By Jason Menard
If the 17-year-old version of me knew what I was about to write, he’d probably give me a good slap upside the head, but here it goes:
I think school uniforms are a great idea.
Whew, no blows from the past yet – although I’m sure my nine-year-old son won’t be too pleased either when he reads this article. I’d like to think that my 180-degree turn has less to do with the mellowing of age, than it does with a broader sense of perspective and an understanding of what’s truly important. And I’m sure my idealist friends from the time would tend to agree with me now.
As you know, children at London’s newest elementary school, St. Catherine of Siena, will be required to wear uniforms. While past versions of me would have railed on at length about the thought of indoctrinating our youth to a mandated norm established by an authoritarian body, my present version thinks, “Hmm, I hope they’ll do that at my son’s school?”
I’d like to toss finances aside, although that’s an appealing argument for many families. Yes, it’s true that buying a few uniforms is cheaper than trying to keep up with the outrageously expensive fashions of the times, that’s not the issue that the kids care about – at least that’s not what we cared about in my youth.
What was at stake was the concept of individuality and freedom of expression. Many of you out there probably think the same way that I did, in that the buttoned-up collars and pleated slacks of a school uniform would somehow do more than choke your neck, but would also stifle your ability to make your mark and stand out from the crowd. The thought exists that by everyone dressing the same, you’re creating a society of submissive drones, cloned to mimic one another without any concept of dissention or individual thought.
First off, I now have two problems with that. To start, I remember what I wore in high school and the only statement I was making was that I had no taste! But secondly, and more importantly, is that if everyone dons a school uniform then, finally, it’s the individual characteristics that will make you stand out!
A lack of uniforms, in fact, works counterproductively to fostering creativity. It allows people to use their clothing as a crutch to display superficial differences, but does nothing to allow the true nature of us to come forth.
I find it hilarious to see these kids tearing their jeans, throwing on a retro-Sex Pistols shirt, spiking their hair, and piercing their assorted body parts in an attempt to assert their individuality. What they’re completely oblivious to is the fact that they’re simply trading one set of conventions for another and just conforming to another group’s ideals. The same can be said for any one of those subsections of youth society – from those who look like angstful middle-class rappers, skater-kid wannabes, and retro-preppies – each style of dress is nothing more than conforming to another societal norm.
That’s what’s great – and overlooked – about uniforms. They make you work to stand out from the crowd. You have to use your mind, your talent, and your creativity to assert your uniqueness, not just look for a specific brand label of clothing.
Our society is rapidly becoming more and more multi-cultural, and we’re being exposed to more influences that are broadening our frame of reference. It’s long since time to appreciate those around us for who they are and not what they wear. If everyone starts from a level playing field, then all will be able to shine – not this those who wear the right clothes or look the right way.
Despite the old adage, clothes don’t make the man. And if you’re so devoid of depth that you need a label to define yourself, then remember that you’re only in school for a few hours each day – you can always change when you get home.
2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved