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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Aprille Hanson, Arkansas Catholic

By Malea Hargett

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

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

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

“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

“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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