Sunday column: The Khaki Code

This column appeared in Sunday’s Herald

I’d just moved to Texas with my mom and younger brother and sister, and there I was … getting ready for my first day of class in a new school in a new state.
And I was, as they call it, poor.
My family wasn’t dirt-on-our-faces, hobo-bag poor, but we certainly weren’t swimming in caviar either. My shoes weren’t Nikes. My jeans weren’t cool.
Even my hair wasn’t “the style.” Who knew this mattered to sixth graders?
And while none of this ever seemed to matter in my elementary stints in Ohio and Georgia, in Texas, this suddenly began to define me (in some kids’ eyes). I blame it on being middle school more than it being a Texas thing. Despite what some of you think, Texas isn’t ALL millionaires, cowboy hats and oil rigs.
But while I wasn’t necessarily in the “in crowd,” I stayed myself and still made friends. My clothes didn’t affect my grades. My social standing didn’t damn me for life.
I got by. And school turned out to be pretty fun.
Of course, this is only my experience, and it’s hard to say whether school uniforms would have made a difference in my school experience. But I was fine without them.
And that’s where I stand when it comes to the debate of school uniforms … or strict dress codes. The matter is currently under heavy discussion by an ad hoc committee of the Lee County Board of Education. Some schools in the county currently have a school uniform policy, while others follow more of a “dress code,” consisting more of the things you can’t do.
Some want a more universal code — stricter guidelines … all in the name of conformity, safety and education. Some will point to statistics that say school uniforms help children achieve academically and socially. Some will point to other statistics that say school uniforms have no bearing on a child’s education.
And yet some may find a study that says school uniforms negatively affect education. Really … that study’s out there (a join study in The Journal of Education Research says so).
So believe what you will when it comes to uniforms. But when it comes to a child being picked on because of his family’s financial situation, don’t think a uniform is going to be the ultimate answer. Children still have to wear shoes (name brand or not), and then there’s the brand of watches they wear, the backpacks they carry or the cars they drive.
Helping education? I don’t recall ever lifting my head from a test, seeing a room full of shirts and khakis that looked like mine and suddenly remembering the answer to No. 43 on my algebra test.
Tucking in my shirt never improved my attention span.
I realize I’m making light of the situation, and that’s what I tend to do (blame it on the denim I wore Friday) … but I also think our board of education has more important things to worry about. We’re in the midst of major school renovations, we’re still in the middle of turning around a once-poor dropout rate (more on that in today’s Herald), and we’re still trying to improve end-of-testing scores.
And if we are going to insist on meddling with what we can or can’t wear or bring to school, wouldn’t it be better to put an end to cell phones or social networking during class? I’m not sure this is an accurate statistic (because I’m making it up), but more than half of the world’s text messages come from students in class while the teacher is teaching.
Talk about a distraction.
Look, I’m not against dress codes altogether. There are certainly some things that shouldn’t be worn to class (most of what’s “in” these days counts). There are words that shouldn’t appear on students’ shirts, and there are only so many piercings a student’s face should endure before it becomes a hazard during the science lesson on magnets.
But let’s leave it at “codes.” Our high schoolers don’t need uniforms unless they’re on a playing field or in some other kind of competition.
I may not have paid attention well back then, but my clothes had nothing to do with it.

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