We raise our children to be good and to do good, and we trust that the schools we send them to will guide them when we're not there. However, a recent incident in the United Kingdom shows that different world views between parents and teachers can sometimes lead to questionable judgment calls with disappointing results.
Taylor Jones, a 15-year-old student at Launceston College in Cornwall, England, grew out his hair to untamable lengths so that he could shave it off to raise money for Cancer Research UK. He was able to donate £850 (over $1,000) thanks to a sponsored shave over the Easter break, but the response he received when he returned to school was not entirely what he had imagined.
His school has put him in isolation for four days, barring him from lessons with his classmates until his "extreme haircut" grew out to a length school officials deemed appropriate.
His father, Nick Jones, told The Telegraph that his son had been growing his hair out for some time and that many people found his unshaven head more extreme than when he went completely bald.
"We did try to get him to do it in the first week of the holidays," he explained. "But unfortunately the people who were going to cut his hair weren't available, so he decided he would take the consequences and do it on Saturday."
The consequences for Jones were immediate and, as his father describes it, "pretty red tape." Jones was put into the Internal Exclusion Room, where he is being forced to spend his school days until his hair grows back.
Isolation has taken a toll on the teenager, and his father says that he has had to persuade his son to return to school; attendance is especially important now since he has his General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams in less than a month. Launceston College said that Jones would receive individual specialist tuition for the four days he is in isolation, but they would not budge from their decision to punish him, despite pleas from his parents and schoolmates.
"Everywhere has rules, but I just think in this circumstance, they could make an exception," Jones' mother, Lesley Jones, told the BBC. "They could have had an assembly and recognized what Taylor had done, but pointed out that normally, this haircut wouldn't be appropriate for school."
Principal Bryan Maywood explained that he and Jones had spoken prior to the shave and that he had advised the boy to cut his hair to a "very short but acceptable length" during the early days of the holiday so that it would be grown out by the time school began again. Because Jones disregarded his advice despite knowing where the school stood on the situation, Maywood remains firm in his decision to isolate his student for four days.
"After this period his hair will no longer be considered an extreme hairstyle; he will return to normal lessons," Maywood said to the BBC. "Launceston College respects Taylor's impressive collection made for Cancer Research but unfortunately it was not planned with College expectations in mind... The 'Brave the Shave' Macmillan Cancer Support website is very clear about procedures for undertaking these charity events and stresses the need to seek permission from school."
While the school's support comes paired with negative consequences, others have encouraged the teen by offering to donate to Cancer Research UK. In response to the outpouring of generosity, Jones has set up a JustGiving page to raise more money for the organization. In just two days, he's already raised over £3,000 (about $4,000).
In solidarity, a friend of Jones wrote a fierce Facebook post in which they stated, among other things, that, "Personally I don't think it's fair to punish a student for trying to do something that should be celebrated just because our school is so caught up in its own image."
The post sparked swift rebuke from the public toward Launceston College, with many condemning the school's actions as misplaced and counterproductive. One vocal supporter of Jones, Stephanie Barret, admonished the college and said that school officials "should be making a positive example of this young man's achievement." Lesley Martyn-Uglow, who donated to Jones JustGiving page, wrote: "Cannot believe how you've been treated by college. The rest of Launceston/UK is proud of you!"
Seemingly heartened by the positive responses, Jones recently posted on his JustGiving page:
"The support I have been getting for this is absolutely incredible, I cannot thank anyone enough for what they have done and a huge thank you to everyone who has donated, the amount of money that has been raised is truly amazing, it means so much to me, thank you everyone!!"
Jones' good deed may have garnered a few discouraging reactions, but, in the most important ways, things turned out even better than he expected. The school is certainly teaching him a hard lesson, but the people that have taken a stand for his kindness and been inspired by his generosity are teaching him another kind of lesson. Hopefully, that's the one that sticks.