Beverly Akerman MSc

Beverly Akerman MSc
Location
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Birthday
April 26
Bio
Beverly Akerman's award winning short story collection, 'The Meaning of Children,' was released in 2011 and in cyberspace the next year. Find it at http://amzn.to/KznFvA. After over two decades in molecular genetics research, Beverly realized she'd been learning more and more about less and less. Skittish at the prospect of knowing everything about nothing, she turned, for solace, to writing, winning myriad awards for her efforts. She recently received her third Pushcart nomination. Her writing has appeared in Maclean’s Magazine, The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, The National Post, The Montreal Gazette and on CBC Radio One (Canada’s NPR-equivalent), as well as in numerous lay publications and learned journals. It pleases her strangely to believe she’s the only Canadian fiction writer ever to have sequenced her own DNA. TV & Radio Interviews: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0i9teebBxk; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyOp2wQlxvk; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djOXwJasZes http://beverlyakerman.blogspot.com Twitter: Beverly_Akerman

Beverly Akerman MSc's Links

Salon.com
Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 26, 2011 9:24AM

The Soccer Mom’s View of School Uniforms

Rate: 11 Flag

[For more of my best writing, including news of my book, The Meaning Of Children, please visit my other blog!]



 

A few years back, my then-high-school-attending son received a detention. Not for inappropriate language or behaviour, but solely because his shirt-tail was untucked. Although I allow some room in his narration of his universe for embellishment and even, at times, truth-twisting, I believed him on this one. And that is because, over the several years previous, I had become acquainted with the Uniformists.

 

My children all went to public schools, and their elementary and high schools promulgated strict dress codes. From the outset, I was never completely in favour of all this uniformity. Being a child of the 60s, I was required to wear a tunic for precisely one year, which was abandoned after it was “recognized” that this “stifled self-expression and creativity.” I use quotation marks because the received wisdom in these Oh-Oh years is quite different – now, uniforms are supposed to “create an environment conducive to learning,” a sense of “community among students,” and, not least, a muting of the intense competitive consumerism that lurks among the bad memories of we who are now parents ourselves. Fair enough; the schools my children frequented were good schools, and they were fixed (fixated?) on uniforms. So I could hardly join these communities hoping to make them conform to my thinking. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t ask questions. And, with that detention fresh in my mind, the question became: How uniform is uniform enough? One of the schools insisted on a certain type of shoe, the other that white oxford-style shirts or t-shirts are no longer acceptable, only polo shirts, with the knit collars and the three buttons. There was always some newer affectation, for example that shirts be monogrammed with the school name/logo.

  high school

Our high school is blessed to have a devoted cadre of volunteers who organized and ran the uniform store, generating tens of thousands of dollars a year, all of which was spent on the kids. These monies provide many bits and pieces which are really the school board’s sadly neglected responsibility (new musical instruments, a paint job more often than once every seven years, equipment for classrooms, computers, libraries, etc., etc.) and some true luxuries (lavish graduation exercises, an unbelievable number of academic prizes for graduates, international exchange trips). So uniforms also functioned as an invisible school fee, over and above the taxes that we all contributed. Fair enough, but maybe we should be more up-front about this. Maybe, too, we should organize to demand more money from our governments, or for better use of the existing funds from our school boards.

Another thing about these uniforms really bothered me -- their monochromicity. Why should our schools be sensory deprivation zones? Why white and grey? Why can’t a shirt style be prescribed, but blue, pink or yellow versions be permitted as well, in addition to the white? I never used bleach before my kids entered school! And though it was a minor concern on balance, I regret the environmental degradation these white shirts necessitated.


The truth that surprised me most was that nearly every parent I spoke with felt blessed by uniforms: they were relieved to be delivered from daily arguments about appropriate dress, or from the need to replace each fashion fad their children Exhausted. School officials wanted the monogrammed shirts in part, it seemed, because many of the young women at high school routinely buy extremely tight, skimpy versions of the currently requisite button-down oxfords. No one ever adequately explained to me why, beyond colour and low-heel requirements, a particular brand of shoe was necessary.

Why can’t we parents face head-on the challenges that uniforms are supposed to address? If we have a problem with the sluttish dress of some of our daughters, or the exorbitance of the latest trend in jeans, we should face these issues forthrightly, not cover them over with grey flannel! Buck up, I say! Learn to say “No, that is not appropriate dress for school.” No further explanation is necessary. Our authority can be as arbitrary as “We are teaching you how to live up to society’s expectations. When you are a responsible adult, you can chose to conform or not, but at least you will know how to dress like a middle class prig.” If our kids will not obey our edicts concerning tattoos, body piercing or outlandish hair colour, are we really doing them any favours by abdicating our authority in favour of the school bureaucracy?

Finally, let me tell you about an unfortunate secret truth which lurks beneath the thrall of the Uniformists: it is the way it makes public schools and their students resemble, in the most superficial of ways, the exclusive private schools that pepper my Montreal neighbourhood. And that is a value that I do not share. We should be proud that our kids go to public schools, where all races, religions and socio-economic groups are represented and form a community, just like the real world to which they aspire. If there are improvements necessary in our schools to positively influence behaviour and comportment, let’s make these changes deep ones, not as superficial as the clothes on their backs, or colour of their hair.

My kids love their schools. And I’m grateful for all the hard work put in by the decimated custodial staff, the devoted teachers, concerned administrators and dynamic parent volunteers. I know by the middle of high school, my son shouldn’t be wandering about with his shirttail hanging out. But can you blame me if I wish the administration was more concerned with the originality of my kids’ minds, and less concerned about the conventionality of their dress? In the final analysis, shouldn’t their education be more about content, and less about form?

 

Bev Akerman was a research scientist when she wrote this; she is now a writer in Montreal. The Meaning of Children, her first short fiction collection, has just been published by Exile Editions.

Tweet

(Versions of this essay were published in The Montreal Gazette, Maclean's Magazine, March 7, 2005, and in Cynthia A. Bily, (Ed.) Students’ Rights. Introducing Issues With Opposing Viewpoints. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press. 2009)

 

 [For more of my best writing, including news of my book, The Meaning Of Children, please visit my other blog!]

Your tags:

TIP:

Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:

Comments

Type your comment below:
Is it any surprise that the rise in school uniforms tracks with the rise in tattoos and body piercings? I'm not saying correlation equals causation, but....
Well, where I live (New Orleans) the public schools are for the most part crap, the students are for the most part poor, and 95% of the public schools require uniforms. It's been like this for at least a decade. Nearly all of the private schools require them as well, from the very expensive schools for the rich kids to the inner-city Catholic schools where most of the students are on free lunch. At 7:30 and 4:00 the streets are a sea of various plaids.

There seem to be varying degrees of how strictly the uniform policy is enforced from school to school, and whether things like socks, shoes, coats, and backpacks are regulated, but they've pretty much all got a policy.

Overall, I think it's a good thing. Used to be that kids had "school clothes" and "play clothes" that they would change into when they got home from school. I do think that having a uniform helps set that distinction in the kids' minds--when they're at school, they're there to study and learn, not to goof around. It also gives the students a good litmus for what constitutes "dressing professionally" once they get out into the work world--not that you're going to wear your school uniform to a job interview or anything, but wearing something of similar formalness and conservativeness is probably good for most entry-level jobs. (You really should see some of the stuff the kids here wear when they're NOT in school...Oh. My. No one is going to hire them dressed like that, and the kids have no idea why.)

Now of course, the school administrators shouldn't be total dicks about the uniform--enforcing uniform standards to the extent that they spend more time on that than they do actual learning--but in general I think that school uniforms are a good thing.

Your mileage may vary.
A different opinion here... I attended a year of high school at the stuffiest of English girls' schools. Along with all the homesickness of leaving home, the US, high school, and so on, I had to wear a uniform.

I LOVED IT. For the first time in my life, I didn't have to worry about having the wrong socks/shoes/pants/shirts. I didn't have to worry about what my mom wouldn't pay for. I had the same ugly uniform as everyone else. Everyone universally hated it. I secretly loved it. I loved the anonymity of it, that at least in one way I could fit in with everyone else.

I never, ever won the high school, junior high, or elementary school fashion parade. And for one blessed year I didn't have to play. It was heaven.
My children attend a public school which requires a uniform, or more of a dress code, ie: navy pants and white, navy or yellow polo or school logo t-shirt. While in theory, and on weekends, I like the idea of sartorial expression through clothing, I really, really love the dress code.

Of course, it makes things easier in the morning, but also it's a great neutralizer when a school embodies students of different socio-economic backgrounds.
I have to agree with froggy on this one. My kids go to private schools and the uniforms are a necessity to stop the little bastards from isolating and teasing kids with less. They are like chickens, once they draw blood it's a feeding frenzy. Maybe that's just the USA, not sure. Plus parents are stupid, they decide to live a simple Aruvedic life style and start buying their 16 year old daughter simple cotton smocks from the Goodwill and think she can fend for herself, seriously? I support high school administrators and school bus drivers who are "dicks", they need to be. Without the uniform, it's no holds barred teenage superiority contests. Maybe teens will need to practice their unique individuality and creative expression of their inner selves in some other way? Maybe writing, art, or music is the best venue.
As long as my wife can still wear one...
Amazing constellation of opinions...why are so many teens so hard on each other, do you think? That description of chickens drawing blood, Lilly's Praha, is very apt. What you seem to have lived through, too, Froggy.


I actually wrote this several years back; after it was published, my son told me a little more about that detention: the teacher who handed it out? It was the second time that afternoon she'd caught him with his shirt untucked...but still.

Thanks for taking the time to share your stories (LeedsJr, I'm not going there!)
The issue of school uniforms is mostly a red herring. As a parent, I'm with you on the nonsense of a child getting in trouble for an untucked shirt. My three boys attended public schools and then switched to the prep school environment you mention and learned right away which teachers were "uniform nazis." They/we are always trying to get away with shoes that can cross over into playtime or coats that can be worn as sweaters, etc.

Still, as a teacher who's worked in more school environments than most--public, private, charter, all mixed in uniform requirements--I can say with complete confidence that focusing on uniforms as either an answer or an obstacle to a child's or school's success is simply fruitless. I can't emphasize it enough. It doesn't matter. They get used to it and it becomes a non-issue.

As for the bit about parents' abdicating their authority on this issue, well, I would put that under the umbrella of "Pick your battles." There are so very many complex issues during the school career of a child that a sweeping requirement for uniforms simply offers room for more important conversations.
I taught for over twenty years in both the private and the public sector and I attended a four-year high school that required uniforms. I say YES to uniforms. Yes, yes, yes!!!
Parents who think uniforms minimize teasing and bullying about clothes may want to take a closer look. I wore school uniforms in the fifties and sixties. They did nothing to lessen style competition or harassment. I'm convinced they exacerbated them. There were still petti-pants (substitute for slips), jewelry, socks - when the school limited socks to certain colors and styles the style requirements became wool, not cotton or orlon, Wigwam brand only, knee-highs up to the knees, not those cheap ones that didn't reach all the way. There were also overcoats and purses to be policed. On the occasional days and for events where uniforms weren't required the competition and criticism were intense.

In certain groups there was a first-day-ninth-grade ritual of removing the light/dark tan saddle shoes to scrape and scuff them thoroughly on the sidewalk. How long could you go without cleaning/pressing the wool, knife-pleated skirt? How many cigarette burns could you accumulate, strategically placed to escape notice of the nuns? I never could bring myself to wear an un-ironed blouse - all cotton, of course - but some girls did. Being a slob was an advantage of the all-girls' school and the only one of uniforms.

The minute the 3:15 bell rang, while running to our lockers, we un-tucked our shirts and rolled the skirts at the waist to make them as short as possible. Jackets and shoes were always left in the locker, no one with any regard for cool would wear them outside school. Of course, the shoes worn out the door, jackets, sweaters, (oh my gawd, she's wearing a hat, what a simp.)

Senior year I put my foot down and switched to public school where, we had always been warned, clothing pressure would be extreme. Trapped in the cool girls clique, I was willing to take my chances, thinking it couldn't possibly be worse. A poor kid, I had five adequate outfits, including those of my sister's I could wear. I rotated, one for each day of the week: Monday dress, Tuesday dress, Wednesday skirt & sweater, etc. No one noticed. No one cared. No one made fun of me. A large part of the school was as poor as I was. All those years our parents and the nuns had lied to us.

The experience wasn't the same for everyone, I'm sure, but it was there, it went on.

My philosophy for my kids' school clothes was that they were work clothes, I would never worry if they got paint on them, tore them on the playground or suffered any other mishap. They looked fine, were cared for but, in the end, they had to be work clothes. That's what they went to school for.
Nice piece. A few years back we made the uncharacteristic decision to send our daughter to private school. As you know, Beverly, French-language private schools in Montreal are quite affordable. The result is, of course, the very well-to-do hobnobbing it with the regular folk. So, often, uniforms were a welcome neutral zone.
But, and you don't mention this at all, the plaid skirt and white shirt, for most men, just reads Sex. It is a look that is consistently fetichized and sexualized. It made me cringe, to the point that I eventually won the battle of getting her to wear her jeans and change into her uniform at school. I hated the idea of her walking around in that uniform. She graduated last year. I can exhale.
I see the pros and cons of the uniform and from experience I like them. Not only do they look good for the most part, they prevent the rich from out doing the poor since everyone is wearing the same thing. It's a "leveler" among the kids who are so easily pressured into buying what everyone else is buying or wearing what everyone else is wearing. Uniforms also make learning in the classroom easier since there are less distractions like piercings, tatoos, green hair, or risque clothing articles. School is not the time to express yourself via the clothing you like. School is for learning and preparing for the future. Kids have ample amount of time to express their individuality outside of school.
I went to Catholic school in the 1950s and, looking back on it, uniforms were a wonderful aspect of the whole experience. Mind you, this was in a small town in Montana, where no one had ever even heard the words "designer" or "label" -- at least as they applied to clothing, and even more so when applied to CHILDREN'S clothing.

My parents scrimped and scraped to afford our tuition, and the last thing on which they had extra money to spend was clothing. Our navy jumpers and white blouses (I can't remember what the boys wore) were inexpensive, and easy, and we all looked the same. I knew girls whose dads were doctors, lawyers, cattlemen or oilmen; but every day we pretty much all looked alike: there was no catty competition over who looked better than whom. We all looked like geeky kids, and we all dressed alike, so we pretty much got to know each other for who we were, not for our outer appearances.

By the time we got to high school -- where no uniforms were required -- differences based on looks, clothing, etc. did start to emerge; but by then we had already formed our friendships and alliances based on other things, and we didn't become fractured by such superficial differences. By then, it didn't matter that I was a nerdy, unattractive kid from the wrong side of the tracks; I could still be friends with the glamorous cheerleader who wore Jantzen sweater sets because we had become friends back in the days when we liked each other without being so aware of our differences.

LOVE uniforms! I wish I could still have one, as it would make my life so much simpler ;-)
i would only be repeating several, many, all of the reasons described by all the commenters above me. i'll only add that both my daughter (in high school) and her daughter (from kindergarten up) went to schools that required uniforms, and i continue to believe that they are a far better choice.
As another person mentioned, some schools (at least in the US) have a uniform policy not because they want to stifle anyone's creativity, or because they want to clamp down on consumerism, or to prevent girls dressing like hoochies (although that's a pretty good reason), but because they want to make it more difficult for the gangbangers to represent. Obviously that isn't a problem at your son's school, but it's a huge problem in most urban, and even suburban, schools in the US. I can't speak for Canada.

@Dienne: I currently teach at a school which does not have a uniform policy, and I can assure you that tats and piercings are very common. There's absolutely no correlation between uniforms and those items.
My 30-year experience with school districts, as a student parent, grandparent, volunteer, tutor, teacher, financial committee member, Governing Board member, etc., leads me to the opinion that there is much that uniforms add to the educational environment these days and little that they subtract from it.

I couldn't agree more with your thought that parents should be facing the problems head on with their children that school uniforms are meant to address. Such parental failures, and others, have forced schools into the business of parenting well beyond what should be demanded of any educational process or institution. Correct this one defect in many of the children who attend our schools and there would certainly be far less insistence on uniforms in schools and a far more effective educational system in America.
What a wealth of experience and wisdom here. Thanks to you all for sharing.
Even if the uniform is reasonably cheap, you need enough to get you through a school week. Then, on vacations, the kid is never going to wear his school uniform, so you need a week's worth of regular clothes, too. The usual result is not quite enough of either, while the kid has more clothes than you'd have bought if you just bought one set of clothes.

Then, if there's a uniform for the day, there's usually a gym uniform, too.

If you move and change schools, all the old school uniforms are useless and you need a new set.

In short, you spend a lot more on clothes (and mostly clothes your kid won't be caught dead in the minute they're not forced to) than you would with no uniforms.
"Why can’t we parents face head-on the challenges that uniforms are supposed to address?" Good question. The fact is, is that many just don't.
We opted out of our public schools years ago (didn't want to, but they are, unfortunately, inadequate). Both of our children are in private school and wear uniforms. We actually spend less on clothing now. And thank God, the emphasis is off the latest label, brand name this and that.
Uniforms set straight priorities, and even the playing field.
Freedom of expression? If the only way kids can express themselves is through trendy an unique clothing, it's a very sad world. And if true, please - there's plenty of time for that outside of school. In any event, I think kids have better ways (and less shallow) of expressing themselves - which is something they can certainly do in school.
Praise the uniform!
Uniforms are a state of mind in which we all have many different feelings about. I think in a certain way they are practical when it comes to school because they render everyone equal. Let the grades speak before the clothes do.
Nobody seems to be mentioning the point that uniforms can be a burden on families that have less. We depend heavily on hand-me-downs. Our 13-y.o. seems to grow holes in his pants overnight, so we would be constantly replacing uniform pants -- at significant expense, versus mostly-free now.

Also, it has been my experience that uniforms -- and the culture of uniformity they inspire -- just cause kids to be even more nitpicky about perceived differences. If they can't pick on your brand of shoe, they'll pick on the way you comb your hair.

Uniforms are a signal to kids that authority disapproves of even small deviations from the norm, so it's okay to pick on other kids for any difference you can spot.
Half the teens I see at school bus stops in the morning look as though they are on their way to a pimps-and-ho party. The other half looks as though they just finished working a charity car wash. None of them look as though they're on their way to a serious day of learning.

If school uniforms helps with this, more power to them.
My daughter attended a public elementary school with a uniform policy. She liked it, I liked. The school served a very wide range of kids - rich, poor, minority, special needs, etc. and it had a very leveling effect. If you don't think that uniforms influence the children's behavior, just ask the principal of the school my daughter attended. One day a year, for Spring pictures, the kids did not have to were their uniforms and the staff said that it was the worst day of the year. The kids were simply just not as well-behaved and attentive as other days of the year.
When I was searching for San Diego colleges for my daughter I noticed a lot of them have school uniforms and I liked it. The biggest problem about school uniforms is that no matter of their design there will be a lot of people that will not like it, that`s why it`s vital to choose the right models and colors.
Schools are a big community where students have the same privileges no matter their race or skin color. I have two sons and both of them went to public schools, now my older son wants to make a Transition into human resources Career while the youngest finished high school and must choose a college.