Monday, September 2, 2013

Grand Rapids goes back to school - with a dress code

Photo credit: Cory Morse/
Students at K8 Grand Rapids Public Schools will have to come to school in specified clothing or be sent home.  According to the GRPS website, this decision was made because "The proven benefits of school uniforms include:
  • Increased focus on teaching and learning
  • Reduced distraction, peer pressure, and behavioral issues
  • Cost savings to parents/families
  • Strengthened school pride
  • Improved school safety"
The reader response on the Mlive article was heavy on the "OMG FASCISM" side, protesting the creeping tide of conformity and subsumption into the Borg, so I thought I'd weigh in as a parent with a child who wears uniforms (at his Catholic school).  

First of all, this is not a real uniform.  The word uniform implies that all students clothes are, well, uniform, or all the same.  If you have multiple top and bottom choices in numerous colors, that is obviously not the case.  This is a dress code with a pre-selected list of choices.  My son has the same dress code, albeit with fewer options, and I personally wish his were stricter - an actual uniform - although it does the job of minimizing  slovenly appearance, classroom distraction, and social pegging based on dress while entirely sidelining "hoochie mama" fashion for girls.  All of which, in my opinion, are positives in education and certainly outrank the expression of personal creativity.  These students have plenty of time outside of school to market their individuality, in school they need to know that someone else is in charge and should be the focus of attention.

Secondly, it really is cheaper, particularly after the initial investment is made.  My son's school has a clothing exchange, and we regularly take advantage of it.  This year I bought him shoes for back to school, and that's it for clothing.  His shirts still fit, and I got two pairs of shorts off of the clothing exchange table. There was no stressing at all about what the other kids would think was cool.  His school occasionally has "color days" during which the kids can wear what they like, within the boundaries of the dress code, and we have more fights on the 10 or so color days than we have all the rest of the year.  In fact, we never fight about what he wears except when he balls up his clothes and shoves them behind the bed overnight and I have to point out that's unacceptable and not a respectful treatment of clothing.  

Third of all, GRPS is a shrinking school district that is pulling kids into its few remaining open schools.  This is going to result in a different diverse mix of kids.  Requiring a uniform is saying without words, "You are all the same to us, and you need to treat each other the same."  A good message to send.

Overall, any message that GRPS can send that communicates to the students that they are not in charge and that they must submit to the authority of their teachers is a good one.  You will never teach kids unless they believe that, and it's a hard message to sell in our narcissistic, entitled culture.  As such, this dress code is more than fine by me.