Jewish World Review May 10, 1999 /24 Iyar, 5759
Three cheers for uniforms
(JWR) ---- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com)
THE GREAT WORK of our time is to undo the damage we inflicted on ourselves
starting in the 1960s. The response to the massacre in Littleton, Colo., is
actually heartening, as it reflects a dawning awareness that disorder,
enfeebled authority and malignant entertainment can have terrible, even
Authority is making a tentative comeback. Around the nation, school
districts that had not considered them before are rushing to reinstate dress
codes. The schools would do well to go even further, all the way to
The actor Laurence Olivier once said that he could not become a character
until he had decided upon the right nose. Clothes do the same for all of us.
We dress for church or synagogue to convey the importance we attach to
prayer. It would seem disrespectful to G-d and the other worshippers to
arrive in jeans and a T-shirt. Clergymen go further. Religious vestments
help invest the wearer with both authority and spirituality. In the Jewish
faith, a prayer shawl (tallis) over the shoulders is the ancient symbol of
piety. It is nearly impossible to imagine a man draped in a tallis using
coarse language or engaging in vulgar conduct. The same goes for a clerical
We are only human. We are affected by surface things.
In the '60s and '70s, dress codes and uniforms were thrown aside in the
name of freedom and authenticity. These were seen as the antipodes of
tradition and authority. Conformity was everywhere condemned, individuality
celebrated. We now have a bit more individuality than we bargained for --
personified by the lonely and alienated teenagers who are seizing our
attention in tragic ways.
Youngsters attend public schools (private and parochial schools have tended
to keep uniforms) sporting T-shirts with crude expressions, spiky mohawk
haircuts, chains over shoulders, spiked dog collars and, famously, dark
trench coats. It's no wonder schools are reluctant to install metal
detectors; they would cause a fashion crisis. Those whose sartorial tastes
are milder have only purple hair or nose rings.
If you can recall a time when children rose from their chairs, pronounced,
"Good Morning, Mrs. Dixon," in unison and resumed their seats, you are
probably over 50. Scenes like those went out with nuclear war drills.
When everyone, teachers and students alike, stopped dressing for school,
they downplayed the importance of learning. I recall vividly that after the
rules were changed to permit blue jeans and cut-offs in school (I was in
junior high), manners and decorum took a decided turn south.
| Jew wearing a talis
If you wear the same clothes to school as you do to a video arcade or Home
Depot, you are not taking education very seriously -- which is exactly what
the '60s liberators had in mind. They didn't think adults had very much to
teach children. The young were going to lead the old into a new world of
peace, joy and love. The principal duty of an educator, they preached, was
to help the young express their innate creativity.
Even today, in Fairfax County, Va., the echoes of that sensibility are
still audible. A mother who asked why her fourth-grader was not learning
basic math skills was told by the school's "resource person" that "we will
never go back to drills and workbooks." And you can hear the echoes of this
view in teachers colleges around the nation that disdain the role of teacher
as imparter of information, and seek to create "facilitators" instead.
Even those who do not believe in reviving authority must be concerned about
the teasing and rivalry that "anything goes" dress permits. Children in
inner-city schools have been murdered for a jacket, and disparities of
wealth are flaunted elsewhere. Some schools have responded by banning
designer labels. But why stop there? Dress can define cliques and pinpoint
outcasts. And while reinstating uniforms cannot prevent kids from forming
groups, it can mute their exclusivity and help send the message from the
parents and the administration that cliques are frowned upon and cruelty is
Moreover, uniforms give children something many are seeking but not
finding -- a sense of belonging. As a fifth-grader in North Carolina put it
to the Raleigh News and Observer "We're all dressed alike, so there's
nothing to tease about. It makes us feel like one big
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©1999, Creators Syndicate