Hundreds of years ago people really got into public humiliation. So far nothing has changed. Sure we don’t pack a picnic to see someone beheaded. Nobody schedules time around ridiculing a person locked in the stocks. We don’t stitch scarlet letters onto sinner’s clothing.
However, we do watch the news. We read tabloid magazines while waiting in the check out line. And we join social media sites to gossip.
Recently I heard about a story where a judge ordered shoplifters to wear a sign around their necks while standing in front of the store they robbed. One woman tried to play the sympathy card by wearing a sign that said, “I stole milk for my baby.” She stole more than just the milk.
One man was belligerent to the store’s shoppers and passers by in an attempt to appear stoic and unaffected by his sentence. Deep down he was completely humiliated. He never shoplifted again and has done everything he can to convince young people to turn away from a life of crime.
I have seen another subtle form of public humiliation at the local elementary school.
The Rack of Shame.
Where we live in California has variable temperatures. The mornings start off cool only to warm up quickly. It’s no wonder the school has such an abundance of leftover forgotten sweaters. Significantly more than what would fit in a box in the front office. What does the school do about it?
They hang the clothes on two different clothes racks. The racks are wheeled outside most mornings for students to claim their lost items. Then the racks are wheeled back into the multipurpose room once the students go into class.
Lost clothing has always mystified me. The random shoe or sock forlornly sitting in the street. A sweater soaked with rain after being forgotten and trampled over repeatedly. How do you miss that? Who puts on a pair of socks and shoes and doesn’t notice when one goes missing? The sweater is a little more understandable as the weather can change so dramatically around here. AM 50’s typically turn into PM 90’s in the spring and summer. Just not now because we are still experiencing winter rain every week.
It’s human to forget. So the school does what they can to help out the humans. The last week of school they take the unclaimed clothes and display them across the chain link fence at the back of the school yard. No scarlet letter necessary. Grabbing something off the fence is bad enough.
Gavin forgot his jacket on Friday. When I picked him up I noticed he wasn’t wearing it but that’s typical Gavin. It was cold and windy but he’s Gavin. I thought of asking him. I kick myself for suppressing the impulse. I thought he had it. Little did I know he had accidentally left it in the music room.
He wore his coat today. It’s a cold 61 degrees right now. I’m surprised it got that warm with the ominous clouds. Today is supposed to be the nicest day this week.
The plan was for him to talk to his teacher about what happened and I would check with the office staff about it. When we got there the Rack of Shame was out. The bell rang so I told Gavin to wait in line.
It was the same feeling I have every time I go to Ross or TJ Maxx or any of those stores. No two items were the same. It’s possible the sweaters and jackets were hung lovingly by the yard duty but there was this overwhelming feeling of embarrassed carelessness. The clothes looked so pathetic. “Pick me. Pick me. I haven’t been home in weeks.”
I have also never seen a child looking through the Rack of Shame. Just parents. The kids know their parents will bail them out of their predicament. I felt so on display right in front of the entire student body waiting in line as I sifted through their forgotten clothes.
The jacket wasn’t there. I knew it wouldn’t be. I could tell before I got to the racks that it wasn’t there. I looked just in case it was caught between all the sweatshirts. Nope. I made my way back to Gavin and told him I couldn’t find it so he needed to tell his teacher what happened anyway and see if he could find it. I’m hoping the music teacher noticed and returned it to his classroom. We’ll see.
I just know the little red jacket is crumpled in a corner with rumpled spirits hoping that Gavin will soon find it. For now it has been spared the indignity of the Rack of Shame. I haven’t.
The question is while other ancient and modern forms of public humiliation are successful, is the Rack of Shame a good idea? Shaming parents doesn’t necessarily transfer to a change in student behavior.