One of my literary heroes, the great Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) reportedly said of fashion: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” There’s a reason we don’t wear jeans and a T-shirt to a job interview or attend a birthday party in our birthday suit.
It’s partly that notion, the “dress for success” axiom, which drives the implementation of student dress codes at schools, both public and private. Taking it further — the school uniform requires the wearer to dress smartly and is seen as a proverbial leveler of the playground; no student is outfitted snazzier than his peers.
Behind the uniform’s perceived benefits exists a cottage industry of professional and lay advisers advocating the “pro” viewpoint: Strictly regulating what students wear at school enhances academic performance, reduces crime and emulsifies class struggle.
It all sounds good until you look for empirical versus anecdotal evidence. There’s no shortage of opinion on why uniforms are great, but a proof for the theorem is lacking.
As a source for her story, “Dressing for Success” (page 21 of the print edition), writer Karen Schwartz interviewed a gentleman from New Jersey who helped establish a uniform requirement for his town’s public school system; he spoke of the policy’s effectiveness in establishing an environment of professionalism.
Of course, he also is a consultant for one of the nation’s largest school-uniform retailers so it may not surprise you that he touts the myriad “benefits” a uniform delivers to students, parents and educators.
I’m not convinced that uniforms are the elusive missing ingredient most American public schools lack. In fact, I’d argue that uniforms have a net-zero effect on the students. And I’m not alone. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Educational Research made its statistical findings quite clear. The authors stated: “The simple fact, supported by our research … is that policy makers who are interested in raising academic achievement should not count on school uniforms to deliver an academic miracle.”
Dress codes are ubiquitous throughout life, whether for school, work, visiting a house of prayer — or one of ill repute. Most dress codes are put in place not as regulators of expression but as tangible codes of conduct. Halter-tops and flip-flops are de rigueur at the beach but not so much in science class.
Uniforms, while not the panacea some claim, do provide benefits outside the scope of quantifiable academic efficacy — mainly to the parents who would otherwise foot the bill for a new fall wardrobe.
The gentleman from New Jersey in Ms. Schwartz’s article blew past the economic benefit of uniforms fairly quickly. If it were me, that’s the point I would hang my hat on.
Last year, my eldest daughter, Bella, was required to wear a uniform when starting the first grade. Her school’s dress code required all elementary and middle school students to wear them; high school students had a similar dress code but with more flexibility.
I remember feeling slightly sad for Bella those first few days — wearing the same blue skirts and polo shirts day-in and day-out. I thought it stymied her expression and, frankly, was lame. But, I “came to Jesus” pretty quickly after my wife and I didn’t have to spend a fortune on countless clothing combinations.
As important, it made getting dressed in the morning a breeze. No fighting about what to wear, or whether so and so has such and such. In fact, I made such a quick 180, it’s hard to recall that I felt anything other than joy about her school clothes.
(In the mixed emotions department, all three of my children are attending the same school this year to ease our overcomplicated schedules. Something had to give and, unfortunately, we had to sacrifice the uniform for simplicity — in carpooling at least.)
The notion that a uniform tamps creativity is, I believe, more an “adult” issue than the child’s. To parents who decry the constraints a uniform supposedly thrusts upon their children, let me remind you that your “Barbies and Kens” usually get home from school around 3:30 p.m., and you can play with them then.
This month, we are hosting Yoga in the Greenhouse at the Planterra Conservatory in West Bloomfield. Starting at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18, instructors will be offering three different sessions for yoga enthusiasts.
We’ve partnered up with Yad Ezra, and our donation to the region’s only kosher food bank will demonstrate we practice what we preach — strive to be part of the solution.
The details and registration are available online at YogaInTheGreenhouse.com. We hope to see you there.
Shanah Tovah u’Metukah
Don’t think we’re blowing off Rosh Hashana just because the September edition doesn’t have holiday-related articles. Next month’s issue, which hits the street erev Rosh Hashana, will give 5772 its appropriate due. Until then, stay classy, Detroit!