‘Teacher, the councilman’s makin’ faces!’

When I first read about the Palo Alto City Council’s newest
attempt at rulemaking, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.
When I first read about the Palo Alto City Council’s newest attempt at rulemaking, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. It seems that due to the council’s inability to politely agree to disagree, council meetings have become somewhat of an emotional mine field, filled with eye-rolling, “tsk”ing (I didn’t know people in real life tsked), etc.

One exceptionally bright member of the council decided to draft some rules of etiquette that include a ban on frowning, eye-rolling and tsking. What will be the next to go, shaking the head, furrowing the eyebrows or looking dour in general?

There’s no doubt about it, body language speaks volumes. Perhaps fellow council members or audience participants are fed up with the fragile egos of council members, preferring that these elected officials get down to business. Thin-skinned folks should stay the heck away from politics. And one thing’s for sure, these people should never, ever go into teaching.

I can only imagine school employees laughing at such ridiculous rules. Children haven’t learned the more subtle forms of body language. They wiggle when they’re bored, groan audibly when upset, roll their eyes on a regular basis, yawn loudly, laugh out loud and more. If teachers spent all their time worrying about students’ body language they’d never get anything taught.

For the last 15 years I’ve had the privilege of being a school librarian. One of the favorite parts of my job is reading to classes. I love nothing more than to read a book that gets the students involved. And how do I know they’re hooked? Body language. When students are sitting on the edge of their seat, impatiently telling classmates to shush, listening to every word, eagerly leaning forward to see the next page, I know they’re interested.

Yet when those same students look around the room, silently signal to their friends, whisper to each other or stare blankly at the wall, I know I’ve lost them. The first class or two are my test classes. By watching their body language, I can tell if the book I’m reading is a hit or miss.

Since the school I work at covers kindergarten through fifth grade, I read different books for different grade levels. What excites the little ones may bore the older students. Some of the chapter books I read to the upper grades would sail over the heads of the younger students. Occasionally, a book is written with such wit and interest, both young and old fall completely in love with the story, and no one is bored.

Children not only come with their own set of body language skills, they continue to learn from their peers. Years of classroom settings help them hone these skills to an art form. In elementary school, they’re still gleaning basic skills. In middle school, students push the boundaries, seeing how far they can use body language without getting into trouble. By high school, the skills become more subdued, yet equally forceful. Adults usually have become so comfortable with their body language, much of what they do is subconscious. Perhaps that’s the case at the Palo Alto City Council meetings.

Perhaps the council should concentrate on something that would really make a difference. Imagine a city council that goes out to constituents and truly listens to what the majority have to say. Let’s face it, most people don’t go to council meetings unless they have an agenda they want met – the “squeaky wheel” theory. Most of those people aren’t willing to listen to opposing views with an open mind – something in theory politicians are supposed to do. Imagine politicians voting for the will of the people, regardless of who contributes to their campaign finances.

Maybe the Palo Alto City Council shouldn’t waste time worrying about laws dealing with body language. If they’re going to spend time, energy and money to pass ridiculous laws, I’ve got a suggestion: Let’s pass a law prohibiting stupidity. That should take care of everything else.

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