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Forced equality

Published February 22. 2014 09:00AM

Did you hear the story about one elementary school in California? Apparently, the principal made a rule that the children could sign the valentine cards they were giving out, but they could not put names on the envelopes of their valentine cards.

In other words, the children couldn't choose which card was going to which classmate. If you were a boy who liked a girl, there was no guarantee that she would receive a special card. And, if you were a girl who really disliked a boy, chances were good that he might get a 'sweetheart' card from you even though that was far from your real feelings.

Each child was told that they must bring a card for each member of their class. They had a typical valentine box that was decorated with hearts and cherubs. The kids were instructed to put their valentine cards in the box. When it came time for the cards to be distributed, the teacher and her aide counted out the correct number so that each class member received the same number of cards.

If one of the kids didn't bring the right number of cards, the teacher had an extra box of valentines that she and the aide used to fill in the missing cards. I imagine that they even signed the kid's name to them.

When I heard this story, I felt sorry for the kids in that school. They were being manipulated in the worst way. They were being told that everyone was equal and that no one was special. They were not allowed to let their best friend know how much they care for her. They were stopped from sending a 'love' message to a possible boyfriend.

The fact that each child in those classes went home with the same number of valentine cards as everyone else was considered an achievement by the principal. I'm sorry, but I don't think it was a positive event. Why? Because forced equality isn't equality at all. It's make believe. It's fake.

In my keepsakes, I still have an old dog-eared valentine that was given to me in 6th grade. It was from a boy whom I liked very much. The fact that he chose a special card for me was the highlight of my young life. We never became boyfriend and girlfriend, but we remained friends throughout high school.

Now, I know that some of you are saying, "But, Dr. Smith, what about the poor kid who doesn't receive any valentine cards? That's not fair." Okay, I get it. Life is cruel. We'd like to fix everything so that children don't feel bad and don't have their self-esteem trampled.

But, out there in the real world, people have to learn to take the bad with the good. Maybe you didn't get many valentines when you were in elementary school. I hope that didn't turn you into a serial killer or put you in a mental health institution. Perhaps it helped you figure out why you didn't get many cards.

Through my years as a school principal, I met many wonderful children. I also met some children who were for lack of a better word unique. They stretched the limit of their teacher's patience. They might have been regular visitors to the school nurse. The physical education teacher might have suggested that they take a shower when they arrived at school in the morning. The cafeteria workers made sure that they got extra food - or gave them smaller portions to help control their weight. Those children were often out of the mainstream and had a hard time making friends. Those kids most likely were not on the receiving end of many valentines.

Our hearts go out to those children. But, forcing their acceptance is not the way to have their classmates like them.

Each child is special. When someone wants to give a special valentine card to a classmate, she should be allowed to do so. If someone does not want to give a classmate a valentine, he must have a good reason. He shouldn't have to give one.

Just think if the Olympics were run by that California principal, then every participant would need to get some kind of medal. That kind of forced equality is not the American spirit.

If you would like to contact Dr. Smith, she can be reached at her e mail address: or in care of this newspaper.

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