Monday, May 24, 2010

Rack of Shame

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.   

3 thoughts:

Suzanne said...

It’s a broad question that takes in the absentmindedness of humans to the punishable crimes committed with premeditation. But for sweaters, no! Isn’t there enough for our kids to deal with in schools, without labeling their innocent oversight in forgetfulness, which might or might not leave an indelible mark scared into their conscience? For goodness sakes! The point here is that we’re human and humans sometimes forget things. I wrote about such a thing in Mommy’s Writings, these decades later, only too feel that there’s a better way in which to achieve positive results especially for our maturing children. (The Holy Bible in II Timothy 3:16 and Titus 3:9.)

Suzanne McMillen-Fallon, Published Author, would you like a sandwich?

Tristan said...

Hi Suzanne,

Thank you for your comment. The Rack of Shame does seem too harsh for anyone, especially young elementary aged students. But as a former teacher myself I understand the overwhelming task they have to return lost items. I do know that the way it's being handled at this school, calling negative attention to an understandable mistake, is not working. A middle ground needs to be reached.

I clicked on the link you left but the page wouldn't come up. I would love to read the article you wrote.

I appreciate the insights you have shared and hope you keep visiting.

Suzanne said...

You’re very welcomed Tristan. I’m glad that I checked back on your site, often times I don’t due to time restraints, but today I did. I agree with your finding middle ground needs for our kids, as they’re God’s gift to parents. I know my son is just that to me! He’s a grown man of thirty-one years now, but to me he’ll always be my little boy … God’s blessing granted me in this life.
The reason you probably came up void, when clicking the link, is due to the timing element in purchasing the book. Mommy’s Writings – Mommy, would you like a sandwich? will be into the Marketplace by Year’s End 2010 for consumer’s purchase. However, if you desire to order the book in advance than use this link and specifically state Author Suzanne McMillen-Fallon had given you the link to do so:, with a copy to: This should do the trick. If not, I’d appreciate feedback. My personal e-mail contact is: