Wednesday, May 11, 2005


I see that the argument for a uniform dress code at Belleville East and West continues. Apparently, a newly elected school board member is against the idea.

I'm convinced that uniforms are a good idea. But, I'm not sure the policy the school board is trying to implement is.

I'm a guy who went through Army basic training in the early 70's. This was the same time that many wild and wacky things were going on in American society and the world, including the not-yet-concluded Viet Nam war. When the 160 guys who made up Company C of the 5th Battalion showed up at Fort Polk, Louisiana in February of 1973, you couldn't have gathered a more diverse bunch of characters.

There were college graduates and high school dropouts. There were Caucasians, African-Americans, native Americans, Hispanics, Orientals, and many combinations of ethnicity. There were country boys and city slickers. There were guys from every part of the country and some we weren’t so sure of because they could barely speak English. There were huge men, frail boys, fat guys, and fit guys. There were high-character people and some really bad actors who would have been in prison if it weren't for a judge that gave them the option of joining the Army instead. You name it... we had it.

The first thing that happens when you set foot on military soil is to meet your new best friend….the drill sergeant. You don’t believe it then…but you do before very long. Then this guy marches you to the barber shop to get your hair...and many of us had a lot of it back then...shaved to the scalp. Then it’s over to the quartermaster to get your army uniform and basic gear such as boots, headgear, socks, underwear and more. Then it’s off to your new home…the barracks.

Early the next morning it’s out to formation to begin eight weeks of intensive physical and mental drills. Somehow this rag-tag bunch of human beings looks like an army unit. They all look the same. They all ARE the same…because they are going through hell together. The instances of misbehavior are few. The mission of becoming a member of our country’s armed forces, and striving to prove you are worthy, becomes paramount. Competition among the troops is keen. Achievement of the group objective of becoming a sound military unit is the focus.

This is why I like the idea of school uniforms. I believe the individual should be surpressed in a school setting in order to build that individual for the sake of the collective good. The mission is to create a stronger and smarter individual and, through his eventual contribution, a better community, region and nation.

In District 201, however, they are giving the student the option of choosing from an array of acceptable clothing combinations. It seems to me this is asking for problems. Enforcement will become arbitrary. Students and teachers will regularly have to deal with ambiguity and confusion. Why not just have a school uniform? One for boys. One for girls. This would alleviate all the confusion. Everyone would know what is expected. Easy is good.

An argument has been put forth that forcing young people to wear uniforms in school steals their ability to express individuality. That may be so, when it comes to clothing. But, there are plenty of other ways to express individuality that aren’t disruptive to the general security and atmosphere of quality education. One can express individuality with a perfect math test score, by writing a great book review, or through any number of positive classroom actions. Outside the classroom, there is still plenty of individual satisfaction in a great song at a concert, scoring a touchdown in football, perfectly delivering a line in “Our Town”, or pitching a no-hitter at the diamond. Providing opportunities for personal expression can’t be the overriding mission of a high school. Individualism is divisive and counter-productive to the success of any mission involving more than one person.

Bottom line for me. The District 201 board is heading in the right direction. But, it needs to finish the deal and institute a single uniform policy. Teachers, and their students, will be able to focus on education, and not have to constantly be concerned about the right combination of clothes. Bring the students together for the sake of achievement, by helping them to believe they are all the same in the eyes of school administrators and society. Students, parents, teachers, administrators, and the community, will be better off, and thankful for the discipline in the long run.

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