At Preshil students are free to choose their own clothes.
Some people read this to mean that we are a bit casual and not ‘rigorous’. People say, “They don’t even have to wear a uniform” as though this indicates some sign of moral laxity or failure of discipline. It is interesting to reflect on why school uniform is so widespread in Australia and why adults demand that children dress in clothes very different from those they wear if they have a choice – and much more formal and uncomfortable than most parents themselves choose to wear.
Children are very quick to read the symbolic message in rules and adult behaviour. When everyone is forced to look identical and punished for failing to conform, children are not likely to be fooled that they are valued as individuals. Non-conformity is read as transgressive. When the most common interaction between teachers and students is concerning uniform infringement it is hard to accept that a school’s priority is the wellbeing and progress of each child.
Uniforms don’t really make everyone look the same; they actually emphasise the differences in size and shape; they highlight the natural unfairness between the effortless grace of some children compared to the ungainly awkwardness of others. Children are easily persuaded that they are the wrong shape, when it is simply the uniform that is the wrong shape for them.
Children recognise the encoded message in the endless instruction to ‘do up your tie’, ‘pull your socks up’, ‘tuck your shirt in’, etc. Enforcing a uniform code demands that teachers engage in conversations which must seem to children to be petty and punitive; surely grown-ups have more important things to focus on? In a society where youth anxiety and depression continue to escalate we need to be questioning the wisdom of repressive traditions.
School uniforms also lock individuals into rigid gender stereotypes, much more so than the codes of dress acceptable in the rest of our community. It’s hard to find sound reasons for such a polarised and overt insistence on conformity to traditional male and female dress codes.
At Preshil our commitment to treat each child as an individual is not just a hollow claim. From their earliest years children at Preshil are free to wear what they truly like. Amazing hats, bright colours, warm and comforting jackets, extraordinary dress ups. They are free to run and jump, to be funny and to be comfortable. Seeing very young children trudging off to school in their hats, oversized blazers and frocks, bent over to balance their backpacks, it’s hard to reconcile this with anything we say we believe about play and about learning.
As our students become young adults they are free to express their individuality within the usual bounds of accepted casual dress. Some students choose to show their interest in fashion, others disregard it entirely, but they are free to be themselves. Needless to say none of our Secondary School boys chooses to wear tailored shorts and long socks, teamed with a blazer and a tie.
There is nothing casual about this approach to our students; it is part of a deliberate culture of respect and the genuine celebration of difference.