Guest Column

See No Child’s Left Behind

by Casey Hurley


Many are familiar with Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes. An emperor was duped by scoundrels who claimed they could weave the finest clothing in the world. The key to their scheme was convincing the emperor that their magic cloth was visible only to those who were not fools or incompetents. They got rich by demanding gold and fine fabrics, which they kept for themselves, and by weaving nothing.

The first of the double ironies at the end of the story was that the emperor, not wanting to be considered a fool or an incompetent and believing he was wearing fine clothes, paraded naked down Main Street—proving himself to be an incompetent fool.

The second irony was that the adults, hoping not to be seen as fools, denied the obvious, proving themselves to be fools, too. Only a small child had the sense to say, “He’s got nothing on.”

Clothing Crisis

The following story relates what happened many years later, in a federal republic of 50 empires, each with its own emperor. Knowing their ancestor had been tricked by scoundrel weavers, these emperors were wary of weavers. They rarely associated with weavers and didn't seek their advice about clothing. Nevertheless, the prime responsibility of each empire was to provide citizens with an equal clothing opportunity.

 

Clothing a citizenry was complicated. Each empire needed clothing that (1) protected wearers from the elements, (2) satisfied human modesty needs and (3) attracted the opposite sex.

Until recently, clothing decisions were made locally because different empires and regions had different climates, social norms and stylistic preferences. Rarely did emperors become involved. (Some thought this was a lingering effect of the trick played by the scoundrel weavers many years ago.)

No empire was completely successful at achieving the equal clothing opportunity ideal, but the struggles and successes of weavers were a source of inspiration and pride among citizens. They spoke often about their nice clothing, realizing that their fine clothes would not perform all three functions without the work of many dedicated weavers.

Unfortunately, this admiration waned 20 years ago, when emperors claimed that weaving had become inadequate. Emperors and powerful business people reviewed National Geographic magazines and declared a clothing crisis because weavers failed to produce clothing that adequately attracted the opposite sex.

Several years later, the president of the republic met with all 50 emperors to confront the crisis. They established six goals for weaving, but these had little effect on weavers. Instead, this meeting fueled a general discontent with weaving. Citizens agreed that their neighbors were not clothed in sexually appealing ways.

The first step to solving this crisis was to determine how it happened. Powerful citizens who cared little for equal clothing opportunity, and politicians who failed to provide equal clothing opportunity, proclaimed that the crisis had arisen because weavers lacked standards against which they could be held accountable. Blaming weavers for the crisis enabled emperors and politicians to shift the focus away from their own failure. (Some believe this was their revenge for the trick played on their ancestor.)

So emperors imposed standards by which weavers could be held accountable for producing sexy clothes. Weavers were befuddled by this development. They did have standards—standards they held strongly yet adjusted depending on the cloth, the person to be clothed and the different climates. Regardless, powerful, well-clothed citizens and politicians forced their “no standards” conclusion on weavers.

Still, weavers saw their work as a complex art, involving many different fabrics and multiple purposes. They resisted making garments of silk that revealed much and provided little warmth.

On the Catwalk

The emperors engaged pseudo-weavers in a quest to improve clothing. The pseudo-weavers were like the scoundrels in The Emperor’s New Clothes—they wove no cloth. Instead, they taught weaving and made weaving rules and regulations. Now that equal clothing opportunity had become unimportant, pseudo-weavers joined politicians and powerful citizens in setting empire-wide standards for sexy clothes.

They visited shopping malls to see which stores had the most sexually appealing clothes. Emperors quickly decided that women’s clothing should be made from Victoria’s Secret patterns, and they offered prizes for the best designs. Quickly, weavers discarded old patterns and began making the silkiest, most revealing clothes possible.

These new standards for sexy clothing revived an interest in children's beauty pageants. All pageants had the same rules—100 contestants were culled down to five finalists and one winner. The pageants tapped into the human competitive drive and pleased the emperors because more pageants and contestants signaled that things were going in the right direction.

Unfortunately, citizens in the colder regions became ill due to their scanty clothing, unwanted pregnancies increased and productivity declined in workplaces with vinyl upholstery. But the increase in beauty pageant contestants pleased the president, who had frequented the pageants when he was an emperor.

Soon, the president engaged his pseudo-weavers in drafting new rules for women’s clothing that required empires to use Frederick’s of Hollywood patterns. Some emperors resisted. They saw no need to change because the difference between the two lines was minimal. But the president’s pseudo-weavers responded to their protests by saying, "There may be holes in our plan, but you will lose your silk farm subsidies if you do not shift to Frederick’s of Hollywood."

This story has no ironic ending, just a sad one. At this very moment citizens and weavers are flocking to the president’s fashion show, featuring the latest in children’s asymmetrical fashions titled “See No Child’s Left Behind.”

 

Casey Hurley is a professor of educational administration at Western Carolina University, 250 Killian Building, Cullowhee, NC 28723. E-mail: churley@wcu.edu