Thursday, September 06, 2007

Clothes Don't Make The Man

School Uniforms Mere Window Dressing

Newsday reports on the new "uniform code" that went into effect in the South Country School District this fall, a code that presupposes, if they all dress the same, there will be no gangs, no petty competition, and no disciplinary problems among the students.

Now this blogger never went to Catholic school as a child -- although Mom always threatened to send me to Our Lady of Perpetual Motion if I didn't sit still at the dinner table -- but I know plenty of private school parents who, with eyes and ears wide open, will readily admit that, uniforms notwithstanding, the drugs and alcohol abuse are prevelant, the gangs are making an intrusion, and, dare they say (and they do), that smoking in the bathroom, and sex (uhhhh!) under the bleachers, is as par for the course at St. Ignatius as it is at Brentwood High.

Uniforms, eh?

How about brown shirts? Maybe "uniform" armbands? Shall students all march the goose step to and from class? Now that will make them good citizens!

Oh, and did we mention gang colors, bandanas, hats, shirts, etc.? What are those, exactly? They wouldn't be "uniforms," would they? Ahh!

Clothes do not make the man -- nor the child -- and you can dress them to all look alike, from preppy, to that stale, old Catholic school girl green plaid (how very dull), but it doesn't create a better student, or a more respectful, decent grown up. [Just look at all the suits on Wall Street, some of whom have traded Brooks Brothers for orange jumpers.]

One size fits all, cookie cutter children, ala Stepford -- or worse, yet, Nazi Germany, where uniformity of look, and thought, was all the rage.

Sure, uniforms may work in our private, and mostly parochial schools, where they not only insist that everyone look the same, but that they think the same, act the same, and believe the same.

Fine for the obedience required to keep a populace of automatons adherent to a strict, if but entirely unfounded dogma. Not so good when it comes to the out-of-the-box free thinking that a society on the move, and in the forefront of intellectual creativity, necessitates.

Yes, stress integrity, cooperation, respect, at home as well as in school. Teach our children well in their social skills and societal norms. But stifle neither creativity nor individuality by instilling this uniformity of style under guise of some juvenile homeland security plan -- clearly form over substance -- a non-starter along the lines of, "you can dress them up, but you can't take them out!"
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Policy on school uniforms doesn't fit all

Clusters of children wearing navy blue and khaki stood along Dunton Avenue in East Patchogue yesterday morning waiting at bus stops on the first day of school.

Their matching outfits were the result of a South Country district policy approved in June requiring students through fifth grade to wear uniforms - navy blue polo shirts and khaki pants or skirts - unless their parents choose to "opt out."

At the corner of Dunton and Erving avenues, Desiree DiBella, 9 and Tina Curcio, 10, giggled about their almost identical attire."It's comfortable," Tina said.

Desiree said she likes to wear colorful clothes. "They're ugly," she said. Their mothers agreed shopping for clothes was easier and cheaper. Denise DiBella, 37, said she purchased 10 navy blue shirts at Target for $6.99 each to be shared between Desiree and her brother John, 7. Annmarie Curcio said she found pants and skirts at Children's Place that ranged from $7 to $14.

Only a few Long Island public schools have uniform policies, including the Uniondale and Brentwood districts and a Roosevelt elementary school. The number of public schools nationwide with uniform policies quadrupled between 1997 and 2000, the last year for which figures are available. New York State law says districts with a uniform policy have to allow parents to opt out.

South Country superintendent Susan Agruso said uniforms foster a sense of focus on school that can help improve test scores and discipline. The uniform policy is expected to be expanded to eighth-graders next year.

But not all parents and students like the policy or agree that clothes play a role in behavior and academics.

Mark Grossman's 6-year-old daughter, Mia, went to school yesterday wearing a pink jumper over a white blouse.

"My daughter enjoys picking out clothes and it reflects who she is," said Grossman, a deputy Brookhaven supervisor and former school board member.

In Brentwood, the uniform policy for high schoolers started yesterday, part of a three-year program that began at the elementary level and phased into middle school last year. The majority of students streaming out of Brentwood High School at 2 p.m. yesterday weren't wearing uniforms.

One of the few who complied, Luis Garcia, 18, said he's used to wearing a uniform to school because it's required of students in his native Peru.

One reason for the district's policy was to "eliminate questions about gang apparel," said Mark Nizewitz, former assistant superintendent for secondary education who retired last month.

After school yesterday, about a dozen Suffolk police officers swarmed the area because a group of teens swatted a large tree limb at a lowrider car and a scuffle ensued. Even though most of those questioned by police were wearing blue bandanas, an officer at the scene said he didn't think it was gang-related.

Dress for success?According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 12 percent of public schools nationwide had a uniform policy during the 1999-2000 school year, the last year for which statistics are available.

Here are arguments for and against public school uniform policy.

Arguments in favor of the policy from Susan Agruso, South Country superintendent, and Mark Nizewitz, Brentwood's retired assistant superintendent for secondary education:

Helps improve test scores and discipline by increasing focus.
Gives students a sense that school is their job.
Cheaper than buying latest fashion trends.
Reduces peer pressure to outdo classmates.
Less time getting ready in the morning.Creates a more orderly school setting.
Helps curb showing gang affiliation.

Arguments against the policy from Mark Grossman, a parent of a first-grader in the South Country district. His Web site against the policy at

Takes away individual expression and creativity.
Doesn't affect behavior and grades, especially among younger students.
Policies that allow clothing brands still lead to students wanting designer labels.
Easier to enforce than a dress code that requires interpretation.
Uniforms traditionally are for private schools.
Parents still must buy clothes for after-school and weekends.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

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