Mandatory School Uniforms: A Parent's Best Friend

Family Matters on 08.31.11
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Photo credit: Steven Errico / Getty Images

When I found out our (public) school district here in New Jersey had instituted mandatory school uniforms, I let out a cheer.

I immediately recognized the hypocrisy in my joy, but I just didn't care.

See, back in high school, there was a rumor - just the faintest bit of a hint of a rumor - that our school was going to institute a dress code. A pretty mild dress code, so far as things go, but it was the principle of the thing.

My friends and I were big fans of punk, and even though I didn't spike my hair or have safety pins in my ears, I fully supported my friends. It was a pointed attack on our music and lifestyle of choice, we felt. And so we fought back.

A dress code was never instituted - if it was ever seriously being considered. We liked to think we had a hand in that, though in the hindsight of adulthood, I haven't the foggiest.

So how does a punk rockin' dress code protestor grow up to love the school uniform?

Easy. I had children.

Getting them dressed some mornings, even if they're perfectly happy with the clothes I pull out, can be a chore. But the mornings when they start debating the shirt choices or want shorts instead of pants? Or want those pants, not these pants? Well, the clock is ticking and we don't want to be late for school, so just put these pants on already, OK?

Oh, wait. I don't have that problem. The biggest issue is in the fall and spring, when we have to decide if it's warm enough for the short-sleeved shirts or if we need the long-sleeved shirts. Phew! That was tough.

The boys don't care. And that's not because they're boys. It's because that's the way it is. Starting in pre-kindergarten (Rafael's entering second grade and Markus kindergarten), they wore uniforms. They don't know that they're missing anything, because they aren't.

Buying a whole new set of uniforms for Rafael this year, as he enters a new school, seemed pricey at the moment I had to write the check. I realized, however, that buying new clothes for him for the whole school year would have cost more than that, almost certainly.

I polled some of my fellow Parentables with experience in school uniforms, and found I'm not alone in my feelings.

"It takes out a lot of the drama in the morning and it also does a good job of putting all the children on a level playing field when it comes to clothing and accessories," said John Cave Osborn.

And considering that three of John's five children are triplets, he knows a little something about drama in the morning.

Kelly Rossiter asked her (grown) daughter and best friend the other week how they felt about wearing uniforms when they were in high school.

Guess what?

"They both loved it. Great that everyone wears the same thing, that it saves you tons of time in the morning because you don't have to think about what to wear or find clothes," Rossiter reported back. "One of them said the hardest thing about going to university was getting ready in the morning and deciding what to wear."

So am I a hypocrite? Am I betraying my roots and ideals?

In a way, I don't really care, but I was curious. So I asked the folks in the TurntableFM room I hang out in. We play alternative/new wave/punk from the 80s and pretty much had the same experience in our teen years.

You know what? We all pretty much agreed. Uniforms are great. Puts everyone on a level playing field. Takes the drama out of the morning.

One of my room buddies opined that if "reducing fashion consciousness among them will help them learn that there is no word called 'irregardless' or 'supposably'" well, that just can't be a bad thing.

And I liked MadScarab's thoughts about it - We're just "older and wiser."

Mostly, though, I just feel older.

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