School dress – literally speaking

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 30, 2006

Perhaps my age is finally showing.

Or maybe I’m just way too conservative.

Whatever the case, I find myself leaning more and more in favor of public school students dressing uniformly.

I don’t want to confuse this situation, but I favor freedom of expression. Perhaps that stems from my belief in our constitutional right to freedom of speech…the foundation on which the newspaper industry was built.

But where does one draw the line in the sand when it comes to overly expressive clothing?

Are the tightly cropped garments that young girls wear today – the ones that rise ever so briefly to show their belly buttons – a deterrent to young boys who should be concentrating on their school work rather than the waistline of an attractive female?

How about the baggy jeans the young men are wearing. I guess they are still in style. From what I can gather, and I’m clueless when it comes to making a fashion statement, the baggy jeans worked in conjunction with high-rising boxer shorts. As the pants experienced gravity due to the lack of a belt, the more the person’s boxers are exposed.

Freedom of expression is linked with the freedom to communicate, whether that communication is verbal, non-verbal, visual or symbolic. But pray tell me what is so symbolic about a bare midriff or exposed boxer shorts? Are they expressions of, &uot;hey, look at my body?&uot;

By adopting a school uniform policy, an educational system can hopefully expect a decrease in behavioral problems and an increase in academic achievement.

Will adopting a school uniform policy place an unfair burden on parents who must foot the bill to purchase the clothing? When compared to the price of these designer clothes, school uniforms will be cheaper. Clothes are not works of art, even though the price tag on some of these items rival that of a Picasso.

I think the biggest misconception over school uniforms lies with the words themselves. People tend to think, and rightly so, that a uniform, by definition, is bland in appearance, unvarying in style.

Athletic teams wear uniforms, all of the same color and style. The only difference is the jersey number.

However, school uniforms do not have to be so bland. From the photos I saw that my reporter, Patrick Campbell, took at a recent fashion show where the types of clothing, favored by a proposed school uniform policy in the Hertford County Public School system, were on display, I was impressed by the varying styles and colors. The students looked very neat in these clothes. It wasn’t a case where all wore white blouses or shirts with blue skirts or pants.

Another plus in favor of school uniforms is the impression they will make when a group of students leave school for a field trip. If they look their best, and hopefully act accordingly, it will lead those outside the school system to think what a nicely dressed, well-behaved group of young people are representing that school district.

I’m sure there are those who will disagree with me on this issue. They will say it’s not what displayed on the body of a student that counts, but rather the desire to succeed from within. That’s so true, but we can’t expect young people, at least the majority of them, to fully concentrate on their studies if they are distracted by an item of clothing worn by another or the peer pressure they feel to match that outfit.

The idea for this column came to mind while I was watching the WAVY TV-10 newscast Tuesday evening. There, a report was aired regarding a student at Gloucester (Va.) High School taking a clothing issue before the school board in that county. It appears this student, a 10th grade male, wanted to wear a dress to school.

To say the least, the school board, one whose system is without a uniform policy, was left scrambling to figure out if cross-dressing is inappropriate.

It would appear to me that this student is making a gesture towards freedom of expression. But consider this…if his goal is to bring the public’s attention to the matter, then he has done his job. But what about the stir of controversy this story will bring. His desire to wear a dress to school becomes the center of attention rather than education.

I can’t speak for student achievement at Gloucester High School, but I’ve seen the dismal academic performance numbers within the Hertford County Public School system, especially at the high school. Will wearing school uniforms help those numbers to rise? We won’t know for sure until we try it. If it fails, then let ’em all wear dresses, complete with matching boxer shorts.