The XX Factor

Let James Tate Go to the Prom. Please.

James Tate probably had no idea that he would be an Internet celebrity when, one week ago, the Shelton, Conn., high school student and two of his friends sneaked to his high school in the dead of night and taped 12-inch-high cardboard letters to an outer wall that spelled out , “Sonali Rodrigues, will you go to the prom with me?

Good news: Sonali said yes. Bad news: The school was not amused. Tate and his friends received in-school suspension, and because of an school rule declaring that anyone who receives in-school suspension after April 1 can’t go to the prom, he was banned from the very event that he was seeking a date for. (The school allegedly said that what he did was a safety risk, even though his friends held his ladder and he wore a helmet. So then they told him that he trespassed on school grounds. Really? We’re now worried that kids are spending too much time on their campuses?)

The story got out, and picked up steam.  Jimmy Kimmel had Tate on his show, via satellite, and there is a Facebook page called ” Let James Tate Go to the Prom ,” that has racked up, as of this writing, almost 170,000 fans.  (The population of Shelton, Conn., mind you, is about 40,000.)

Tate had a glimmer of hope, perhaps, when there was a press conference announced yesterday. But no, that was just an opportunity for the school’s headmaster, Dr.  Beth Smith, to get some of her own media attention and using her camera time to reiterate that no, James Tate won’t be allowed to go to the prom.

This story is notable for a few reasons. First, it shows the power of social media, and it shows that young people get it better than their oldsters. With technology, isn’t that always the way? But it’s also an example of how we’re infantilizing today’s youth.

If you go to the Facebook page, you’ll notice that every few posts include either the school’s phone number, the board of education’s phone number, and/or even the number for the mayor’s office. Because Dr. Smith has been so unyielding, the school and other offices are being swamped with phone calls in support of Tate. This is an incredible waste of time and resources for the people who have to field these calls.

What is most annoying  in all this is the arbitrary rule that “anyone suspended after April 1 can’t go to prom.” This is a little bit like telling a child that if he misbehaves after Halloween, Santa Claus won’t come. Now, I’m not going to deny that I’ve used that trick on my own children (with a little more subtlety), but they are all under the age of 8. High-school seniors are practically adults, and yet the school is treating them like they are toddlers.

Funny thing, thogh: As the school stubbornly stands its ground amid all these cries for common sense and calls for the punishment to fit the crime, it’s the headmaster who appears to be having a tantrum worthy of a 2-year-old.  How ironic.