When I was young, my parents sent my sister and me to a small, private Catholic elementary school. In kindergarten little more was required of us than sleeping on the appropriate mat at nap time (do they even do that anymore in kindergarten?) and showing up properly clothed and washed, which usually meant clean play clothes with no rips or tears.
Once we graduated from kindergarten and became first graders it became a requirement to don skirts or dresses, for the girls, and dress pants, collared shirts and clip on ties for the boys. And this was strictly enforced. If you showed up in something other than the required dress your mother would be called and you'd have to spend the time waiting for her in the principal's office.
Even in winter the girls would have to wear a skirt or dress of some sort and if the weather got below a certain temperature we were begrudgingly allowed to wear dress pants under our skirts. Tres chic.
Although, occasionally I wore culottes to school. I felt like such a rebel.
This dress code went on for some time until about five or so years ago, when the perceived guidelines of "dress attire" was strained to the breaking point, with colored denim jeans being passed off for slacks and sweatshirts or t-shirts being worn on days other than the hard won "grub days". The principal decided that a dress code was in order, or more to the point, a school uniform.
Sure, the kids hated it at first but from what I heard from my mother, who was then still alive and working at the school as its secretary, it became easier and easier to convince the children that the uniform could be worn with pride.
But these were elementary school children.
And the uniform was required at a private school.
This year at Lawrence High School in Lawrence, MA a mandatory school dress code is now being enforced. And it's not just dress pants and skirts, but full uniforms with collared polo shirts and khaki pants.
The school is broken up into six smaller schools based on the student's prime area of study - for instance, math, science and technology or health and human services - and this year administrators are requiring students to wear color-coded uniforms to indicate which school they belong to.
"It's unusual," said Superintendent Wilfredo T. Laboy, who launched the six schools within one as part of his educational overhaul effort for city schools. "But all the research that supports uniforms shows that it creates team spirit, it creates identity, it creates collaboration." (source: Boston Globe)
This was a big topic of discussion on the local radio talk shows today. Lawrence High is a public school. Are civil liberties being trampled on? Are administrators crossing a line by making school uniforms in a public, city funded school mandatory? Does having a school uniform hinder a student's individuality and ability to express themselves through their clothing? Or does this cut down on the amount of obscenely low-waisted jeans that show off a girl's thong - not to mention the low-wasted pants that show off a boy's boxers?
The uniforms are not being paid for by the city. Parents can purchase their children's uniforms through three stores in Lawrence for much cheaper than a pair of trendy jeans.
I don't know how I feel about this personally. My daughter isn't even old enough for pre-school (now that is a whole other issue entirely) so the possibility of school uniforms is not really in our near future. If I sent her to a private school I wouldn't take issue with mandatory uniforms, but I will admit that enforcing this in public schools has made me think.
What if this had been the rule when I was in high school? I certainly wouldn't have liked it. But it would have saved me from matching my Cosby sweater with my double layers of slouchy socks and pinch rolling my pants.
Maybe uniforms aren't such a bad idea after all.