Going solo is a golden opportunity to teach students how to navigate a social event without the buffer of a partner.
Is there anything more tumultuous than youthful romance? The butterflies in your stomach, the pangs of unrequited love, the first date, the first heartbreak, the long whispered gossip chains relaying the information that so-and-so said that his friend said that her friend said he had a crush on you.
Among memorable moments like the first real kiss (in my case, age 12, in the back of a bus on the way back from a school trip to Fieldays - a true Rotorua love story) and the childhood sweetheart, the icing on the cake of the teen experience has to be the school ball. Hotly anticipated, it is the main event of the school social calendar; an occasion that should be open for every student to enjoy.
Not so if you attend Palmerston North Boys' High School and don't have a date. Palmy Boys' High isn't so keen on dateless fellows taking part in the festivities, as 16-year-old Zain Collins found out the hard way, when he was told he wouldn't be able to attend the event. The school has a rule that any student that doesn't have a date is not allowed to go to the ball.
The aim of the ball is apparently to teach young men how to interact with partners in a formal environment, the rector quaintly explained to Fairfax. Too many bachelors, and the evening would be "no different to any other Saturday night party".
I don't know how many Saturday night teen parties the rector has been to lately, but unless they've changed rather drastically in 10 years since I last attended one, they don't generally involve three piece suits, enforced sobriety and willingly spending time outside of school hours with your headmaster.
I'm not sure I've heard a more ridiculous rule, and I went to a school where walking across a particular patch of grass could result in disciplinary action. As if high school weren't difficult enough, with its associated teenage angst and awkwardness, students at Palmerston North Boys' don't only have to worry about being teased by their peers for their lack of romantic success - the school puts the boot in too. How on earth it is the school's business to be in any way involved in its students' love lives is beyond me.
The question has to be asked: Why is a school so hell bent on discriminating between boys who can find a partner and boys who can't? If the aim of this rule is to give young people an idea of what adult environments are like, it is backfiring spectacularly. Can you think of one single adult environment, formal or informal, where not having a partner would preclude you from attending?
If the school is so keen on teaching its students how to act in a formal environment, it makes no sense to deny single boys the right to attend. In the real world, a number of people attend formal occasions either alone or with colleagues or friends, especially when the event is related to work. In my experience, attending a formal event with a partner is easy. Attending alone is far more difficult. If the school wants to help its students to be comfortable in formal situations, helping them to learn to navigate a social event without the buffer of a partner would also be a valuable lesson.
The obvious loophole to Palmerston North Boys' High's draconian rule would be for the boys to take each other, or a male friend from another school. What would be the difference between two boys attending together and a male student taking a female friend? The thing about stupid and arbitrary rules is that they soon fall victim to their own shaky logic. The school probably couldn't legally object, either. The Human Rights Commission wouldn't look favourably upon any institution that sought to bar same-sex pairings from attending an event on the grounds of gender or sexual orientation.
Indeed, I attended one school ball with another girl. I'd left my previous school at the end of Year 11 but still had a number of friends there, so one of my best friends invited me along as her date to the Year 13 ball. In Year 12, I'd been unable to attend, and I remember sadly bidding all my friends goodbye at the end of the pre-ball. In Year 13, I was thrilled to be able to join them again. It meant the world to me, being able to celebrate such a special occasion with my friends.
As a teenager, as a result of having friends at many different schools, I attended eight school balls, but only one of those with a boyfriend, and we started formally "going out" on the night. Throughout my teens, my friends were infinitely more important to me than my boyfriends. My romantic partners changed reasonably regularly, but my friends remained constant throughout.
Many of those friendships have endured through to today. They were built on shared experiences, mutual love and respect. They were celebrated and strengthened at events like the school ball.
Palmerston North Boys' High School's rule has apparently been around for 102 years. It might've been acceptable in 1915, but it's hard to see how it's in any way relevant now.
Here's hoping Palmerston North Boys' High will reconsider and join us in the 21st century next year.