Tuesday, October 17, 2006

We are what we wear

Or are we? In some completely improbable loop of reality, I ended up agreeing to serve on a uniform committee at our local high school. That is, the idea of requiring uniforms. I heard about the idea through my son and the local newspaper and I felt strongly enough about the subject that within a few days I had called up the school board to give them my opinion. I was adamantly AGAINST school uniforms.

Regardless of my teensy little bias on the subject, I got a call last week asking if I'd like to serve on the committee. In a moment of half awakeness (they called at some ungodly hour of the morning, like 8:30 am or something - ha!) I agreed.

The first of three meetings was this afternoon. It was..... interesting. I thought I'd be the lone dissenter but it appeared that the bulk of the people attending, except for one student and the board member who suggested the uniform requirement, were all leaning in the same direction. By the time we were two thirds of the way through the meeting it was clear that the main issue for most people, primarily the school staff, wasn't about wanting uniforms. It was really about the dress code that we have in place right now (which is extremely basic and reasonable) not being enforced because many of the teachers have been cowed by the threat of being accused of inappropriate actions or words by students or parents if they mention anything about undergarments, cleavage, or midriffs being exposed. Sad, but true.

I left the meeting with a new appreciation of the frustrations of the staff. I still don't want to see all the kids have to don uniforms because a small percentage of the kids aren't following the rules.... okay, so a fairly large percentage of the kids are stepping over the line on a regular basis...... but I'm surprised to find myself thinking that, if it came to that, uniforms wouldn't be the end of the world. I still think, from experience both as a person who had to wear a uniform, and as a parent who had to buy, launder, and cloth my children in them, that uniforms are a big pain in the butt.

And for the record, I don't dislike any uniform in any situation. Different uniforms have different meanings. I'm quite proud of Joe in his Navy uniform or William in his football uniform. I wore a Girl Scout uniform and school drill team uniform with great enthusiasm. On the other hand, I hated my Catholic school uniform. At the local prisons, the prisoners probably aren't thrilled with the symbolism of their uniforms. Some restaurants force their employees to wear horrible uniforms and I don't like seeing them in them anymore then they probably like wearing them. It's all relative.

In my opinion, a public school, in our culture, is not a place for uniforms. It's not a place or activity that people have a choice in attending. (well, yes, they do, but most people don't think outside the box.) Perhaps if there were some overriding and serious reasons to require uniforms. Gang infested city schools for example. In fact, all of the examples in the reading material they handed out were examples of large city schools. We have a small country school where the one and only reason that seems to fuel this uniform issue is that no one wants to enforce the rules they already have set in place.

I've decided that if it gets to the point where uniforms are being seriously considered, I'm going to throw two suggestions into the ring. 1) if students have to wear uniforms, then I think that the staff should also be required to wear them. Seriously. They should. 2) I'd like the uniforms to be black pants, sweaters, striped ties in school colors, long sweeping black robes, and pointy black hats. Seriously. Okay, not seriously. But hey, those are some school uniforms I could get behind.

There's a really large part of me that thinks that the whole thing is entirely stupid. I went to a public high school that was more like today's community college. We had a lot of freedom and a lot of responsiblity. And so I think of high school in that way. I think it's so off the point what ANYONE wears. It wouldn't distract me, well, not seriously anyway, if someone wanted to come to school naked. Whatever floats your boat, y'know.

But of course there's another part of me that knows that is an unreasonable idealistic opinion. Because of safety and health laws and because there are cultural expectations of dress - no matter how ambiguous and vague they might be - we have to have some sort of dress code. Too, there's another, more important issue for me. It's simply disrespectful to the teachers and other students to waste everyone's time by not following the rules. My kids know that if they choose to participate in some activity or group, I expect them to follow the rules. If they think a rule is stupid, by all means, address it, change it. But in the meantime, you know what you're getting yourself into and you follow the rules.

I think about the things I wore when I was a teen and young adult. Mini skirts so short I could barely bend at the waste for fear of revealing what color underwear I was wearing that day. Hip huggers so low that... uhm... ditto. Elephant bells - anyone remember those? Fortunately the style didn't last long but while it did, I wore them. Each pant leg was wide enough to double as a pup tent or hide several small children inside of it. How about the hippy style - jeans that were ripped, torn, patched, appliqued, and markered up with peace signs and favorite quotes. I find it amusing that one of the clothing issues that teachers and parents have with today's teen is that the girl's bra straps show. Uhm, hello!? We didn't even bother to wear a bra! For all that, I guess I was a pretty follow-the-rules kinda of teen. None of those things broke any of the dress codes at the schools I attended.

Too, I don't think that we had as many style choices when I was growing up. At least not where I grew up. One of the things we didn't have were the "Goth" kids. It was too late for the beatnik look and the hippy style wasn't quite the same thing. I think if I was a teen now, I might be one of those kids out there dressed like a character from The Matrix. Why? Because a lot of those kids are the thinkers, the kids that hear a different drum. The intellectuals and the rebels. That's a lot of who I am, who I was. Although, I didn't really know I was all those things when I was a teen. I didn't know other people who questioned the rules. I didn't know other people who read classic literature "for fun". I didn't know anyone else who wanted to experiment with different cultures or protest war or question why we all had to dress the same or think the same. I did all those things and for a long time I only the barest of understandings that those things made me different then "most" people. That came later. I led, in some ways, a sheltered childhood.

I don't really think of them as "Goth" anymore though. I think the style has infiltrated it's way into more widespread use and the kids that do it up in a big way still - black, piercings, different hair styles, etc. - are a lot of different groups that are sort of thrown together because to the average adult they all look the same. And although the intellectuals and artsy kids tend to gravitate towards that look, the uncentered, lost kids who are experimenting with drugs and other destructive behaviors are also pulled into that circle. So it's not so black and white. Or in their case, not so black and black. Heh.

We think of the whole clothing/identity thing as being a teen issue, but I find it's still something that I struggle with today, decades later. If I dress "my age" I feel boring. And frumpy. If I dress in clothing that I truly enjoy people accuse me of dressing too young for my age. Dressing in things that make me happy often make others snicker comments about "still living in the hippy days" or being "flamboyant". If I dress comfortably - I've had my feminity questioned. Somehow getting in touch with my gender requires the use of high heels and cherry red lipstick??? And of course no matter WHAT I wear, I'm sure to embarrass my offspring. Sigh.

The one good thing is that with age comes at least a wider perspective on life. Most of the time I can brush aside comments or hesitations. Most days I can make a mental comment that those folks trying to tell me what to do and what to wear can "stick it where the sun don't shine." It's just annoying that after all these years, we still apparently judge people not by who they are, but by how they look. And hey, I'm as guilty as the next person. I might know to look deeper after my first reaction to someone, but I have a first reaction just like anyone else.

Maybe it's time to start wearing my tiara around town again. Or, oh! Better yet - Later gators - I'm off to find my pumpkin beret.


Blogger :-D eirdre said...

I hope you are going to post a photo of your Pumpkin head (LOL)!

4:23 AM  

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