The Devil's Advocate on Corona Del Mar High School's 'Prom Draft'

What's the least awful way to arrange dates to the dance?
Reuters

Boys at Corona Del Mar High School in Newport Beach, California, made headlines last week after using an NFL-style draft to determine who they'd ask to prom. "40 senior boys assembled recently at a 'private venue' clad in ceremonial sport coats to participate in the ritual," the L.A. Times reported. "Numbers were plucked from a number-ball roller and issued to the boys, who took turns selecting girls. Each boy was put on the clock and given two minutes to make a selection."

On a recent visit to Orange County, I overheard the devil's advocate arguing about the story. Here's what I remember from eavesdropping on his conversation:   

Can you believe this? What's the world coming to?

I know. So much misguided outrage directed at these poor kids. The media should be ashamed of itself for vilifying young people who aren't even out of high school. 

Are you serious? It's about time these kids learned that the so-called values they're learning in their one-percenter enclave are seriously messed up. What a bunch of retrograde sexists. To objectify women like this!

Oh, come on. These are popular high school boys. A lot of them are probably football or basketball players. Their own personal dream is to end up as a participant in an NFL or NBA style draft. They don't see the draft process as demeaning to the draftees. For that matter, neither did LeBron James or Michael Sam. Besides, they still have to ask the girls to go to the dance, and they can say no. Yet the news stories all say that they mostly respect the draft. Why, do you think?

They're facing social pressure and a patriarchal power imbalance. That's why they go along. Maybe they're also too young to know any better. That's why it's good that the school is going to have ethics training.

This draft came about because of the boys' ethical sophistication! They saw that every year, guys were wanting to ask the same girl to the dance, and this was causing a lot of discord. So they came up with a process that would be fair to everyone.

Ethical sophistication? Bah! More like stunning entitlement in a hyper-competitive subculture that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

A draft is the opposite of hyper-competitive. The very design ensures that there will be no competition. The winner and every runner up is chosen at random. And everyone has an equal shot. This may be the most egalitarian event ever held in Newport Beach.

You can't seriously deny that these kids are entitled.

Perhaps, given where they live, but not because of this draft. Even the winner gets nothing more than he would've had anyway: the ability to ask a girl to a high school dance. Doesn't every high schooler feel entitled to that? And the losers of the draft, the guys who choose last, apparently respect the results. That's not entitlement. They're playing by the rules that they set down behind the veil of ignorance.

So you're seriously okay with this? High school boys in sports coats gathering to orchestrate prom dates without the input or consent of the girls?

It would have offended popular sensibilities less if they'd worn t-shirts.

And if it were up to me I'd reform the prom draft. But the core insight is sound. Just add gender parity. The girls should get to do the drafting at homecoming and the guys at prom. Every year it can alternate. Entrenching this new system is progress. 

The solution is not to encourage the girls to behave just as badly as the boys. It's like the principal of the school said: "It is not OK for any student to be objectified or judged in any way." 

She's all talk. This same principal is perfectly okay with ranking every student in the school based on GPA, cutting kids without enough athletic talent from varsity sports teams, and signing highly variable college recommendations. Then she has the nerve to tell us it's not okay for anyone to be "judged in any way"?  Corona Del Mar high school judges every student in many ways. Who is she kidding? 

She means with respect to prom! She's talking about the realm of dating, which is totally different. She just wants to go back to traditional rituals. The ones that worked for generations of more innocent kids. 

Those traditional rituals are replete with judgments. The usual approach to prom stokes anxiety, sows discord and heated competition among friends and acquaintances, and leaves lots of kids heartbroken when a would be date refuses them, or when no one asks them to come. Critics of the prom draft romanticize away the harsh realities of the system they want to preserve. But what's good about it? Is it not often cruel? Do its participants not value girls largely based on their looks? Has it not spurred boys to one up one another as they proposition would-be dates? Does it not ruthlessly advantage those at the top of the social hierarchy?

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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