Friday, March 16

That'll Learn 'Em

Thought I might share with you some highlights from the seven pages of recomendations (omitting the three for elementary and middle schools) for the new dress code school uniforms mandated attire for Indianapolis Public School students in grades 9-12, beginning next fall. By the way, the switch from "school uniform" to "mandated attire" as a descriptor is just one of the accomplishments of the Dress Code Task Force, and may give some insight as to why such a thing would require a quarter-pound of paper as opposed, say, to two paragraphs. This is the very reason why the committee system can't be improved upon when ass-kissing, rubber-stamping, and thinking muddled beyond the capabilities of most individuals acting alone are the order of the day.

First, a word about the provenance of the proposal, which will now go to the School Board for approval: the Superintendent appointed the Dress Code Task Force (you're forgiven for thinking I made the name up) then handed them two proposals for comment and totalitarian embellishment. The proposals were a) require school uniforms; or b) require school uniforms in a different color. You're forgiven for imagining that was me making a little joke. The actual distinction between the two was that the second, which held sway, allows high school students to wear their school colors. Wolverines!

This is a part of an ongoing process in American public education to raise public awareness and respect for school administrators to the level now occupied by celebrity chefs. IPS also hopes to gain national recognition as a leader among urban school districts in addressing the concerns about public schools raised by white suburban parents who are less likely to send their own children to one than be seen driving a subcompact car. That's the wind-up; here's the pitch:

Pants and/or shorts (males): solid navy, black, or khaki. Shorts must be limited to 2" above the knee. Fastened at the waist, with a belt set at or above the hip. No blue jeans or denim. Females get to add Capri pants and skirts.

Shirts and blouses: with collars, in school colors. No logos other than school logo. Tucked into pants at all times.

Sweaters, sweater vests: school colors. No hoods.

Shoes: white, black, or blue gym shoes. White, black, blue, or brown dress shoes. Females can wear heels. Heels may not have open backs. Shoelaces must match.

Belts: solid black, blue, or brown. No logos.

Socks or tights: solid white, blue, black, or brown.

T-shirts worn under school attire must be solid white.

Girls' undergarments must be solid white.

Quote: Handbags, purses, pocketbooks, and similar items must be no larger than 8.5 x 11 inches (size of a regular sheet of notebook paper), 3 to 4 inches thick and must not be large enough to contain a regular size textbook.

Had enough? Because after all that there's a full page (8.5 x 11, size of a regular sheet of notebook paper) listing restricted attire, as though the three previous pages of Hitler Youth fashion hints weren't specific enough. (Samples: no hats, no over-sized pants or shirts, no cargo-style pants, no sweats, nylon, spandex, tight fits, ruffles, tank tops, tube tops, shiny materials, leggings, sandals, hair rollers, combs, picks, pouches, scarves, do-rags, bandanas, sweatbands, sleeve garters, spats, bustles, or mustache wax. I made the last four up, but I'm considering writing in to demand their inclusion. I once failed an alegebra quiz when a Barbershop Quartet turned up in the hall during the expansion of a particularly tricky binomial.)

There's a note at the end of that list, which says that "approval for certain religious customs are permitted by approval of the school administration, i.e. Muslim female head coverings, Jewish male head covering." Which suggests, first of all, that either Mennonites, e.g., aren't welcome at IPS, or they are welcome but their religious customs aren't, or somebody there doesn't know the difference between "i.e." and "e.g." And the whole thing suggests just what level this martinet self-promotion scheme has reached--go ahead, try kicking a kid out of school because his religious attire wasn't pre-approved.

And that matter actually gets funnier (both "ha-ha" funny and "gee this milk tastes" funny) after a quick page-long explanation of what disciplinary action will be taken, or at least considered, for the first five offenses. That's where we run into the outline of the procedure for a parent or guardian to request a waver of the "IPS Student Uniform Dress Policy" (the section was obviously prepared before the Task Force finalized its Resolution of Committee Thoughts on Nominalization). A waver may be requested on religious, philosophical, or medical grounds. Philosophical grounds. I love that. Who's excused, do you suppose? Sceptics? Nihilists, sophists, existentialists? Nudists? They are required--this really tells you all you need to know--to contact the school to request an Application for Exemption from Uniform Dress Policy form.

Is there some point to this exercise? Getting on the front page and looking like you're Doing Something about amorphous complaints against public schools spring immediately to mind, but the value to students and/or the educational process escapes me. Of course all the supposed benefits of a draconian dress code have been trotted out: an end to fashion competition, indecent or disruptive clothing, the positive effects of randomly-applied discipline, the fact that school is work, the important role soul-crushing conformity will play in our children's economic future. The benefit to the district's administration of injecting a little private religious-school-esque close-order drill into the headlines generally gets left out.

So let me briefly introduce you to the Super, Dr. Eugene White, a rumbling baritone of a man with a church Elder mien and a reputation for being tough on African-Americans. He returned to IPS a couple years ago after several years at the helm of the wealthiest district in the county--my own district, as it happens--where he was noted for a yearly yanking of every high school-aged African American male into an assembly for the purpose of reading them the riot act. This did not always sit well with some parents, but garnered lots of praise in the headlines and among that subset of the white population which thinks that subset of the colored population that actually interacts with whites is the font of all societal ills.

So, Dr. White, you can consider this my philosophical application for a philosophical exemption. Schools ought to foster creativity and individuality the same as responsibility and respect. You can't trumpet diversity one minute and the importance of trivial conformity the next. You can't warn homeschoolers that their children will suffer from lack of socialization, and then tell your own students what color underwear they're permitted. It can't possibly take seven single-spaced pages, rubber-stamp Task Forces, and two #10 cans of flummery to keep midriffs covered and asses inside of pants. You've been a educator for four decades, sir. If school uniforms were the answer why didn't you just decree them two years ago and move on to education?


Anonymous said...

So, don't you have winter in Indiana, where hats, scarves, i.e., might be considered useful? Or can one get a philosophical exemption to winter there?

Anonymous said...

I assume the object is to make sure they'll have clothes for that McDonalds/Holiday Inn job once they graduate.

I do wonder, though, who's going to be checking to make sure undergarments are the right color. Or is this just some prudery regarding colored bras under those white blouses?

Really, what I remember most about everything above the sixth grade was having a ton of textbooks, and a locker on the other damned side of school that I couldn't get to between classes. I'd have been rebelling over the handbags and similar items category. Are they including backpacks, or is that actually acceptable under some other list?

Anonymous said...

Just meandered across your site Mr/Ms Riley.

You are consistently at the top at skewering absurdity in all its hydra-headed forms. congrats and I'm telling every thinking human i know about your site.

spaghetti happens said...

Man, takes me back. No, not back to the Beatle-boot days of junior high school in 1965, but to the Air Force Regulation 35-10 days of 1970-1990. Where every crease and mustache hair had to be measured, and Since It's Not Basic Training Anymore We Won't Force You To Wear White Skivvies But Don't Get Weird On Us, Okay?

I feel sorry for kids today.

Gary said...

I once failed an alegebra quiz when a Barbershop Quartet turned up in the hall during the expansion of a particularly tricky binomial

"Ida Rose" or "Sweet Adeline"?

I just thought you'd like to know that you have now passed both P.G. Wodehouse and James Thurber and written my favorite sentence ever. The spirit of Douglas Kenney is clearly smiling down upon you.

Rugosa said...

the important role soul-crushing conformity will play in our children's economic future

and the petty egos of the committee rub their metaphorical hands in glee at the prospect of crushing those souls

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it is terribly soul-crushing. Teenagers' innate defiance plus creativity will out. My kid goes to a school with a similar uniform policy. Except that at his school it really is just a few paragraphs. The kids are always finding ways to interpret, reinterpret and push the rules. Buncha lawyers in the making.

Anonymous said...

That's just so... varied in its attention to detail. These kids can wear varying colours of shoes, pants, and socks, but girls' undergarments must be white? What about boys'? Is there also a rule that all bras must be unpadded? Non-underwired, with the school logo on the left breast (available from such-and-such an outfitter, who we have clearly not made a deal with)?

I'm from an English area where high school uniform is the norm, and the students developed incredibly creative ways of flaunting the rules. Fashions in tie lengths fluctuated madly, as did the style of pants which fashionable girls wore... that is, when I was at school, several years after my family had fought for my sister to be allowed to wear trousers. By my fourth year or so, the school had banned fitted trousers. Gah. Uniform... it's just stupid, no matter how you do it.


Anonymous said...

If I wanted to wear a uniform, I'd go to Catholic school.

Anonymous said...

That's consistent with all of Dr. White's other bullsh**. He's a dictator to the nth degree, and we all wish the public's opinion of him would go down as his true colors come out and he would go work elsewhere!