Celebrating diversity by looking the same?
Most New Zealand secondary schools have a uniform of some kind or other. They have evolved over time (thank goodness) but they essentially do the same thing – identify students with a school and are way to ensure discipline. Some might say they help foster pride and help ‘erase’ inequality. Another idea is that wearing a uniform helps prepare people for work where you might have to wear the same thing every day. Uniform doesn’t stop there though, hair length and colour can be ‘uniformed’ as with jewellery and make up. A lot of schools will have a boys and girls uniform or if you are at a single sex school, more than likely you have one uniform option.
So where did the idea for school uniform come from? I’ve done a bit of superficial research on the history of school uniforms. Essentially they came about to bring ‘order’ to perceived chaos in English schools but quickly became a way of showing educational status through what school you went to. The Blazer evolved to give status to Public Grammar schools as they emulated private schools.
Here we are in the 21st century. Technology has exploded onto the education scene and I would suggest this is where we might notice inequality rather than what is worn as clothing. Uniform does another powerful thing – it defines gender. Go to any public toilet and you will know the sign for female is triangle. Last time I checked I wasn’t a triangle. But I know instinctively that this is the door I choose. It suggests that to be female you must be wearing a dress/skirt which creates the triangle effect. If you are a guy you don’t get to wear a triangle – even if you want to.
So it seems at the time in our lives when we are urged by nature to forge our own sense of self we restrict limit and even punish those who find uniformity uncomfortable. Something to ponder is children before puberty all look the same basically. The body is in its most ‘uniform’ state, surely this would be the only time a ‘uniform’ might work. I’ve worked in a school with no uniform and I went to school in the USA for a year that had no uniform and anarchy did not rein in either situation. Similarly I’ve worked at schools with uniforms – just the same but more detentions for not having the correct uniform. Just an observation.
What is at the core of this then? I’ll take a tentative guess and say the meaning of ‘respect’ is undergoing a long and painful birth into the 21st century. Kicking and screaming change happens – but please don’t dress it in pink or blue.