Volume 4 Issue 3

But What About The Prom?

by Jackie Orsi

Sure, we're all sick to death of that "What about socialization?" question, but at least there's some substance to the query, a genuine concern behind it. I want to talk about that other question, one that came up several times in the years I fielded questions about homeschooling at information nights.

On more occasions than I care to think about, adults in the audiences asked outright, for all to hear, "But what about the prom?"

And here's an equally amazing thing: nobody ever guffawed, nobody snickered, nobody turned in disbelief to see if the questioner had a twinkle in her eye and a smirk on her face. Perhaps they were all were just too polite to show their astonishment and disgust. Let's hope that's why.

The first time somebody asked about the prom, I was taken completely off guard. I reacted politely and stupidly. I mouthed something about how homeschoolers can organize a prom if that's what they want to do. I went away bemused. "Poor thing," I thought. "That woman's life peaked on a June night when she was 17, and it's been all downhill for her ever since."

The second time the question came up, I was again too shocked to come up with a clever answer because I was thinking to myself, "Again with the prom question? A second person thinks this is worth discussing? Do I see a pattern here?"

I started to obsess about the prom question after that. It became my hot button. My daughters, who are now 19 and 17 still get a kick out of Mom, sputtering and fuming about the prom. It's become a family joke. I apologize profusely to them for choosing homeschooling and denying them their night at the prom, and they do their best to pout and appear bereft.

The last time a hand went up in the audience to ask about the prom, I was ready. I replied, "Yeah, well, what about the kids who have a prom but don't get a date?" Then I just moved on to the next question. It wasn't the crushing answer I wanted to give, but it felt better than a straight answer that awarded the question validity.

You think I'm making too big a deal about the prom question? I don't think so. Let's set the record straight; this is not sour grapes on my part. Back in high school I went to two proms-and not with some loser who asked me last minute. My main squeeze was a guy who was president of the student government and captain of the football team. (Aren't you impressed with me now?) For my proms, I had to come up with a gown, which for economy's sake my sister sewed for me. My date had to come up with tickets, a rented tux, and a corsage. Our buffet dinner was a potluck with an overabundance of macaroni salad. I recall those two occasions as slightly silly, tolerably boring, a little too stiff for comfort, and kind of sweet. Significantly, my favorite memory of proms has to do with hours of work and fun beforehand turning the gymnasium into our version of the streets of Paris, complete with an Eiffel Tower made out of lumber, chicken wire, and tissue paper.

So I don't have problem with the prom, you understand, if it is kept in proportion and in perspective-but neither is true of The Prom in 1999.

Today's Proms have moved from the gymnasium to the hotel ballroom. There is a limousine or sports car rental, a five-course meal, and a gown that costs hundreds. An entire national industry now serves The Prom. It's safe to claim that between the two of them, a teenaged couple easily drops over $1,000 on The Prom. Think about that. (So many people wail about how much their kid have to spend at the college bookstore to get his or her textbooks for one semester, but it is a mere fraction of what that same kid shelled out for the prom three months previously.)

Now I am going to tell you a sickening story about what is actually happening in a small coastal city in California. My friend's son entered high school last August as a sophomore, so she showed up for the first meeting of the Parents' Council, a group that is meant to promote education and support the school. Like all California schools, this one needs everything: lab equipment, library resources, computers, you-name-it. Only three other parents showed up for the meeting. You see, support for the Parents' Council in that town has dwindled so drastically in recent years that it is virtually a nonfunctional organization with an empty treasury.

Across town, however, the Prom Night Committee draws about 40 parents per meeting. Prom Night is the night-long party that keeps the kids off the highways after the prom. Not a bad idea. My parents let me throw a prom night party at my house. Six couples were invited and we had a lot of fun, talking, laughing, snacking, playing games until morning when my mom cooked a huge breakfast we were too tired to eat. Fast forward almost 30 years to this California town where Prom Night features a catered meal, elaborate decorations (fountains and waterfalls), a band, a fortune teller, bungee jumping, Sumo wrestlers (!?!?!), door-prizes valued at $50 for each and every kid, and much, much more. Last year the Prom Night Committee successfully raised about $35,000 and spent every single penny of it. Imagine blowing $35,000 on one party. Sumo wrestlers sure don't come cheap.

Who attends the party? The limited number of students who meet two criteria: they are popular enough to get a date and they can afford to go to the prom. Hundreds of young people are excluded by these criteria--yet year after year, Prom Night consumes most of the attention, energy, and financial contributions of coastside parents and the community at large. Meanwhile, the handful of parents who are struggling to revive the Parents' Council find it hard to get local businesses to contribute for library books because they've already been squeezed dry by the Prom Night Committee.

The Prom has become an orgy of misdirected materialism, and it verges upon being an orgy in the more traditional sense of the word as well. I have a copy of a magazine called Your Prom, published by Modern Bride magazine. It is 216 pages long, 90% devoted to advertising prom dresses. Well, they're called dresses today-we would have called them lingerie when I was 16 years old. Lots and lots of skin, so naturally one of the ads is for silicone breast enhancers in two styles, "push-up" and "deep cleavage." (Would that be "push-together"?) Articles show beauty make-overs for girls as young as 14, yet the models in the ads all appear to be in their mid-twenties and older, and their poses are more than a little provocative. May I turn your attention to the woman in the leopard- skin dress pulling on the ponytail of a man crouched before her on all fours? He isn't wearing a shirt but he does have a bow tie on (-this is the prom, after all.) That lovely young girl standing over him may not get to be queen of the prom, but she'll be a nifty dominatrix for some lucky young man. Ah, sweet sixteen and never been whipped!

The cover of Your Prom promises a "Sex Quiz-How clued in are you?" Let's see how clued in you are. Here's question #4: "Conveniently for your new beau, his parents have left town for prom weekend. Now it's past midnight. You are in his bed and he's saying, 'You would if you loved me' Your reply?" Turn to the answer page now. For question #4, we are advised, " . . . don't make any sperm of the moment decisions." (No, I am not making this up. Disbelievers can obtain a photocopy of the page by sending an SASE to me, 4463 Ward Rd., Morrow OH 45152. For a nickel, I'll throw in the dominatrix.)

Don't blame the kids. I'm thinking that more than the "new beau's" parents have left town; for The Prom to have grown into this annual spree of unrestrained indulgence, dissipation, and promiscuity, a whole generation of American parents must have mentally "left town." As a rite of passage, The Prom is the quintessence, the culmination of how we raise our children today. This one night idealizes all that is shallow: looks, clothes, extravagance, sexuality, short attention spans, thrill-seeking, and adolescent concepts of "popularity."

Parents who don't care leave their kids home alone that weekend; parents who do care spend the weekend staging elaborate diversions to keep their children from drunken driving. How sad it is that Prom Night differs not at all the practice of distracting two-year-olds from toddling toward traffic by giving them shiny toys; fifteen years later, children have made no progress toward self-control and their parents haven't found a better way to guide them.

Finally, think of all of this in the context of public school. The Prom is a young person's reward for sticking out another lousy year in high school. It's a fairy tale evening set in sharp relief against a year of boredom, stupefaction, pettiness, crassness, manipulation, coercion, and fear.

For me, The Prom represents everything homeschooling stands against. I homeschooled my daughters so that every day of their lives might have some magic in it, not just a single night once a year. I wanted the magic to come from the precious discoveries they would make about themselves and the world-not from the momentary thrills provided by a night of Sumo wrestlers and bungee jumping. I homeschooled so that my daughters would estimate their personal value based on the depth of their thoughts, not the depth of their cleavage. I gave them reality, not surreality. I gave them meaning, not glitter. I gave them my time and my love, but not baubles. I taught them right from wrong, instead of bribing them. I gave them higher goals than having a date for the prom.

I'm ready for the next homeschool information night:

"The lady in the blue shirt in the fifth row has had her hand up for a long time. Thank you for being so patient. Go ahead with your question."

"But what about the prom?"

"Ma'am, these parents around you have come here tonight to find out a better way to raise their children by homeschooling them. They have deep concerns about their children's educational achievement, about safety in the schools, about the moral fabric of American society, about spirituality and life and death and the future of all that matters in the universe. I think, perhaps, you came to the wrong place. On the other side of town, the Prom Night Committee is meeting. They're looking for someone to towel down the Sumo wrestlers when they get sweaty. You are the answer to their prayers. Bye."

Copyright © 2002 The LINK Homeschool Newspaper