School Leadership and Improvement · School Uniform

Why “It don’t matter if you’re black or white

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We have had an ongoing issue at our school for a number of years now about the color of socks that are allowed in our school uniform.

The summer uniform required plain white socks. Many students, sometimes supported by parents objected to this and chose to wear black socks. They would eventually end up in uniform detention for being out of uniform.

After a comprehensive consultation process we have decided to change the uniform policy. Here is a piece I wrote explaining why I don’t think the change will make much difference.

The people have spoken. The three groups that make up the uniform policy of the school are in agreement. The majority of Students, Staff and Parents all want the uniform policy to be changed to allow white or black socks.

Many staff and students have argued over white and black socks and they are tired of the fight. “It’s only socks!! Who cares?”

Here are my reasons why I think we should care and why changing the rules won’t stop the fight.

Why do we even bother with uniform in the first place?

There are 3 compelling reasons for having school uniform.

  1. Student safety – By wearing uniform it is easy for staff to quickly identify intruders on the school grounds. With a quick scan of the crowd we can see who does not belong. That is why we are strict on non uniform tops. The requirement of lace-up shoes that cover the whole of the foot is to ensure safety in science, metal, wood and home economics classes.
  2. To encourage school spirit and project a positive school image. – One of the College values is community. Part of being a member of the school community is to wear the school uniform. Just as sport teams have uniforms to clearly identify players and teams we have school uniform to encourage a sense of community pride. If you are on the team you wear the team’s uniform. Whether we like it or not our students are judged on how they look by the wider community. We want our students to look smart. We want the potential employees in our community to see our students as well dressed young people. We want to portray a positive image in our community.
  3. To provide parents with a low cost, easy to maintain clothing. We don’t want students to get into “clothing wars” where students with the most expensive, modern, trendy clothing are seen as “with it” while students who can’t afford the latest designer label clothing are looked down on. We want students’ words and actions to be what defines them, not the clothes they wear,.

So black or white socks will have very little impact on these. You could make a case that the mix of black or white socks looks untidy. We won’t look as uniform. The more variations of uniform we have, the less uniform we look. When you look at the definition of the word uniform this is fairly obvious.

Uniform: remaining the same in all cases and at all times; unchanging in form or character.

You could also make a case that black socks are “easier to maintain”. Black socks are easier to keep clean than white. The school in the next town has a mixture of black or white socks and I don’t think they look as neat as us. That is just my opinion.

If we change to black or white socks will the uniform detention room be empty?

Will this simple change solve the issue? I think not.

The same students who wanted to rebel by wearing black socks will now rebel by wearing grey socks, or green socks or pink socks. We’ll still have the same argument. “It is just socks!!”

I cannot disagree more strongly.

No. It is not “just socks”.

It is the ability to forego some personal freedom and conform to societal norms. It is the character trait of being able to abide by team rules. It is to the ability for a member of a community to work within the boundaries that community has set for its members. It is not just socks. It is more than that.

An analogy I like to use is that changing the sock rule will be like changing the speed limit at the front of the school. The argument will go something like, “If we increase the speed limit from 40 km/h to 60 km/h we’ll have to issue less speeding fines. If we increase the speed limit we won’t have to deal with so many grumpy motorists and it will all be easier for everyone.”

Unfortunately the nature of drivers and speed signs is the you will always need to issue fines. Some motorists will always speed.

Some students will always push the boundaries where uniform is concerned.

It is the nature of Adolescents to push the boundaries. Pushing boundaries is what adolescents do. It is up the adults to push back.

A simple example of this push and push back is a child walking along the street. An adult would not let a 2 year old child walk alongside a busy road without holding child’s hand. The results would be the child running onto the the road and getting killed. The child’s freedom is limited by the parent holding the child’s hand. The child often does not like this reduction in freedom and pulls on the parent’s hand. Sometimes the child cries and gets upset that it is not allowed to walk without its hand being held. But the parent knows what is best in this situation and resists the child’s push for liberation.

Eventually the child learns not to run on the road and the parent gradually releases some control. But the parent only does so when they are reasonably sure no harm will come. This slow release of control continues as the child matures. Soon the child is allowed to walk along the footpath with the parent hovering close by. Then, even when the adult is not present, the child is allowed to walk unsupervised to a friends place.

The child learns to ride a bike and when the parent is satisfied that the child will be safe, the child is allowed to ride on the road, initially with adult supervision but eventually unaccompanied.

When the child reaches the age of 16 our society has decided that the child who is now an adolescent, may get a learners permit and begin to drive a car on the road. They need to do 120 hours of supervised driving before at the age of 18 they may gain a licence to drive on the road unaccompanied. But we still restrict their speed, number of passengers and type of vehicle until they have 4 years experience on the road.

You can see this slow gradual release of control from the 2 year old child holding it’s parents hand while they walk along the footpath, to the 22 year old fully licence driver.

At each stage in this process the young person probably feels they are ready for the next part of the sequence. They push for more freedom. If you ask most 16 year olds they will tell you they are mature enough to drive a car.

Children and adolescents push boundaries and adults push back.

You can see the results of this push and push back when we ask students, parents and staff about uniform.

We have asked the same question on our uniform survey in 2012, 2015 and now 2017.

Here are the 2012 results.

What are you thoughts regarding enforcement of the uniform policy?

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You’ll see the students think we are too strict on uniform and the staff think we are too lax. You can see in 2012 the parents came down more on the staff side and suggested we needed to tighten up a bit.

We did.

The same question was asked in 2013 after we brought in our new uniform supplier.

What are you thoughts regarding enforcement of the uniform policy?

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And the same question was asked again this year.

What are you thoughts regarding enforcement of the uniform policy?

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The push and push back is clear with the students and staff. Students think we are too strict, staff think we are too lax and the parents think we have the balance just about right.

So back to socks. Black, White or Both?

The College Council has recommended that we change to black or white socks as the majority of staff, students and parents think it is for the best.

But I think we all need to realize that it will not solve the issue of students pushing the boundaries where uniform is concerned.

It don’t matter if the socks are black or white. The students will always push and we will always have to push back.

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