7 June 2018
Over the announcements Friday, May 25, the topic of the dress code was broached. Girls were told what not to wear, and there was no mention of what males should not be wearing. There was a massive gender bias here, and dress codes are traditionally aimed at keeping the boys from being distracted by girls’ skimpy clothing; exactly what a 21st century society doesn’t need. In today’s society, the byzantine modesty-focused dress codes of yesteryear are prohibitory and outdated. However, dress codes are effective at not having people parade around school without clothes. So how should we strike a balance? According to NPR, almost all schools have the consistent rules around t-shirt content and the amount of skin exposed. However, some of these can be oppressive.
Dress codes cause more distraction than what people are wearing. At a Texas high school, a food fight started after over 150 people were suspended in one day for breaking the dress code. Dress codes have often caused social media uproars, such as when a third grader got suspended for sympathizing with a cancer-stricken friend, or when a Utah high school administrator digitally edited yearbook photos to cover bare shoulders.
At this point in the school year, nobody wants to hear the dreaded “cover that bare midriff” argument coming from teachers. The second point is the bias against young females. Many high schoolers today simply cannot understand the glaring looks they attract from staff for what they consider self-expression. According to research by the University of Delaware, “in a society where children’s voices are heard the least, they rely on clothing to some extent to express who they are. Stripping them, literally, of this privilege could only serve to inhibit their creativity and expression.” If immodest clothes are considered expression, then dress codes disregard the basic right of freedom of expression.
If we were to assume that the way a person dresses is freedom of expression, then how much of that is allowed in schools? The Tinker v. Des Moines case set the precarious positions the government takes today on freedom of expression in schools, meaning that the expression may only be suppressed if it causes significant disruption to the environment. This is widely open to interpretation, and has been revived many times in court since then. Thus, the institution of overbearing dress codes is an infringement on freedom of expression.
“in a society where children’s voices are heard the least, they rely on clothing to some extent to express who they are. Stripping them, literally, of this privilege could only serve to inhibit their creativity and expression.”
Some argue school uniforms may bring tangible benefits for the schools where it is implemented, in a trade-off with freedom of expression. The clear policy of uniforms, not taunting students with the illusion of freedom, ensures that everyone would wear a uniform and no one complains. This was implemented in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City in the late 90s, with inevitable controversy following the policy from its inception over its effectiveness as a deterrent of violence.
The dynamic between students and staff has grown over past years, going from lecturers diametrically opposed to students to fonts of knowledge who share ideas and insight with students. However, every dress code violation is a breach of the integral trust between school staff and students. Whittling away at this already tenuous relationship is counterproductive for everyone. So much for bridge building.
For a different take on dress codes, read the satirical article in the Atholt-onion here.