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Carolyn Hax: A discreet early-exam offer could cause more harm than good

Adapted from a recent online ­discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I am a high school teacher. Our final exams fall during Ramadan, and we will most likely have fasting students. A colleague has offered to come in early to administer early exams for those students, so they will have spent less time without food and water. She does not want to announce it during our morning loudspeaker announcements and has instead requested that if we think any of our students would appreciate this, to discreetly talk to them.

I understand her concern. My school population is incredibly diverse, and I would guess our school will get phone calls from parents saying "minorities are getting special treatment" their white, Christian kids would not get. But I feel weird sussing out which of my students are Muslim.

I want to offer this to students but not in a discriminatory/offensive manner. Any suggestions?

— Teacher

Teacher: Why can’t the school make the early-morning-exam accommodation available to all who sign up? Then you can announce it instead of profiling it, which is the kind of terrible idea that makes other terrible ideas recoil in slack-jawed horror.

If the kids are like most teenagers, they won’t pounce on any crack-of-dawn option they aren’t highly motivated to pounce on anyway.

Re: Early exam times: First, do the fasting students or their parents want early time for exams? Second, if they are old enough to be fasting and sacrificing for religious reasons, they must understand why they are fasting — special treatment may not be appropriate to them. Shouldn't it be the fasting students or their parents who raise the concern, not just an individual teacher?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Or, the school could take the initiative, offer an accommodation — to everyone, in fairness — and the people it is meant to help can decide whether it’s helpful. We really needn’t be such Darwinists all the time.

Hi, Carolyn: My girlfriend and I have been together seven years. A few of my friends have wondered (a) why we don't live together and (b) when are we going to get married. Frankly, we are different enough that I have no interest in living with my girlfriend. Examples: She loves having dinner parties — my idea of hell on Earth. I like watching TV. She doesn't own one and thinks TV is pablum for the masses. It's not all bad — we watch international films together, we garden. Could a marriage work with such very different wants and needs?

— Different

Different: As long as you’re both transparent and accepting, any kind of arrangement can work.

Forcing yourselves into roles because outsiders think you need to occupy them? That is a path to misery. So is silently assuming one thing about your relationship while your partner silently assumes something different.

Also, be mindful of where you want to be eventually vs. just for now. Any choice you make will close off other choices. That’s fine, we all have to live with those laws of physics, but when you default your way into a bunch of choices as if you have all the time in the world, you invite future regrets. Far better to make your choices — and close other doors accordingly — with courage and purpose, and not strain your neck looking back.

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