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Jeff Webb: If school uniforms are good for kids, then why not adults?

Elsewhere in this section of the newspaper today, you may read a story about how the Hernando County School Board is on the verge of requiring all elementary and middle school students to wear uniforms on campus. The board is doing so at the recommendation of superintendent Wayne Alexander, who apparently thinks this is an important issue as it relates to educating the children in his charge.

I happen to disagree. There is a perfectly adequate dress code already in place if it enforced, pardon the pun, uniformly. That has not happened because teachers and principals don't like being the Clothes Police, and because they, as humans are inclined to do, bring their own interpretations and biases about what attire is unacceptable. For those reasons, many agree that a dress code is unenforceable.

So, instead of trying to crack down on an impractical policy, they are taking the easy way out, one that allows them to ignore the hypocritical folly of establishing a rule that cannot be, or is not worthy of being, enforced.

You may agree with me that requiring elementary school students to dress alike is acceptable (barely), but it is an unnecessary and superficial constraint for middle and high school students. Or, you may be of the more liberal — or is that libertarian? — opinion that there should be no government-mandated garb for students of any age. Or you may believe all students, including those at high schools, should don uniforms.

There is room for honest disagreement on all those fronts.

But if the board and the superintendent are ready to impose their fashion will on students, then why should they be exempt?

Senior board member Jim Malcolm said he doesn't understand what all the controversy is about. (Perhaps if he asked middle school students, they could help him see both sides of the issue.) However, if he is sincere in his assertion that this is not a big deal, then I challenge him and his colleagues on the School Board to adopt a similar "uniform dress code" for themselves:

Every time they attend a meeting or a function in which they are acting in their official capacity as elected officials, they must wear the uniform. If they do not, there will be a penalty, say spending a day as a teacher's assistant at one of the middle schools. Or maybe offering an explanation at the next board meeting of why they failed to conform to the rules.

But here's a catch. Someone else — say you, or me — will specify the adults' uniform options. After all, that's what they are doing to the kids; no one asked their opinion about the uniforms.

In that vein, here are a few suggestions for board members' uniforms:

• Button-down shirts to match their buttoned-down attitudes.

• (Up)tight shorts or pants.

• Straight-laced shoes.

Sound silly?

You bet. But that's the point.

Seriously, if the board and Alexander truly believe that wearing uniforms will make it easier for students to learn and teachers to teach, then they are obligated to make everyone wear them.

All grades.

All students.

All principals.

All teachers.

And, of course, all board members.

Short of that, how about finding a better way to spend your time, maybe one that doesn't make my kid kowtow to your sense of fashion?

Jeff Webb can be reached at webb@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6123.

Jeff Webb: If school uniforms are good for kids, then why not adults? 04/23/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 27, 2008 2:22pm]

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