Dress codes in public schools are a perennial hot topic. Stodgy, inflexible, conservative school officials unreasonably force conformity on brilliant, self-determining, expressive young geniuses that only want to do it their way and demonstrate their brilliance and leadership through their clothing, or lack thereof, or so the left-leaning argument goes.
To be entirely fair, many argue that dress codes are outmoded and unnecessary, an expression of unreasoning authoritarianism. They do not address real problems, and unfairly suppress some valuable cultural expression, such as wearing one’s pants around one’s ankles, exposing one’s underwear, or wearing baseball hats indoors and backward. Other valuable cultural expressions being cruelly suppressed include wearing sufficient earrings and piercings to set off airport metal detectors from the parking lot, the exposure of pert, taut, enticing young tummies, buttocks and breasts–none of which are the least distracting to adolescent males, unless one considers having to pry their gazes off those parts with a hydraulic jack distracting–and hair of length, style and color sufficient to be a potentially deadly danger in science, agriculture and building trades classes. But that’s just me being an unreasoning authoritarian.
There is, however, a high school in Illinois that has implemented a brave, new dress code, as Fox News reports:
An Illinois high school called Evanston Township High School just proved that dress codes can have a positive impact — if they’re done right, The Chicago Tribune reports.
The dress code’s only requirements in terms of covering skin are that ‘genitals, buttocks, breasts, and nipples are fully covered with opaque fabric.’ It explicitly states that students are allowed to wear pajamas, tank tops, ‘religious headwear,’ leggings, and visible bra straps. What they’re not allowed to wear are ‘images or language that creates a hostile or intimidating environment based on any protected class or consistently marginalized groups.
How cutting edge, how diverse, how utterly fashionable! Trust me when I say, gentle readers, that to the adolescent male, a flimsy bra under equally flimsy pajamas is fully as alluring and distracting as no bra, perhaps even more so. I know this because I had considerable experience as an adolescent male during my adolescence. Of course, back in the 1400s, our primary dress code battles were about allowing girls to wear blue jeans in school. Really.
You just knew this was all about social justice, didn’t you?
School staff shall enforce the dress code consistently and in a manner that does not reinforce or increase marginalization or oppression of any group based on race, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, cultural observance, household income or body type/size,” the school’s website reads. ‘All students should be able to dress comfortably for school and engage in the educational environment without fear of or actual unnecessary discipline or body shaming.
And where would such a policy be without a clause that demonstrates absolute ignorance of human nature?
And in response to the common argument that allowing girls to show skin will be ‘distracting’ for boys, it has a clause reading, ‘All students and staff should understand that they are responsible for managing their own personal ‘distractions’ without regulating individual students’ clothing/self expression.
Of course we expect boys and men to be entirely responsible for their behavior, however, unlike the Left, rational people acknowledge human nature and the fact that our choices have consequences. We cannot force the universe to conform to what we would like it to be by saying what isn’t, is, and there are also consequences–some rather final–for attempting to do that. The influence of social expectations, to say nothing of raging hormones and pheromones, cannot be safely ignored. One wonders whether this high school has any rules about public displays of affection, and if so, do they stop somewhere short of the horizontal Tango?
The Chicago Tribune adds a bit of commentary:
It [the dress code] speaks volumes about how much they respect their students,’ Evanston community activist Christine Wolf told me. ‘It really shows a commitment to listening to kids and what they need and being open to as many different voices as possible.’
‘These are 14- to 18-year-old kids,’ Wolf said. ‘Their bodies are changing every single day. They’re trying to live their lives and get an education.
Ah hah! I think Wolf has inadvertently stumbled upon it. More in a moment, but first let’s sample a bit more adolescent wisdom:
As recent graduate Marjie Erickson wrote on Facebook this week about the new dress code:
‘This is a revolutionary act of reclaiming our bodies as ours instead of a ‘distraction’ or something to be ashamed of. This is our protection against being penalized for someone else’s perception of our bodies, and what is appropriate and respectable. … The new dress code is inclusive, progressive, and the standard every school should be held to.
Let us put aside, for the moment, the legitimate safety reasons for dress codes, not only in athletics, but in any course dealing with chemicals, machinery, animals, etc. Let us put aside all knowledge of the nature of humanity and the very real differences between the two (biology is so cruel) genders. I know it’s hard to do that these days when new genders are being invented all the time and demanding their own unique bathroom practices and acknowledgements, but please play along, gentle readers.
What’s that you say? This new dress code is in large part about allowing kids to cross dress or whatever else they dream up? What gave it away? The part about being “inclusive [and] progressive”? The part about “gender identity” or “gender expression”? Or did “sexual expression” do it for you, as it’s about to do it for the students of Evanston Township High School? What’s that? The enforcement provision means there will be no enforcement of any dress code? The kids can do whatever they like? I knew I could count on you, gentle readers.
I have only two more observations, then I’ll turn it over to you. There is a venerable aphorism that goes something like: “If you give kids an inch, they’ll take a light year.” My years in education have proved the truth of that aphorism again and again. Allow the slightest crack in cell phone exposure, and they proliferate with a speed and daring that make Apple investors very happy. Allow the slightest leeway in the exposure of young, uplifting–in more ways than one–breasts, and you’ll see far more breasts and uplift than all but the most progressive and revolutionary would desire, and with a speed and profusion that makes bacteria look slovenly. Allow the holding of hands in the hallways, and Orthodontists responding to emergency calls for locked braces will rapidly become common.
Schools exist primarily because we agree an educated populace is not only necessary, but essential to a functioning democracy. Allied with that notion is the necessity of teaching common cultural values, without which democracy–our constitutional republic–cannot function. Among them are individual responsibility, delayed gratification, respect for others–particularly for men to respect women–scholarship, working and playing well with others, and above all, the ability to focus one’s attention for extended periods to accomplish worthwhile tasks. Anything that interferes with these goals cannot be allowed if we are to actually run schools rather than progressive political indoctrination camps.
Children, you see, are prone to do all manner of things that are not good for them or for society, now and in the future. Smart they may be, experienced and capable of exercising appropriate self-restraint they are not.
Schools where adults are in charge, where students have clear and rigorously, uniformly, and professionally enforced behavior expectations are places where education is actually possible. It is always up to adults to establish a proper educational environment and to provide the best possible educational opportunity, and to guide easily distracted, and mindlessly revolution-prone children toward taking advantage of that opportunity. In so doing, there is scant room for revolution.
There is a movement in education, one about which I have often written and sometimes fought, that suggests students are little geniuses that must be allowed to make their own decisions about what and how they are to learn. Teachers should never be the “sage on the stage,” but “facilitators,” whose entire focus must be to allow children’s inherent brilliance to emerge and flower in glorious, self-determined profusion. This is usually called “student-centered learning.” Knowing human nature as I know you do, gentle readers, I’m sure you know the wages of this kind of hubris.
That kind of thinking is driving such dress codes. Unlike “community activist” Wolf, rational people know kids are far more interested in “trying to live their lives,” as they see them–boys, girls, video games, sex, drugs, partying, texting, etc.–than in “get[ting] an education.” Given the choice, most are not going to demand they read the classics, write papers, deal with demanding equations, and learn all they need to know to be producers rather than social leeches. They do not know what they don’t know, and are damned proud of it.
The second issue has to do with adolescent rebellion. It matters not what sort of rules are in place, kids are going to rebel against them. Mark me, as Shakespeare loved to say, Evanston Township High School will soon find the kiddies “reclaiming their bodies,” in all manner of interesting, picturesque and obscene ways, and at the slightest hint of adult supervision–real or imagined–will rebel against whatever is in their way. They’ve been given a light year; they’re going to want the galaxy. Rebellion is the way, and sometimes the downfall, of adolescents. It’s in their DNA.
A wise principal once told me, during a discussion about dress codes, they were necessary, if for no other reason than that they give the kids something upon which to focus their rebellion. Let them expend their energy rebelling against that, because there are worse, and more damaging things that will draw their attention if dress codes are removed from their paths.
Obviously, that’s a bit too wise for Evanston Township High School and it’s community activist boosters. But hey, it’s revolutionary, which matters far more than mere learning, at least in Illinois.