 2018 at 7:43 pm #

    Gail in Virginia echoed my thought: If “Good People Do Nothing” are they still Good People? No, I say they are not. They know something is wrong, often terribly wrong, and refuse to do anything. Same with “I don’t want to get involved”. You know something is wrong and you do nothing and allow the evil to continue.

    Shame on both groups.

  21. Kiwi Washington February 26, 2018 at 11:01 pm #

    Randy, you’re doing a great job. Common sense isn’t so common. It’s critical for EVERYONE to know they have the right to say NO whenever they’re uncomfortable.

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