Thursday, September 9, 2010

Who They Actually Are

Another teenage lesbian is suing a rural Mississippi school district, this time over a policy banning young women from wearing tuxedos in senior yearbook portraits . . .

 The ACLU lawyer says:

"It's unfair and unlawful to force students to conform to outdated notions about what boys and girls should look like without any regard to who they actually are as people."

Obviously, there are litigous and socially-ambitious advantages to framing the debate this way, but why are the journalists on board?  Why is there no questioning in the article of what a clothing mandate for yearbook photos could possibly accomplish?

Similarly ridiculous is the suspension of  a four-year-old, for having long hair, and the reasons given:

According to the district dress code, boys' hair must be kept out of the eyes and cannot extend below the bottom of earlobes or over the collar of a dress shirt. Fads [is it still 1968?] in hairstyles "designed to attract attention to the individual or to disrupt the orderly conduct of the classroom or campus is not permitted," the policy states.

Why, then, is there no mention of the boy's oh-so-trendy hairstyle causing havoc?

On its Web site, the district says its code is in place because "students who dress and groom themselves neatly, and in an acceptable and appropriate manner, are more likely to become constructive members of the society in which we live."

For this claim to have a rational basis, the terms "neatly," "acceptable," "appropriate", and "constructive" would have to be defined precisely enough to carry out a survey.  The survey would then have to follow the lives of very many people:  a group that corresponds to the criteria, and at least one control.  At the conclusion of this seventy-year-plus exercise, you might have something solid on which to hook your claim.   Otherwise, the statement reduces to "We don't like this kid's haircut, and we believe, on the basis of anecdotes and/or neurotic fixations, that it will be to his and society's misfortune."

This should be obvious to people working in education.  We should also expect knowledge of the state of relevant research.  This site says ". . . no long-term empirical studies have been conducted to assess the effectiveness of school uniforms or dress codes in improving student or school performance . . "   And according to this Policy Report, "research on the effects of dress code and school uniform policies is inconclusive and mixed." 

Perhaps the solution is to offer uniform and non-uniform options in public schools, universally.  This way, students retain choice, while allowing the experiment to continue.  Meanwhile, let's remain skeptical of a rally for appearance codes coming from a system obsessed with test scores, skewed heavily toward mechanical skills, that embraces warrantless searches.  If this trend toward drone manufacture continues, who a student "actually is" will be moot, appearance codes no more than dressing.

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