California Educator

November 2014

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Perspectives Point/Counterpoint G R O W I N G N U M B E R S of public schools are requiring elementary and middle school students to wear uniforms these days. Schools are mandating uniforms because it's easier to enforce dress codes. It's also a way to prevent students from wearing colors associated with gangs, and to "level the playing field" so income does not dictate style. We asked two CTA members their opinions on this; we did not receive uniform responses. Schools are not just for reading, writing and arithmetic. The most important lessons are social. While uniforms make the staff's job easier, students lose the opportunity to learn about them- selves, experiment, fail and succeed, all in a safe place. Of course there have to be limitations so that students come to school "safe and appropriate," so I don't disagree with a dress code, but uniforms deprive students of criti- cal learning experiences. The argument that uniforms help protect those who are less fortunate from being ridiculed is ridiculous. Children are always going to ridicule others; they will always find a reason. When students are mean to others, that's when the safety of the school environment comes into play. The victim gets support from a trusted staff member, and the other students get a lesson in how to be humane. It's a lot of work to run interference in these social situations, but lessons in how to dress, how to ex- press oneself, and how to get the desired reaction (and even learning what that desired reaction is) should not be learned on the street or out in public where trusted adults are not available to run interference. Does wearing uniforms prohibit gang association or activity? Absolutely not. It makes it harder to spot gang members, but they adapt. Also, with a uniform, staff gets complacent about looking around campus for intruders. If an intruder wears a polo shirt and slacks, she or he will fit right in unnoticed. A "uniform only" rule can't really be enforced because parents can waive it. Also, students at a school with a uniform policy make modifications to individualize their look. They'll do hair, makeup accessories, and even things like turning up the collar on their polo shirt. Worse than squelching individuality and expression, it prevents students from learning for themselves who they are and how they fit in. It's an artificial normalizing, after which the students rebel. Everyone knows that the more a teen is told what they can't wear, the more they will want to wear it. INGE SCHLUSSLER, Marysville Unified Teachers Association, is a kindergarten teacher. There are people — parents, teachers and the like — who do not believe that elementary and middle school students should have to wear school uniforms. I must warn you early in this conversation that I disagree. Let me tell you why. This is an early age for students to get to know them- selves. In elementary school, teachers really want students to focus on the academics and not the aesthetics of fashion. Everybody looks the same. Sally does not have to come home wanting what Mary has, as far as clothing goes. As parents, we know that this will happen eventually. If we can hold off that wanting what others have, it can be a win-win for everyone. As a teacher, I want my student's focus to be on academics only, not fashion week. That too will eventually show up. When your child is in middle school, fashion week finally shows up. They want to color their hair green, pink and pur- ple. They wear one sock up and the other one down. They wear the same shoes, but each foot a different color. Our middle school students are coming of age. It is fine for all of this to happen, the creativity of clothing in dress, as defined by the preteen. Yet they still must wear the uniform. "Why?" you may ask. Because the brain is still developing, and they do not understand that is not cool to have your butt cheeks hanging out all over the place. Some parents will refuse to believe that their sweet dumpling would do such a thing. But yes, they will, and they have. Hopefully, you can see why this could be a distraction to anyone. Middle school is too soon for preteens not to wear uni- forms. Hence the word "uniform," where everyone looks the same, or almost the same. We will leave the creativity and free dress to the high schoolers. Yes, I believe at some point, we must allow children to express themselves, and that can be done in high school, where students can maturely become fashioni- stas or have lots of fun trying. SHARON TURNER, Compton Education Association, is a middle school English teacher. YES NO Should schools require students to wear uniforms? 20

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