With sign, high school sends message students must solve own problems

A sign reinforcing decades-old policies on problem-solving and personal responsibility is taped to a door at Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock. (CNS/Aprille Hanson, Arkansas Catholic)

A sign reinforcing decades-old policies on problem-solving and personal responsibility is taped to a door at Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock. (CNS/Aprille Hanson, Arkansas Catholic)

By Malea Hargett
Catholic News Service

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CNS) — As the first week of school began at Catholic High School in Little Rock, a sign placed on the school office door is being discussed by national radio hosts, the media and parents.

The boys school always has placed a high priority on responsibility and consequences, but the notice with a red stop sign prominently at the top is what is getting attention across the country.

On Aug. 10 the sign was posted at the school and shared with parents: “If you are dropping off your son’s forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment, etc., please turn around and exit the building. Your son will learn to problem-solve in your absence.”

After the sign was posted on the school’s Facebook page, it was shared 117,000 times and had more than 3,600 comments.

While most of the comments were supportive, many Facebook comments disagreed with the school’s notice.

One woman said, “I’m an adult who forgets things because life is hectic and chaotic. … I can’t expect my kids to remember when their life is just as hectic. This is a terrible idea. Especially the food.”

Other commenters seemed to understand that the school was educating high school boys, not elementary students.

“These are young men only a few short years away from college. Mommy can’t bring your lunch or forgotten book to college. My son would be mortified if I brought his lunch or book to him. So what if they get detention? I promise, they will not starve in three hours. They are smart. They will borrow food from a friend. Natural consequences,” another woman wrote.

Catholic High parents were not surprised by the sign and knew what to expect since the school has been preaching this rule for decades.

“I’m very proud to now be a part of this exceptional school and happy to hear it is generating a national conversation about the value of personal responsibility,” said freshman parent Jennifer Gunderman of Maumelle.

Principal Steve Straessle reminded parents Aug. 10 before the Aug. 15 first day of school to follow the school’s common sense policy.

In an e-mail to parents, he wrote, “Our old philosophy was that doing so perpetuates forgetfulness and inconveniences adults for a boy’s memory lapse. Now, however, we are doubling-down on this policy to treat the aforementioned lack of problem-solving that has become the norm. If your son forgets something, he will simply have to figure out the best mechanism for fixing it.

“He will have to borrow money for lunch, talk to a teacher about forgotten homework or go hat-in-hand to a coach for forgotten equipment.”

Straessle has been telling parents to teach their sons about “soft failures”

“Soft failures are the times when boys come up short without permanent damage to their well-being,” he said. “A soft failure is a lower grade on a test than expected. A soft failure is not making the team. A soft failure is when a boy’s behavior results in corrective discipline. No one has ever had his life destroyed by soft failures. However, many lives have been devastated by the lack thereof.”

In an interview with Arkansas Catholic, Little Rock’s diocesan newspaper, Straessle said he intended for the quickly written sign to be at the school for two weeks, but now it will be permanent. In the past parents occasionally did bring up lunches, homework or football pads, but the office staff always told them they couldn’t deliver the forgotten items.

“We want to save the trip up here and save the embarrassment and save any kind of time, in addition to underscoring why we have that policy,” he said. “It’s not because we don’t want parents to bother us, or we want to be mean to the kids. It’s because our kids need to think beyond the default switch of call Mom and Dad if something goes wrong. Every tool necessary to solve the problem can be found here on campus.”

Straessle said he would never advocate the rule for an elementary or middle school, and even in some high schools it wouldn’t work. “But it works here and it is intrinsic to our mission.”

“Most parents knew about the policy and liked, but I decided to underscore it for the handful of parents who are making the trek up here and getting turned away,” he said. “This is one of those lessons that is just as vital as calculus or English composition but can’t be found in a textbook. That lesson is the value of personal responsibility.”

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Hargett is editor of the Arkansas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock.

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