Bashing the Bling

Posted: Nov 02, 2005 3:05 PM

At high schools across the country, the prom has gone from being an adolescent rite of passage to an indicator of social status to, now, the kind of extravagant thing that can affect the Gross Domestic Product. Whereas, not too long ago, the expenses associated with attending the prom were the price of the tux or dress and a corsage, today they can exceed what some hardworking families earn in a year.

That’s why one courageous and morally serious Long Island principal said, “Enough already!” 

The principal was Kenneth Hoagland of Kellenberg Memorial, a Catholic high school in Uniondale, New York. Hoagland, a brother in the Marianist order, was weary of the stories he heard about the Long Island school’s spring prom: “Students putting down $10,000 to rent a house in the Hamptons for a weekend bash . . . Fathers chartering a boat so their kids could go out on a late-night ‘booze cruise.’”

What bothered Hoagland wasn’t only, or even primarily, the “sex, booze, and drugs.” It was the “the flaunting of affluence . . . a pursuit of vanity for vanity’s sake—in a word, financial decadence . . . ”

So, Hoagland took the almost unimaginable step: At the start of this school year, he wrote parents a 2,000-word letter informing them that Kellenberg would no longer “put on the spring prom.” Parents are free to continue to do as they please, but the school would have nothing to do with what he called an “orgy.”

As expected, students were dismayed by Hoagland’s decision, calling it—what else?—“unfair.” Only slightly less expected was the reaction of some parents.  One parent told Associated Press that school officials don’t “have a right to judge what goes on after the prom . . . ”

Obviously, the entire point of sending kids to a Catholic, rather than public, high school is lost on this parent.

Fortunately, it isn’t lost on Hoagland. His actions are a reminder of two basic, if often-forgotten, truths: First, adults are supposed to set limits on kids. This is especially vital in our culture where most of the time teenagers function within an essentially adult-free subculture.

Without adult intervention, peer pressure, affluence, and the need to “fit in” almost invariably lead to the kinds of excesses that drove Hoagland to cancel the prom. It’s sadly telling that it took a celibate cleric to relieve parents of the pressure imposed on them by kids’ ever-escalating demands. 

The other lesson is about the place of money in a Christian worldview. To hear some of our critics, our worldview is only about sex and Darwinism. According to some Christians, the only thing a Christian worldview has to say about money is “send us yours.”

Hoagland’s actions remind us that both are wrong. Flaunting affluence is injurious to the good life—yours and others’.  A society that pursues vanity for its own sake cannot be called good, even if it abstains from “sex, booze, and drugs.”

So, three cheers for a courageous principal who in saying, “Enough already!” reminds us that what matters is not what we have but, rather, the way we live. 

For further reading and information:

The Good Life: Finding Meaning, Purpose, and Truth in Your Life by Charles Colson with Harold Fickett.

Frank Eltman, “L.I. Principal Cancels ‘Bacchanalian’ Prom,” Boston Globe, 15 October 2005.

Read the text of the March and September prom letters from Principal Hoagland. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required.)

Barry Gadbois, “Parenting, manners and personal responsibility,” Desert Dispatch, 21 October 2005.

John Ehinger, “Rejecting decadence,” Huntsville Times, 18 October 2005.

Susan Konig, “Disco, Dates and Donuts,” CBS News, 30 October 2005.

BreakPoint Commentary No. 031118, “Bankrupt at Age Twenty-Five: Marketing to Teens, Tweens, and Kids.”

BreakPoint Commentary No. 031128, “Image Is Everything: Losing Identity at the Shopping Mall.”

BreakPoint Commentary No. 050225, “Castles in the Air (and Backyard): Perfect Parenting.”

Karen Santorum, Everyday Graces: A Child’s Book of Good Manners (ISI Books, 2003).