Wednesday, September 5, 2007

True (school) colors

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.


Ruth Dynamite said...

Judging by how much time it takes each of my kids to pick out their outfits and accessories each day, I'm totally in favor of school uniforms.

Back to school shopping would be a breeze! (Then again, my kids would probably pierce their eyebrows and dye their hair blue...)

Wendy said...

When I was going to high school they started to make uniforms mandatory in the New Orleans public schools. My mom bought the uniforms and I thought, YUCK! It wasn't enforced until I had graduated and I am happy to have missed it.

The uniforms were horrible. They were following the Catholic schools. It was just a crime to make high school girls wear a jumper. However, I would have had no problem with the polo shirts and khaki pants or skirts.

I don't know about trampling on civil liberties. I mean forcing a kid to go to school and learn what the goverment tells you could be seen as not letting kids express themselves. I mean really who wants to learn algebra or read The Iliad.

The benefits I see are parents, who can't afford new clothes for their kid every year, can only buy a few pants and shirts to get them through the school year. It lets teachers teach instead of worrying about policing kids clothes. A big one you know who belongs at the school and who doesn't.

I don't see it as a problem and wouldn't care if my kids had to wear a uniform at a public or private school. Now, let's talk about what the kids are learning, how they are being taught and this whole No Child Left Behind thing. That is something to talk about.

FYI: I have a 5 year old daughter in a private school that DOESN'T require the wearing of uniforms. They are required to wear school t-shirts when on field trips. There is a dress code.

Whirlwind said...

My kids go to private school and do have to wear a uniform. But the yget a choice. They can wear the jumper/button down blouse (w/ peter pan color) or navy shorts and a polo shirt (navy slacks for winter). This is grades 1-4. 5-8 can wear a blue skirt and a blue polo. The thing I've noticed is they get the skirts pretty sort sometimes. Or they knot the front of their shirts.

On a side note - uniforms ARE not cheaper. It cost close to $250 to dress one child for school this year (thankfully, next year we'll have some uniforms to pass down) but we'll still have t obuy some. The school does do a unifrom swap at the end of the year which last year, netted me 2 of the $40 jumpers (without needing to bring anything in to swap), a brand new gym uniform and a red button down sweater.

On the whole, I like it because I don't have t ospend alot of time the night before picking out what to wear. With my preschooler -it takes forever for her to decide what she wants.

And she can wear any sneakers (she currently has rainbow Sketchers with charms), any type of hair accessories and add stuff to her backpack.

Growing up, I always thought it would suck to have a uniform, but as a parent I like it. Generally, it seems like the kids like it as well. they can't wait to get to first grade and wear the uniform. Most of the girls in my daughter's class choose the formal uniform (the jumper) as opposed to the polo shirt/shorts combo. She has plenty of clothes to wear outside of school and on dress-down days.

Ladybug's Picnic said...

Personally, I am a fan of school uniforms. HUGE fan. A long time ago, I taught in a large urban public school district that instituted a uniform policy and it met with varying degrees of success in implementation. Though hard to quantify, I did see some positive changes in behavior in my classroom when mostly everyone was in uniform.

I don't know the specifics around Lawrence's policy, but I do know that most public school districts that institute dress codes/uniforms do contain an "opt out" clause - so as not to infringe upon anyone's potential civil rights. It does take some jumping through hoops, pleading your case, documentation, etc - but you are right - since it is a public school district, it's rather difficult to enforce a mandatory policy like school uniforms without giving families the option to opt out.

Fairly Odd Mother said...

Uniforms would have saved me a great deal of angst in high school. And "way back then", the biggest gripe among school officials was "backless shoes" which were a big no-no.

margalit said...

I'm a big fan of school uniforms. I think they're the great equalizer, especially in the upper school grades when wearing 7 Jeans is prerequisite to being popular. You just can't believe what kids wear to high school. It would make your hair stand on end.

In California, many public school require uniforms. They're usually khaki pants and a colored polo shirt. They look fine, comfy and clean.

Most high schools are divided up into 'houses' and it would be eaay to require each house to wear a different colored polo shirt with khaki pants. You can buy those types of uniforms at Target or Walmant, and they're not expensive at all. In our high school, all the kids from a family are in the same house, so clothes could be passed from brother to brother or sister.

I wish we had uniforms. As one of the 'have not' families, I have to work extra hard to get my daughter the clothing she wants, much of it used. She doesn't mind used as long as it's the right brand, but the other girls notice that she's got last year's model.

I hate mean girls!

kittenpie said...

this has become common practice in schools in certain neighbourhoods here, particularly those neighbourhoods where there is gang activity. With all children in a school being required to wear, say, navy pants and a white shirt with no markings, there are no colours or signs. Requiring that a shirt be tucked in further identifies for the principal those kids who are just rebels for the sake of it from early on. Misterpie's school wears that particular uniform right from JK, and the high school across the road also wears a prescribed colour pairing. In these cases, parents have been very much for it, not only for the help in keeping identifiers of affiliations out of the school, but also for removing that whole label and trend issue in what are commonly lower-income neighbourhoods.

Mom on Coffee said...

Just think of all the bad fashion disasters those kids WON'T have to reflect on and be mortified over. Lucky Kids, if you ask me!

Manic Mommy said...

After 12 years of Catholic school, I'd never even question a school uniform. Especially when it's something as inocuous as khakis and a golf shirt.

I think that school should be more than a fashion show (God, I'm old). Especially in a town like Lawrence, I think it helps to equalize everyone rather than concentrating on who has the best (read: most expensive) pair of sneakers or jeans or whatever's cool at the moment.

Gift of Green said...

I think school uniforms are a great idea - especially if the school has a "store" that allows you to buy outgrown uniforms.

Emma In MA said...

I figure I am an authority on school uniforms, being a Bit, born and raised! I spent my entire school life in uniform, and did not suffer in the slightest! All schools, public and private had uniforms, you could tell who the trouble makers where downtown after school very easily ( usually those Southfields yobbos!!). My 2 ( now college age) kids started school in England before moving here, and loved their uniforms. As for expense, a prevoius writer complained at spending $250 on uniforms - Hah!! Thats about what I used to spend a semester on trendy must have clothes for one of my children. And I shop at Target, Kohls etc!And let me add, I'll bet a gazillion dollars the girl in my daughter's class whose mother used to send her to school in feather trimmed, fur accented numbers wishes she'd had a school uniform!!! Oh, and it lets children be defined by their personalities and talents and NOT who's wearing the latest fashion and has the most expensive jeans etc! Uniforms are also a big security help, you know immediatley if a child belongs in your school!

Emma In MA said...

Yeah, always check spelling!! I am a BRIT, and not just a bit!!!

Whirlwind said...

Emma - I should add - that while Ionly spent about $250 for uniforms, it probably would have been the same for regular clothes right now. She's 5 and as such, hasn't "discovered" Gap, Limited, or other "specialty" stores.

I'm not so naive to except it to stay that way as she gets older.