Dirty dancing  is a constitutional right, claim students at a Washington-area high school. It's a matter of free expression.

Gerald Black, principal of Loudoun Valley High School, required students to sign a pledge that they will "face each other" on the dance floor for the Homecoming Dance. Drugs, alcohol and "freak dancing" also are banned, reports the Washington Post. Black wanted to stop "back-to-front dancing in which a girl gyrates her hips against the pelvis of a guy standing behind her." He thinks it's suggestive.

But the pledge has sparked a student-led protest about freedom and self-expression. More than 300 students signed a petition complaining that the rule is "arbitrary, irregular and in violation of . . . First Amendment freedoms of expression in all forms," said senior Anton Soukup, 17.

Another student printed a T-shirt with the message, "How are we supposed to do the hokeypokey if we can't turn ourselves around?"

. . . "This is our generation's version of the twist," said Jessica Nauta, 17. "A lot of older people think it's a sexual act. It's really not."

Count me among the older people who think it's a sexual act performed in public at a school event. I like the T-shirt, though.

Buying Bigger Breasts

Teen-age girls are paying plastic surgeons for breast implants, reports the Washington Post. While nose jobs are the most common operation for teens, doctors are doing more “breast implants, liposuction and tummy tucks on young women like (Nicole) Casto and even girls as young as 14.”

The enormous popularity of reality TV shows such as "Extreme Makeover," "The Swan" and MTV's "I Want a Famous Face," as well as an explosion of Web sites that extol the virtues of cosmetic medicine, has fueled the desire of adolescent girls to alter their bodies permanently, and they are finding more surgeons willing to oblige them. Breast implants and liposuction are now bestowed by parents as graduation or birthday gifts. Some doctors say they have performed breast augmentations on baby-boomer mothers and their teenage daughters.

The lead example is a 19-year-old single mother who works as a waitress. Wouldn't you think she'd have better uses for the money?

On a hopeful note, Number 2 Pencil links to a story claiming that modesty is coming into vogue.

Skin is no longer in, say the trend-spotters. Not even for teens and twenty-somethings.

Miniskirts, skimpy tops and those embarrassing, thong-baring jeans are on the way out. They are being replaced by high-waist pants, long-sleeve tunics and knee-grazing skirts.

The latest fashion watchword is modesty.

...In a single season, fashion has flipped from cheesy to cutesy.

Fashionistas need to keep changing styles so shoppers feel the need to buy new clothes.

Heavy Reading

On NPR's All Things Considered, Barbara Feinberg talks about her book, Welcome to Lizard Motel, which argues for children's stories that rely on imagination and fantasy. Feinberg's son, an avid reader, hated school-assigned "problem" books that feature adolescents coping with abuse, abandonment, dying parents, kidnapping, alcoholism, etc. Often these characters face “real life problems” with no help from adults.

My daughter read dozens of these books, and enjoyed them. I've always preferred dragons and enchanted wardrobes.

Why Catcher in the Rye?

Erin O'Connor, now teaching in a private boarding school, responds to columnist Jonathan Yardley's attack on one of the most assigned books in high school English classes: J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Yardley finds the book mawkish and the hero narcissistic:

. . . "The Catcher in the Rye" can be fobbed off on kids as a book about themselves. It is required reading as therapy, a way to encourage young people to bathe in the warm, soothing waters of resentment (all grown-ups are phonies) and self-pity without having to think a lucid thought. Like that other (albeit marginally better) novel about lachrymose preppies, John Knowles's "A Separate Peace" (1960), "The Catcher in the Rye" touches adolescents' emotional buttons without putting their minds to work. It's easy for them, which makes it easy for teacher.

Arguably, Salinger invented modern adolescence by establishing "whining rebellion as essential to adolescence," Yardley writes.

All literature is manipulative, responds BookSlut, arguing that Catcher is one of the great American books.

I found Holden Caulfield both affecting and irritating when I read the book, which I think was assigned. (Lower-level English classes read A Separate Peace.) Holden was a whiner, but I felt sorry for him.

Smart Toys, Passive Babies

"Smart" toys  like Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby may turn babies into passive observers, says a New York Times story.

While researchers have found that some babies who are deprived of certain stimuli during the first years of life never completely recover, they have yet to demonstrate that increasing stimulation makes babies smarter. And some experts believe that the toys may even be detrimental to development because they lead children to focus on memorization rather than imagination and problem-solving abilities.

"Some of these toys are very entertaining and they make the child a passive observer," said Dr. Kathleen Kiely Gouley, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York University Child Study Center. "You want the child to engage with the world. If the toy does everything, if it sings and beeps and shows pictures, what does the child have to do?"

The best toys require the most from the child.

Joanne Jacobs writes about education and other issues at JoanneJacobs.com. She's writing a book, Ride the Carrot Salad, about a start-up charter high school in San Jose.

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