Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 01:27:42 PM EST
I admit that sometimes I'm beguiled by the featured box on Yahoo -- the self-help advice, the job interview tips, celebrity gossip, even the user questions. It was that last that brought this subject to mind. Someone had asked people's opinions on school uniforms. This is a subject that occasionally rages through a school district here or there in various parts of the U.S.
It got me to thinking -- I know Britain has school uniforms, but what's the status in other European countries? In countries with uniforms, are there efforts to get rid of them? I've heard Germany doesn't have them. Is anyone calling for them? If you do have these arguments, are the pros and cons different from country to country, or are the reasons all similar?
Reading the comments from the, I'm assuming, American commenters on Yahoo took me right back to hearing these very same points put forth when I was young. I started school in the late-60s and from the very start I longed for school uniforms, putting me firmly outside of the mass of public opinion.
I heard all the arguments throughout that somewhat dubious decade that was the 70s in California. Uniforms would stifle our creativity. Our clothes were supposed to be expressions of our individuality. Even then, this sounded suspiciously consumerist and phoney to me, being one of the kids who couldn't afford to follow the fashion dictates of the day.
Somehow, being able to do so was akin to free speech and not raising a generation of mindless followers. Like all us 8-year old critical-thinking mavericks would show up in billowing, bohemian garb if given the chance. In reality, everyone was trying to look just like Marcia and Greg Brady.
And I had an even more desperate underlying reason for my desire for uniforms, deeper even than poverty. My immigrant grandmother had very specific views on what good girls wore and this had nothing in common with the mores of Southern California, nor the era for that matter. Clothes were representations of character. They showed good moral fiber and virtue. These beliefs were formed in post-war Scotland.
Needless to say I spent my childhood being relentlessly ridiculed. Not so easy to grasp or understand was why I spent my childhood hot -- according to my gran, good mothers bundled their children in the winter and so bundled I got, or "happed up" as my gran would call it. Temperature be damned, I was a sickly child and I would not be leaving the house risking a chill or succumbing to The Damp. Scarves, mittens, and itchy wool sweaters it would be. My grandmother was not a woman to be trifled with. The woolens stayed on.
So I admit I like the idea of uniforms: No rampant consumerism as your children succumb to the vagaries of fashion. No huge class chasms if all the kids are wearing Levis but you can only afford Toughskins. It costs less and saves a lot of emotional drama in Autumn.
Ironically, none of these arguments had anything to do with changing things when several of California's largest school districts switched to uniforms. Perhaps predictably, the decision was based on people freaking out about kids wearing gang colors.
Still, the change was a shock to my son when he transferred into a school requiring uniforms and he complained about it quite frequently. But there was no emotional weight to his complaints. In fact, both mornings and back-to-school shopping became much more pleasant, less fraught with emotion, self-doubt and power struggles. But still he objected. Of course, he owned Levies and had never been happed up.