The girl with the light green shirt was sent home for a uniform violation. Normally, I side with the district on these issues. That girl with the asymmetrical haircut that showed a leopard print on one side? Send her home. But this green shirt thing seems a bit silly. Still, I am going to stand up for uniform policies.
I have been asking readers to share certain posts with new teachers lately. I’d like to suggest that readers share this post with parents.
Clothing is imbued with meanings, some hidden, some not. In major urban areas especially, clothing still may represent gang affiliations. Even impoverished suburbs far from the big city may be battling gang representation. Clothing conveys many meanings and messages. That kid in the Star Wars or funny-math-joke t-shirt wants his peer group to find him. Gamers sometimes wear gamer shirts. Would-be thugs and gangsters sport gansta-rap clothing with hip hop artists and street gang references.
The girl in spaghetti straps with her short, short skirt poses a particular problem for school administrators. She wants to be noticed. She is probably indicating an interest in boys and sex, in a time when too many parents and family members leave houses empty in the afternoon.
If parents wonder about dress codes, codes that did not exist when they themselves went to school, the above examples help explain those codes. In an area with gang problems, putting all the kids in beige and navy blue sidesteps problems created by Insane Vice Lords wearing colors that identify them to King Cobras.
But even in schools that don’t need to manage gang issues, uniforms may be required. Uniforms save parents money. They downplay economic differences between students’ parents. Uniforms can prevent jealousy. Especially in economically-mixed neighborhoods, a uniform policy may help certain students feel their poverty less acutely. Even kids in elementary school often know brand names nowadays. They know that Daniela’s Kate Spade purse cost money that their own parents don’t seem to have.
Uniforms MAY save administrators time managing inappropriate clothing. (Or they may absolutely swamp those administrators as they attempt to deal with students out of uniform.) They help administrators avoid issues from distractions posed by spaghetti straps and too-short skirts.
Uniforms can be used to create school spirit. When everyone wears the same set of Eagle or Cougar t-shirts, that sense of being part of a group is reinforced. Uniforms help pull a school team together.
Eduhonesty: This post is for parents especially. Please don’t let Myra shave off half her hair if the school code forbids that shaving. Please don’t send her in a pink shirt if the code says white, navy blue, or black. That restriction may seem silly to you and Myra may look great in her pink shirt. But when Myra turns up in that shirt, a teacher has to talk to a Dean or another administrator. Myra can’t be left to wear that shirt because, if she does, pink shirts will start popping up all over the place, like a flower garden bursting into bloom in the spring. Fighting to maintain a dress code can begin to suck up huge blocks of time once all those pink flowers start proliferating.
Five minutes dealing with holey jeans here, five minutes there, and pretty soon hours have been spent on the jeans — and other, more important issues may never have been touched because the jeans question is immediate, whereas planning a spirit assembly can be postponed. If enough time gets taken by pants, that assembly may never be planned.
Educational resources are always limited and are much more limited in some districts than others. When the Assistant Principal becomes buried in disciplinary issues — and uniform violations are a category on disciplinary referral forms — some other useful planning and discussion will never happen. Or that planning may take on a shoddy character as that Assistant Principal tries to shove 16 hours of work into a 10 hour day.
Among civil liberties issues worth fighting, I’d include appropriate class placements, appropriate testing, limiting testing, fairness in student and teacher evaluations, fair allocation of educational funding, and the need for financially-disadvantaged students to receive access to technology. At least, those are the issues that came to mind immediately.
Parents and students may believe those cute pink shirts and holey jeans represent a civil liberties issue. Or they may simply be out of laundry detergent. They may be tired of fighting with Myra about that new pink shirt she keeps putting on and trying to sneak out of the house. Whatever the reason, sometimes parents will be tempted to ignore the dress code. Please don’t. When Ana comes in holey jeans, then the school has to respond. If not, the next day, Ana, Myra, and Shaun will ignore the code and turn up in holey jeans.
Allowing children to ignore inconvenient rules also provides poor preparation for life later. Not dressing according to corporate expectations may not result in loss of employment, but that choice of too-casual clothing has definitely cost some people promotions. At worst, a cavalier approach to corporate rules ends in loss of employment and unfortunate job references.
I recommend laying in as many pairs of khaki pants and navy blue shirts as you can afford. Then ask the kids before bed, “Have you laid out your clothes for tomorrow?” You can add that question to the ones about homework. “Is your homework done? Have you put it in your backpack?”
Uniforms may seem unimportant, but in aggregate those uniforms matter greatly. A school that has lost control of its uniform requirements has lost disciplinary control generally. When students know that a school cannot enforce one rule, other rules start falling. Disciplinary paperwork and policies start stealing educational minutes as teachers struggle to manage continuing, expanding infractions of school rules.
To put the issue succinctly, uniforms are the horseshoe-nails in educational conduct codes, and like that proverbial horseshoe-nail, they matter.
“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”