Friday, December 11, 2009

Dress Code whip lash

Although I have blogged previously about uniforms and dress code, I had a compare and contrast experience this week that was interesting.  On Wednesday in Cincinnati, Ohio, I was interviewing students in a public school that had uniforms--dress shirts, jackets, slacks, and ties. The boys wore a traditional men's tie and the girl's wore a uniform tie. The ties did not have to be worn to the neck and many students had an open top button with a loosely tied knot. Throughout the day, there were the usual instructions from teachers and administrators to tuck in shirt tails, and roll down jacket sleeves.

This high school served inner city kids, many of whom came from struggling families.  Although it is a public school, this school is a school of choice.  Students and parents in Cincinnati elect to go there and must take public transportation to arrive.  They draw from over 60 elementary schools and students there seem to be thriving.  When we asked students to tell us what they liked about the school, high on the list was the uniform.  When asked why, we heard:  "I don't have to think about what I am going to wear when I wake up in the morning."  "It saves my family money." "No one makes fun of anyone because of what they are wearing." "It gives you a sense of pride. The other day I was in a store and the lady at the counter knew what school I went to because I had my uniform on and she said she had gone there, too." "It makes you feel safe."

The very next day, I was interviewing students in the lakes region of New Hampshire.  Like the school in Cincinnati, this school has respectful students working with dedicated staff members.  Both schools have a great deal of success with their students.  Unlike the school in Cincinnati, it is not a school of choice, draws on just three elementary schools and, though there is poverty in some areas of the district, it is not the inner city.  There is a dress code, but no uniform.  When I asked an open ended question about what students would change if they were principal, one student said, "The dress code!"  Other students in the focus group immediately jumped in, "Yeah! They just made this new rule that you can't wear ripped jeans." Another added, "Some people's parents spent money on a new pair of ripped jeans and now they won't even let you wear them."

On back to back days, it was startling to hear one group of public school students lauding their uniform and then another group of students bemoaning their inability to wear tattered clothes. I'll leave it to anyone reading this (is anyone reading this?) to draw their own conclusions.

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