I recently accepted an invitation to allow some of our senior students and a member of our teaching staff to talk to a commercial current affairs presenter about our proud tradition of respecting individual choice in the matter of how students dress.
The well-reasoned, articulate views expressed by our students and teacher were edited out of recognition, while the story was framed to support the view of “the experts” who told us that all children need to be dressed identically so they won’t be bullied by “the small minority of children” who pick on anyone who looks different.
Wow! Is this really what we want our children to believe? Who are these experts?
Keep your head down, conform at all cost and never, ever stand up to the bullies. Conformity ensures safety and difference from the herd is to be avoided or – punished. Is this the message schools are prepared to enforce?
Sadly, this message is depressingly familiar. It is the message that blames victims for being provocative. It is the message that condones persecution of difference.
How can children possibly embrace the vast and increasing diversity of our society, let alone the global community, how can they think critically and creatively, or have the courage to accept and feel accepted for their own individual differences in a school culture that actively punishes any deviation from the clone like appearance demanded by adult authority? How can children manage the complexity of changing attitudes and demands of a non-gendered society from the simplistic perspective of grey trousers for boys and gingham frock for girls?
To my mind, the insistence on uniform is a gross underestimation of children’s intelligence. Making everyone wear the same garments does not disguise their differences: if anything, uniforms serve to emphasise differences in size, in shape and appearance. At a time of life when children are acutely aware of their bodies and overall appearance a uniform, for many children, must be a daily reminder of how much they do not look like the prototypes that schools and uniform suppliers use in their glossy advertising.
They are faced with the endless dilemma of whether to wear the uniform adjusted to conform to whatever the current student fashion dictates as ‘cool’ – skirt hoisted up or shirt insouciantly untucked – or whether to wear it the way the rules, and teachers, demand. Whether to risk detention or social isolation…
Regardless of these “experts” Preshil will continue to support individual difference and encourage the confidence we observe in children when they are wearing clothes that they have chosen: clothes to suit their own image of themselves, their own tastes and their own activities.
As adults, let’s not collude in the pretence that everyone is the same. Let’s not insist that difference must be hidden. Let’s focus on teaching our kids that despite our differences everyone is entitled to the same respect, regard and acceptance.
And let’s address the bullies themselves – not their victims.
”To my mind, the insistence on uniform is a gross underestimation of children’s intelligence. Making everyone wear the same garments does not disguise their differences...Marilyn SmithPrincipal