“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal
April 26, 2013
Schoolkids are uniform enough in any old thing
The new unified school district has asked parents to imagine how next school year might look. Specifically, how our children might look, whether dressed in uniforms or just any old thing. Currently, Memphis City Schools students wear uniforms, and Shelby County students do not. An online survey has been circulated asking the input of parents.
Uniforms. No uniforms. Neutral. Those are our options.
I can’t pay attention to the minutiae of the goings-on within the battle for supremacy over the schools next year. There are budget concerns, building concerns and personnel concerns ad infinitum. But the debate over uniforms caught my eye. It’s a very real, very practical issue for parents who will need to gauge their mornings and budgets come August.
I attended private Catholic schools through the ninth grade and was made to wear a uniform that included dress shoes and a tie. Nothing amuses my kids more than picturing their scrawny 8-year-old father with a tie cinched up beneath his chin. When, in the 10th grade, I switched to a public county school and was allowed to wear anything — anything at all — it was as though a veil was lifted. It was a denim veil, and a freedom I had not known before.
As a parent, I see both sides of the issue. I know how much simpler mornings are when there are no questions as to what to wear to school. Arguments are limited to where shoes might have been left or who has overslept, while what to wear is a nonissue. I appreciate both the individuality and personality expressed by a wardrobe, and the one-size-fits-all ease of uniforms.
I don’t know whether this survey will be considered, or whether it will become just one more sheaf of paper in what must be a Jenga-like stack of paperwork the new unified board must consider. But just in case, I took the debate straight to those most affected: my own kids. No surprise that they were overwhelmingly in favor
of no uniforms. When I tried to explain to them how much easier it is when you just wear the same thing every day, my preteen son put it best, I think, when he shouted, “I’m going to wear the same thing every day, anyway!” Indeed, I’ve been that preteen when laundry day consisted of a favorite T-shirt being pried, and peeled, from my body.
Our kids are currently immersed in the one-size-fits-all week of TCAP tests. They’ll be tested to find out how they measure up with the students in the seats next to them, an adjoining classroom, a school across the city and one on the opposite side of the state. Sameness. If our children look the same, perhaps they’ll learn the same.
There will be time enough as adults to wear the uniform of the banker, the doctor and policeman, the Windsor knot and pantsuit of the lawyer. They’ll be uniformly kept within the gray fabric of cubicles and tagged with the ID badge of an employer. So in the end, I suppose I sway away from the idea of uniforms. Kids will find their own uniforms to go along with their own groups and their own personalities. They may not look exactly the same, but they are more alike than we realize. They, more than we, realize this as well. They’re kids. They’re the same as the kids in the next classroom over, the school across the city and the one across the state. We don’t need them to act just the same, or look just the same, to see that.