Opinion

The Dressing-Down of America—Literally

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Posted: Oct 15, 2018 10:54 AM
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The Dressing-Down of America—Literally

Can a school dress code be sexist? According to Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) officials, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

In September, AUSD issued a letter notifying parents that “the Board of Education approved changes to AUSD’s dress code. We want to help you understand what the changes are and why the district developed them.”

Why did AUSD officials decide to makeover the dress code? According to AUSD, “The process started in 2016, when a small group of Lincoln Middle School students and their teacher began working with their school administration on their dress code. In 2017, the group brought their concerns about the existing dress code to the Board of Education. The policy, they noted … had a disproportionate impact on girls. That is, because more of the policy was focused on girls’ clothing than boys, girls were being sent out of the classroom for infractions more often than boys, which meant they were losing more class time than their male peers.”

Do AUSD officials not understand that boys and girls tend to dress quite differently? Trust me, most adolescent boys would rather not bare their midriffs!

Furthermore, whatever happened to the idea that adults make the rules and children follow them? In our modern education system, especially in government-run schools, feelings trump everything, even timeless notions about what appropriate classroom attire is.

AUSD officials explained that “the students and teacher noted, measuring the widths of straps and lengths of shorts in class or pointing out that a student was showing too much skin was resulting in embarrassment and shame for students. Such feelings can make it hard for students to concentrate on learning and can create long-term issues with body image.”

Excuse me, but ifanystudent (male or female) is dressed inappropriately, then they ought to feel embarrassed so they understand that their choice of clothing is not acceptable for a classroom environment. That is called learning.

“We believe these changes will reduce inequitable and unnecessary discipline and help us maximize learning time,” says Steven Fong, AUSD’s chief academic officer. “Districts across the country are adopting similar revisions for similar reasons. We are excited to be moving forward with such a student-centered approach.”

Hopefully, Fong is not in charge of academic integrity, because his statement is quite a whopper. How many districts have adopted similar revisions? Only two—one in Portland, Oregon and another in Evanston, Illinois. Yes, two out of more than 13,000 school districts across the country permit students to wear micro-mini skirts, short shorts, and crop-tops.

One simple solution to the dress code debacle is school choice. Many private schools across the country enforce strict dress codes that adhere to traditional standards. On the other hand, the standard of dress in public schools is declining more rapidly than the motivation of a second-semester high school senior. Unfortunately, many parents cannot afford to send their children to private or charter schools, and so their children are forced to endure the debauchery of public schools. Trust me, it’s not just the dress code that’s on the decline.

Although school choice would partially solve this problem, the other elephant in the room is the stunning number of adults who have traded their formal attire for t-shirts and sweatpants—and have imposed these norms on their children.

Children typically mimic the behavior of others, and when it comes to clothing choices, many adults are not setting stellar examples for the youth of America. The next time you are in a public setting, just take a look around, and I’ll bet that far too many of the grown-ups’ outfits are more fit (sometimes literally) for children. From middle-aged women wearing yoga pants at the airport to grown men wearing pajamas at your local coffee shop, American adults have taken dressing-down to an all-time low.

This sad state of affairs becomes even more vivid when one looks at a photograph from a baseball game or any public spectacle in the early twentieth century. Back then, most men dressed dapper (and actually groomed themselves). And most women (besides flappers, at least) wore clothing deemed suitable for the occasion (not a workout session or a trip to the local night club).

Maybe it is time for American adults to put on their grown-up pants (again, sometimes literally) so they can serve as proper role models for how children ought to dress. This does not mean that there are no differences between how adults and children should dress, but rather that everyone should address appropriately (and respectfully wouldn’t hurt, either).

At the very least, shouldn’t the so-called “responsible” adults at government schools stop letting the kids who they are supposed to be teaching seize control of school culture?

Chris Talgo(ctalgo@heartland.org)is a former public school teacher and editor at The Heartland Institute.