When I was growing up, I got used to being near the end of the alphabet. While I didn’t have it as bad as the people with surnames ending in Y or Z, I was still envious of the Allens and Browns. I spent my days in public schools sitting with the same people, always near the back of the classroom. The Sullivans, the Smiths, a Stroop and even a Strupeck. Had I grown up in Montgomery County, Maryland, this would not have been a problem.
Enter “Policy JFA-RA: Alphabetical Order,” which asks administrators and teachers “to allow for students with surnames at the end of the alphabet to be in other than end-of-line positions.” This unique policy, which may be the only of it’s kind in the country, is at risk of being repealed by the Montgomery County School Board.
This vote is part of a larger project to cull from the books many unneeded or obsolete regulations. Also among these rules up for consideration is Policy EBF: Trampolines. In Montgomery County, physical education classes no longer use trampolines. With the exception of trampoline purveyors, it is unlikely anyone would contest the removal of Policy EBF. However, the battle lines have been drawn, alphabetically, over Policy JFA.
Arguments for keeping the rule abound. While obviously I have a personal preference on the matter, it is easy to list reasons to support the policy. Mixing things up will allow students to sit near and meet other students, rather than always being stuck with those who have similar last names.
Also, those with last names falling near the end of the alphabet will not secretly harbor bitter feelings for those who are alphabetically-advantaged. Worst of all, often teachers line students up for lunch or recess in alphabetical order. The poor Zuckermans end up starving while the Andersons enjoy a fresh, hot lunch.
The real question is, does policy JFA as it stands properly address alphabetical discrimination. Does it go far enough? Perhaps it should be revised, not removed, and include detailed recommendations for establishing equality.
Simply seating students in reverse alphabetical order does not solve the problem. Administrators should look at using computer systems to randomly sort students and generate seating charts. Or, students could just sit in a circle. Either way, there should not be alphabetical or reverse-alphabetical discrimination in public schools.
Montgomery County, when it adopted Policy JFA in 1981, was at the cutting edge of alphabetical-equality. Hopefully, the current school board members (regardless of where their last name falls on the roll call) will look at all of the reasons to support the rule. While trampolines may be obsolete, most alphabetically disadvantages people are not.