The Subtle Way Society Grooms us into Early Submission…
I am being screamed at right now. Ranted and raved at. Yelled at. Some of you may even hurtle and lob stones and bricks my way. Pencil cases too. But I care not a jot. For this needs to be said and say it I will. I think school uniform is a mellow brand of communism. One that your kids are perhaps already being subjected to.
One for all and all for one.
I hear your argument. I went to a community comprehensive school. On the surface, your cries of ‘inclusion and equality’ tick the headmistress’ boxes. We all wore the same colours back then; the hideous maroon ties, hockey socks and netball skirts to match for sports lessons. The blazer, of course, was imperative. Never to be removed. Unless it hit 26.6 degrees centigrade. And even then at the discretion of the teacher in question. Pray to God you had the kindly Mrs Eveson and the heatwave happened during double French. The trousers or skirts would be a specific shade of stone grey of course. No deviation. As for the length, well, heaven forbid if it rode above the kneecap a millimeter. Dare to bare and you’d be heading straight for detention… with the pervy and opportunistic Mr Thoare.
Yes, on paper everything about school uniform appears to be Grade A.
Until you really stop and think about it. Sometimes it pays to ask yourself:
‘What’s really going on here? Am I, as a parent, being caught up in a wave of outdated conventionality, never once questioning whether a practice dating back to 1222 and instigated by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, is truly applicable in these modern times?’
Parents: it is OK to change our minds.
It is our dutiful right as those entrusted with the upbringing of our children to not only ask WHY, but whether schools are (in some cases) insisting upon the donning of a specific uniform only available through the school in order to turnover a few extra ££££s a year. It is also OK to question whether the bundling up of our children into these regimented clothes helps them ‘become better people’. Does it really detract them from comparing fashion logos which might otherwise be emblazoned across their hoodies; aka the great classic fear of all those pro uniform? Which, by the way. never fails to amuse those of us who know that not all kids wear said garments in their spare time! Or do we subconsciously revel in the fact that our kids don’t have a choice…? Which saves the drama of them selecting items we deem ‘inappropriate’ to wear to school each morning. Multiply that by the multiple children some of us have, factor in the meltdowns and arguments and yes, you’re halfway to convincing even me that giving them no choice is the easiest way out; for the best.
Ultimately, all I am saying is it is OK to be different, to dare to buck the trend, to get a little St. Trinian’s about it. Even us grown ups…
In my personal book – which I long ago accepted does not fall in line with the majority of parents’ beliefs – it’s crystal clear that kids are being dumbed down, expressionism thwarted, individuality and personality crushed on the first stepping stones into academia. Children slowly but surely become institutionalised, branded and molded into ‘the kind of people who tow the societal and cultural line.’ Yet the ‘cogs in a machine’ approach is not the best way forward when it comes to education, at least not if academia’s purpose is to rear happy, well-adjusted, confident, interested and open-minded kids.
The UK’s former Education Secretary, Michael Gove, may very well beg to differ, and probably wouldn’t be too happy with me for re-sharing this piece published a few years ago in the Guardian about the ‘rebellious’ independent streak of the Anthony Gell school in Workswirth, Derbyshire. But the well-being, eagerness to learn and results attained by the students at this, just one of a brilliant new wave of schools who are questioning the wisdom of ‘convention’, speaks for itself.
When we treat children as their own people; when we stop insisting upon tarring them all with the same brush and accept their differences and unique quirks that make them WHO they truly are (instead of dressing them up as if they’re off to band camp or a naval team building exercise) then hey presto teachers, you will garner respect. After all, you get to wear whatever the frick YOU want, don’t you? Then why shouldn’t the kids? Why should they sweat in thick clothes inappropriate for the season? Why should they have breathing restricted with outdated ties glued to their necks? And you still expect them to perform?!
School uniform will never end rebellion.
When will you learn? Kids – pocket money or cash rich teens in particular – will always find a way to upgrade their attire. You will never banish poverty this way. It’s written all over the Tesco bagged P.E kit versus the Louis Vuitton one (fake or not), containing of course, state of the art trainers which trample all over the best ambitions of the High Street’s daps. Children, whatever their age, will always find a way to subtly – and not so subtly – break out of the pigeon hole and make themselves unique. It’s human nature. It’s their very spirit. You cannot clone them. They can already distinguish the difference between a £4 Asda ‘special’ white shirt and something ethnic and pretty from River Island. So you may as well grant them the freedom to be themselves at an earlier age, fostering their esteem, making them feel more ‘at home’ in your establishments.
Just like The Canadians.
Where most schools opt not to partake in the uniform dressing of children. And the Spanish, the French, the Polish, the Americans (only around a fifth of mainstream schools require students to wear a uniform in the U.S), the Turkish (as of 2012 in mainstream schools in Turkey) and Italians, too. Incidentally, the latter abolished mandatory uniform within schools further to noticing the correlation between Mussolini’s youth movement and the decision to dress kids the same. And, yes, you guessed it, on the very same grounds (albeit a different dictator), Germany turned their back on school uniforms too.
Maybe, just maybe, I do have a point…
And it is not just mainland Europe and the U.S where some countries favour freedom of choice. The Scandinavians to the north have long been heralding the way – and rather interestingly leading the academic lead tables – by not insisting upon school uniform in schools. Their reasoning and focus being very much on the ease of movement of children when they are wearing comfortable garments.
In Denmark the concept of ‘hygge’ (comfort) is essentially seen as a vitally important everyday basic human right in the raising of happy children. The Danish Way of Parenting, a book I recently came across, gives a fantastic insight into the innovative methods used within Denmark’s schools which really backs this theory on the merits of wearing comfortable clothing. Dare I suggest it – well I am going to anyway: ADHD could even become a thing of the past if we took kids’ comfort into consideration.
Ultimately, we are teaching our children that belonging to an establishment…
Ranks higher in their lives than being true to themselves, following the calling of their soul. Which is such a backward way of going about it. And that’s it, in a nutshell. Society is the ego, constantly striving to pull us down a peg or two, keeping us ‘together’ and masking its desire to control behind the obscure reasoning of oneness, identity, school pride and a common goal.
But herein lies the grand flaw.
We don’t have a common goal. We shouldn’t have a common goal and pride for oneself should come way before pride for any establishment. History and the ideology of war for war’s sake have taught us that much! Our children are their own individual people. This aim for societal equality has backfired BIG TIME, to the point our kids are resembling troops preparing for a life in the military. Just saying.
When we curtail their expression by not allowing them to dress as they wish (and fine, if they would like to wear a uniform, let that be an option), we are inadvertently stopping the future fashion designers, artists and musicians in their tracks. We are making it harder to produce the new era of scientists and mathematicians. You think I am talking nonsense but answer me this: on a working from home day, do you concentrate better in your loose pyjama bottoms and fleecy top, or a smart suit whose waistband digs in, whose sleeves make you itch, whose buttons are stiff as cardboard and of course those polished black lace up shoes to match?
Who knows? I might have got an A* in maths if I’d been in my onesie.
Emma Jacobs in her 2014 Guardian article makes a compelling point – and goes on to explain that actually, contrary to the common argument so often touted by academia in its plight to sell the concept of ‘smartness’, most ‘office jobs’ these days would send you packing if you turned up suited and booted. It’s jumpers, jeans and UGG boots – the latter if you must. I can certainly vouch for this when it comes to the London world of publishing where I used to work. Happiness and comfort are the fast track, common sense, one way street to productivity. Savvy bosses and savvy school governors know this!
How to sum up?
Excuse the academic pun. Well, just like the uniform thing, there is no one size fits all answer. So embedded in our collective psyche is the perceived respect for these dull and dreary items of clothing that it will take perhaps millenia to see rainbow colours and floaty shirts, frocks and trousers bedecking the school corridors. But never mind. Change is afoot. And that is the main thing.
For me it comes down to one thing: are my children happy?
I have seen both sides of the coin. My kids live in a country where school uniform is not compulsory. The school even tried to introduce it but just as you’d probably turn down lumpy custard in a school dinner queue and choose the vibrant fruit salad, the parents (and kids) flat out refused to adopt the uninspired navy tracksuit uniform – and its price – on offer. Perhaps that’s a tradition thing? We are creatures of comfort. We stick to what we know. But perhaps it was always a no brainer?
The one thing I know for sure is this: rewind me back twenty-seven years to my first day at High School and there’s NO WAY I’d have opted for the buttoned up blazer, long socks and school tie (it wasn’t mandatory for girls, Mum!) I set out in. For the one chestnut we haven’t mentioned thus far is bullies. And if you honestly think bullies will only pick on kids who are wearing their casual clothes that don’t come from GAP, Zara or H&M… think again and try the buttoned up blazer, long socks and tie experiment.
Clue: you can put your Bunsen Burners to one side. This scientific test will give you the quickest positive results EVER.
Happiness is freedom.
And freedom is our earthbound right. Our children are our future. So let’s give them the freedom to learn, grow and express to their optimum. It’s the simplest thing in the world: let them wear comfortable, colourful clothes!
(Note from The Editor. Many thanks to Freya Spring for her contribution as a Glass House Guest. For more information about Freya or to read more of her work, you can check out her author page here.)