By Dr. Yvonne Fournier, Scripps Howard Columnist
Dear Dr. Fournier:
Should all children have to wear the same uniform to school, or should they be allowed to dress individually as long as they follow a standard dress code?
In our work life, we all have different roles that define what we do for those we serve. People who focus on carrying out their responsibilities with excellence, initiative and innovation do so based on service to others, not on how they look.
Most working adults either have a uniform or a dress code that tends to guarantee the employee physical and emotional safety needed for themselves and from others to concentrate cognitively on their job. A pilot wears a uniform that designates authority and trust; a surgeon wears pajamalike medical attire for comfort, yet it is sterile for health and safety reasons. And tellers in a bank generally follow the “banker’s blue” dress code, including closed-toed shoes for women — even though most of us don’t see a teller’s feet.
We all have the choice of wearing the politically correct social attire for what we do in our private lives. When you get an invitation that says “black tie,” women know to wear a dark or black formal or semi-formal dress. At the same time, men know to wear a formal black suit, even with a bow tie rather than a standard tie.
If the invitation says “casual” or “business casual,” that may mean beach clothes if it is to a pool party. Or it could mean khaki pants and a polo shirt for men and a sundress for women, if it is a corporate party.
Finally, there are social norms that we learn from parents or know intuitively as we grow. Examples include how we dress when we go to church, a graduation ceremony or a park festival. We know they are different, yet within each category, each place has its dress code.
The idea that clothes are to be used as a way for children and adolescents to develop individuality is a poor excuse for not teaching children that attire has to do with those they serve or care for. On too many occasions, children brought up to use attire to develop individuality end up believing that what they want is more important than following the guidelines of what is considered respectful.
I have been to formal weddings where men showed up in blue jeans, a bar mitzvah where girls bared their midriff. I’ve been to a graduation where the graduates dressed as if they were heading out to a nightclub. I’ve been to a church where some girls go in shorts that are almost non-existent.
I once had a prospective employee show up for the interview in flip-flops and clothes that should be in the washer.
Some may read this and say this is their prerogative. While true, your attire should not speak louder than your intelligence.
As for dress codes or required uniforms, students — in the name of individuality — are constantly trying to cross the lines. It really does not matter whether a school has a uniform or a dress code. It does matter that we teach them why it matters.
WHAT TO DO
Starting as early as possible, every parent and school should hold themselves responsible for teaching youths that their bodies talk. Once their bodies speak, what your body says will be, “I command respect by giving respect.” That includes wearing a uniform or following a dress code.
It is amazing how students will follow the rules when they understand the reasons for them. For example, in my day school, students are not allowed to wear rubber flip-flops because of the chance they get caught on the carpet and someone will end up on the floor face down with no front teeth. Boys do not wear earrings because they are expected to dazzle the world with their mind and not their earlobes.
Personally, I prefer uniforms. When I was required to wear one in ninth grade, I thought I belonged because of my mind power and not because of what I wore.
The development of individuality should be about respect for self and for others — not disrespect. This is the most important rule of attire: A school dress code or uniform is intended to keep your MIND on your MIND, not “How can I outwit the rule today to flaunt my body instead.”
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