When I was in middle school about 15 years ago, there were few firm rules regarding appropriate school attire. You were expected to show up to school looking like, well, a kid: relatively well-groomed with your body covered up and nothing "vulgar" scrawled on your t-shirts. But dress codes have gotten much stricter over the years, with everything from hair color to flip flops to hooded sweatshirts getting the authoritative smack down. And as MSNBC reports, even clothing tributes are being banned from schools, as 23 students in Omaha were suspended for wearing t-shirts that memorialized a friend of theirs who was shot to death. So where do we draw the line between offensive and expressive?The suspended students were wearing their t-shirts, emblazoned with the words "Julius R.I.P.," in honor of Julius Robinson, an 18 year old football player who was shot to death last summer and whose family did not have enough money to buy him a proper headstone. MSNBC reports that "to officials of the Millard Public Schools, the words “Julius RIP” on the shirts were disruptive. After consulting with Omaha police, they also said the shirts could be considered gang-related." But Patzy Van Beek, one of the suspended students, disagrees. "“It’s not fair," she told MSNBC, "People can wear ‘rest in peace, Grandma,’ but when it come to Julius, now all of a sudden we can’t have that at our school. I feel like no one cares.” The ACLU, apparently, DOES care, and they are filing a lawsuit on the students' behalf. Other dress code modifications have sprung up in the past few years, presumably in order to combat the skankification of tweenage clothing. The Sweetwater Union High School District of San Diego has "banned any clothing that reveals the so-called three B’s: breasts, bellies or bottoms," in an attempt to get young women to cover themselves up during the school day. When I was in high school, this was a rule as well, as the Britney Spears belly-shirt fad had taken off and the administration had deemed the exposure of young women's belly buttons "distracting" to the learning environment. More extreme dress code rules, including the banning of hooded sweatshirts, certain possibly gang-related colors, and hair coloring have been met with anger and outrage from both students and parents, who argue that the extremely limited dress codes stifle children's creativity and expression, as well as provide an extra financial burden for parents who might not be able to go out and buy their child an entirely new set of clothes, which is what happened to Debbie Pua, a single mother from Salinas, California., after her child's school district banned any dark red or blue clothing. "I don't get child support," Pua said, "and I already did my back-to-school shopping." While officials claim that they are merely trying to create a safe environment that focuses on learning and not fashion, one wonders if certain dress code rules are going a step too far. As Grace Davis, a sophomore at Salinas, wisely states, changing a dress code "doesn’t fix the disease. It just covers the symptoms,” she said. “I think we’re still going to have the same gang problem. We’re just going to be angry at the administration, and I don’t think that’s the way to go.” Students, Parents Fight Dress Codes [MSNBC]
Honestly, I went to public school and while there were "rules", like the no revealing clothing or offensive shirts thing...everything else was pretty much fine. And it had no impact on the learning environment and allowed for a much more creative expression for the kids who wanted it. In fact, it generally helped kids like myself who were outcasts find others of like minds by their willingness to make their own clothes, go thrifting, and play around with fashion. It was creative and positive for people like me.
When I went to a private school for a year that had a strict dress code it was awful. You were constantly judged by how "designer" your clothes were, everything had to be tucked in, there was a huge gap in social classes between students...and that was ostracizing, demoralizing, and in fact DID impede on education.
I think being a teenager is difficult enough without telling them what color their hair can be, or forcing everyone to wear the same things. To me, it's another way of trying to homogenize the learning experience. I agree that school isn't a fashion parade...but I think teenagers will find ways to avoid school work that have nothing to do with who has pink hair or a hoodie.
One of the points of adolescence is figuring out who you are and becoming ready to be an adult. Sure, there need to be boundaries...but I think fashion and hair color are one of the safer, better ways to express yourself. Especially when school is often about repetitive learning that doesn't actually encourage seeking out information and informing yourself. It's about regurgitating the same (often inaccurate) information. I think you should be able to assert yourself as an individual. I don't think that's the problem.