Common sense on school dress codes
When I went to high school back in the 1970s in Miami, we were not allowed to wear shorts. In Miami. It gets really hot in Miami.
Being something of a contrarian, I decided to start wearing them anyway. Other students joined in, and, as a result, the no-shorts policy disappeared.
Now we see kids coming to school in clothes that -- at least to adults -- look like they are so tight that they leave nothing to the imagination -- or so loose that they seem to be falling off. Kids, of course, don’t see it that way.
What might be distracting to an adult may not be to an adolescent.
Now we have a situation in which a Montgomery County teacher at Seneca Valley High School had to apologize to a girl whom he said looked like a prostitute. I saw a picture of her in the offending outfit--as did some of my colleagues--and we all agreed that we had no idea what the teacher was talking about. She looked fine.
The point is that sensibilities on how to dress are really individual. The other point is that schools do have a right to set codes about what is proper dress, though where to draw the line is not necessarily so easy. Is a quarter inch of cleavage acceptable? How high up on hips do pants have to ride?
I confess that sometimes I think all schools should ask kids to wear uniforms, a move that would eliminate a lot of the issues that surround wardrobe -- cost, the time kids take obsessing about what to wear, the time teachers and administrators take to enforce the dress code.
But research on the effect of uniforms in schools is mixed. Some has shown no direct effect of uniforms on substance use, behavioral problems or attendance; some schools in which uniforms were introduced showed moderate improvements in test scores and behavior, but there was no way to attribute that to dress code alone.
Besides, kids would still obsess about how to individualize their uniform, and teachers/administrators spend time monitoring the dress code anyway.
Perhaps common sense is the best approach. Parents need to take a look at what their kids are wearing when they go to school. If the skirt is so short that your child really can't sit comfortably, have her change. If a shirt is so tight that the first thing you notice -- and keep noticing -- is your daughter's bust, have her change. If your son's pants are so low that his underpants are hanging out, have him change. This isn't really that hard.
As for teachers, the one lesson we can take away from this Seneca Valley is that teachers should never, ever, speak in a derogatory way about a student -- at least within earshot of anyone who can report back.
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| March 10, 2010; 11:35 AM ET
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