Along with the readin', writin' and 'rithmetic, our schools are supposed teach students to think — to evaluate a situation and make a reasoned judgement based on the circumstances.
After all, that's what they'll be expected to do in real life.
But apparently, that lesson was lost on the administration of the Saratoga Springs school district, which denied three students permission to wear graduation sashes indicating their intention to serve in the U.S. Marines.
In doing so, the district followed the strict letter of its policy prohibiting accessories on graduation gowns, but failed the thinking test.
The district's policy limiting graduation gown amendments, as in most colleges and high schools, is no doubt designed to promote a message of unity and decorum. You want to maintain some decorum and solemnity at the ceremony by not letting kids turn their graduation attire into personal fashion statements. It would look sloppy and take away from the integrity of the commencement. We get that.
But the boys weren't asking to cut off the sleeves of their gowns, drape their necks with bling and stitch a skull-and-crossbones on the back. They weren't even asking to write "Hi Mom" in masking tape on their mortar boards, which a lot of kids get away with these days.
They were asking to wear military sashes signaling their commitment to serve their country after graduation. The cloth sashes were black with red trim, with gold lettering saying "United States Marine Corps" and military patches on the ends — perfectly appropriate for a solemn ceremony and no different than other sashes proclaiming valedictorian or other school honor.
There was nothing inappropriate about the sashes. There was nothing inappropriate about the message. There was nothing inappropriate about the students wanting to demonstrate their commitment to public service.
What was inappropriate was the district's unwillingness to recognize all of those factors, consider the special circumstances of the request, and make an exception for these three young men.
Rules are rules, and that's that. Some lesson.
In response to the controversy and the strong negative reaction they got from the decision, district officials will go and amend their graduation gown policy to allow such accoutrements in the future.
But they didn't have to go that far. All they had to do was think. A little reasoned judgement in this case would have served them well.