#FEMINISTFRIDAY: On Teaching Girls, As a Guy

ChristaMcAuliffe-1
Christa McAuliffe.

“You’re teaching an all-girls’ class?  I’m not sure I feel like that’s right.”

I heard that for the first time… wow, was it four years ago?  Probably.  My homeroom was all girls, and my afternoon class was a mixed group.  I did not reply the number of girls in my classroom doesn’t actually make me more likely to be a sex criminal, ma’am, which was probably the right answer– I am either too much of a degenerate to teach middle school students or I am not, and the composition of my classes doesn’t actually have much of an effect on that– but I don’t remember what I actually said to that mom.  Probably something along the lines of We’ll be fine, and then an abrupt ending of the conversation, because I don’t really like wasting my time with people who blithely suggest that I might be a sex offender as if that’s an okay thing to say to someone.

Hi.  I’m Luther Siler.  And this year, I’m only teaching girls.  Roughly sixty of them, as it currently appears, although with transfers in and transfers out I’ll probably have had seventy to eighty different girls in my room by the end of the school year.  Fifth grade, math and science, meaning that the majority of them will be 10- and 11-year-olds.

Margaret_Hamilton
Margaret Hamilton.

I’m a proponent of single-sex education, although probably not for the reasons that you think.  I’ve found most of the Mars vs. Venus, boys-and-girls-learn-differently brain science stuff to be bunk.  Are there better ways to educate a group of boys and better ways to educate a group of girls?  Yeah.  But you’re identifying a trend, there, and single-sex education is not any more one-size-fits-all than anything else in education is.  I’d have been completely miserable as a boy in an all-boys’ class.  And I hate teaching all-boys’ classes.  I get along with girls better.  I get along with women better than men, too, and all my closest friends have always been women.  So, yeah.  I’m a straight cis dude, external genitalia to prove it, and your daughter will learn from me better than your son will, because that’s how I’m wired.

She will not learn from my genitalia.  Those will not be involved.  Just so I’m clear.  The learning will mostly be from, like, talking and gestures and stuff like that, like normal teaching.

Isis Anchalee.
Isis Wenger.

Anyway.

Teaching girls at the middle school level puts me in an interesting position.  Fifth and sixth grade is typically where girls start disengaging from subjects like math and science, because those subjects are perceived (and, too often, presented) as being For the Boys.  Nobody ever hears about a Boy Scientist, because the boy part is assumed.  Girl Scientist is practically a job description.  And fifth grade is when puberty starts hitting, and suddenly the world doesn’t make any sense anymore anyway.  It’s a hell of a transition year.  Social drama starts ramping up something fierce.  They start fighting over boys– boys who, at that age, generally can’t be bothered to give a damn about the girls fighting over them.  And navigating friendships is the scariest and most complicated thing imaginable.

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Valentina Tereshkova.

My job, as their teacher, is to help them work their way through all of that.  My job, as their male teacher.

Don’t worry.  I’m actually pretty good at it!  But it’s complicated.   Because here’s the thing: my main job isn’t actually math or science.  My main job is confidence.  My most important job is that these sixty or seventy young girls walk out of my classroom feeling like they are unstoppable.  What does that mean?  It means teaching as a feminist.  It means being a white cis het guy and creating a comfortable and safe multicultural feminist space for my students to learn in anyway.

And it frequently means having to hide that I’m doing it, which is part of what brought me to this topic today.  I teach, again, math and science to fifth grade girls.  I have discovered a fascinating thing over my years as an educator: if I say the word feminist in class, whatever I’m trying to do is instantly derailed.  The girls often don’t like the label, even though they’ll agree that any individual tenet of feminism that I might name is a true and/or correct thing.  Then they go home and tell their parents about it and all the sudden I’ve got to have a conversation with the principal.  So I’ve got to be sneaky about it.  At ten, I’m not sure they really need to have conversations about intersectionality in math class anyway, y’know?  But subtlety works.  I try and use the word she whenever I’m talking about a mathematician or a scientist.  I use pictures like this one rather than a typical white guy in a lab coat.  And I try to teach them, as much as I can, to stand up for each other rather than tear each other down.  That’s teaching feminism, even if I don’t call it that.

Marlena Jackson.
Marlena Jackson.

Should I, though?  Should I make a point of naming feminism in my classroom?  I don’t know.  It does run the risk, of course, of pissing off parents– either because they have a poor opinion of feminism or the somewhat more personally acceptable feeling that maybe their kid’s math teacher should be focusing on math and not politics.  And they are, again, eleven.  I don’t know that they need the word so long as they’re getting the concept.

Then again, I don’t have the kind of principal who is going to get mad at me because I call myself a feminist in class and some yahoo has an issue with it, so maybe I do need the word.  I don’t know.  That might be a question for smarter people to answer for me.


 

Quick note: I’ll be at school all day, so if I don’t respond to comments until, say, early evening, please don’t take it personally.  Phone reception in my building is terrible.

On school clothes (part two of two)

school_kidsTold you I’d get around to this sometime.  This is the second part of what I really hope is going to be only a two-part piece on school clothing; part one is here if you missed it the first time around.  Before I begin, I’m going to quote myself from the first piece.  This rule still applies, and in fact it applies more, because I’m more likely to trip up given the specific nature of this post when compared to the first.  So, without further ado:

Lemme make this crystal clear right now: women are not, under any circumstances, responsible for the reactions of men or boys to their clothing.  Period.  Point-blank.  If at any point in this piece I say anything that appears to contradict that statement, I should be called on it and I am wrong.

I’m probably gonna screw that up at least once.  I’m not kidding about you guys calling me out on it if it happens.  Do it.

I’ll start with a story.  I don’t feel like sagging pants was a huge thing when I was in middle school and high school, but it was certainly a thing that was around and that some people did. I have, in fact, one story about sagging pants that dates to seventh or eighth grade.

Actually, this isn’t much of a story:  one of the kids in my class was sagging, and the teacher’s response was to call him out in front of the entire room with the words “Mark, I don’t wanna see the color of your underwear.”  Now, she was a Japanese immigrant, so to properly enunciate it you have to say it with a Japanese accent and stretch out Mark into Maaahk.

It’s actually the quintessential “you had to be there” thing– but people I know who were in the room at the time still say that to each other every once in a while despite the fact that I haven’t seen the Mark involved since graduating high school.  I’m pretty sure he’s a pastor now, which is hilarious.

So let’s begin our discussion of sexism and gender in the middle school with what I’ll call the Maahk rule:  I don’t want to see the color of your underwear.  This is, refreshingly, a gender-neutral rule: it means that the boys have to keep their pants at their waists (and I don’t know if I pointed this out, but telling boys to pull their pants up and boys and girls to tuck in their shirts are easily my #1 and #2 uniform corrections, and they are miles above whatever #3 might be.) and it means that if the girls wear skirts, they have to wear them long enough that flashing isn’t going to be an issue.

If it were up to me, I’d simply ban skirts entirely unless a family could provide a bona fide religious requirement to wear them– if only because those families never also produce length-of-skirt issues.  Why?  Skirts are hideous, not in terms of how they look or the function they provide but because everything involved in dealing with them quickly becomes either unfair or creepy as hell.   Monitoring skirt length sucks.  The fingertip rule depends on how long a girl’s arms are, which seems stupid.  “Knee length” requires you to define where the knee is.  I have actually seen staff members (none male, thank God) require girls to kneel in order to determine whether their skirts are the right length.

Uh-uh.  No. Never.  Under no circumstances, this sucks and it’s shaming and fucked up and it should never ever happen in a school, particularly and especially if it’s a male staffer.  When I worked in the Catholic school I made it perfectly clear to both the principal and the pastor that there were no circumstances under which I was ever saying a single word to a student about the length of her skirt.  Period.  Surprisingly, I got no pushback on that.  Are there girls who just really like wearing skirts?  I’m sure there are.  I like wearing jeans.  Can’t wear ’em to work.  Too bad.  This is where the “professional atmosphere/this is your job” aspect of dress codes kick in.

The other problem with skirts?  Teenage and tween-age girls have a habit of growing.  Which means that a skirt that was entirely appropriate at the beginning of sixth grade might be oh holy shit short by the middle of sixth grade.  More on this in a bit.

So, yeah: the Maahk rule.  I don’t want to see the color of your underwear.  And if it were up to me, we’d just do away with skirts altogether.

(Alternatively, and I’m going to modify my own rules in the previous post: allow skirts, but require all skirts regardless of length to be paired with leggings.  The main thing is, I never want to get sucked into the skirt-length debate.  I’d much rather just ban the damned things.)

On to the other sexualizing aspect of dress codes: tight and/or revealing clothing.

(Actually, let’s get this out of the way first:  I don’t think there’s ever much of a reason to have dress codes before fifth grade or so.  If you do have a dress code before fifth grade, none of this should matter, because a nine year old in a sundress is not trying to attract male attention by showing her shoulders and you should stop being a creepy asshole if you think so.  Have a descriptive dress code if you like, but the idea that eight-year-old girls should have to worry about clothes being tight or revealing is ridiculous and if you are worrying about that yourself as an adult there is something wrong with you.)

Here are some reasons why a young woman might wish to wear tight and/or revealing clothing:

  1. It’s comfortable; to hell with what anybody else thinks.  As a fat man, I can’t relate to this, because it is impossible for me to be comfortable in tight clothes.  However, I’m willing to believe it’s true.   Aren’t I charitable?
  2. You want people to look at you.  True of many girls.  Also true of many boys, obviously, but in boys this rarely leads to tight or revealing clothes.  Important: it is okay to want to be looked at.  It just may not be appropriate for school.
  3. Picking a fight.  This is closely related to #2, but adds a level of aggressiveness to the whole thing.  There exists a subset of young women who appear to wear tight clothes  specifically so that they can bark “Why are you looking?” at the first staff member to challenge them on it.  In some ways, it’s garden-level predetermined insubordination, with a nice soupçon of creepiness and assholery to go with it.
  4. You have no idea that you’re even doing it.  And here, you see, especially at the middle school, lies the problem.

I don’t give a single shit about the “distraction to boys” angle of the dress code, folks.  Boys need to grow into men, and part of growing into a man involves learning how to not turn into a slavering halfwit every time a bare shoulder or a bra strap floats across your field of vision.  If you’re really concerned about the girls’ clothing screwing up the boys’ ability to learn, well, allow me to introduce you to a little thing called gender based education.  You don’t solve the distraction issue, assuming that is even possible, by corralling the girls.  You solve it, if you care to do so, by corralling the boys.

Also true: there’s literally no level to which women’s clothing can be controlled that will remove sexual distraction from teenage boys.  It’s fucking impossible.  Boys that age– probably girls too, to at least some extent, but I’ve never been a teenage girl so I can’t be sure– are perpetually distracted by sex.  It’s fucking unavoidable.  Much like Shaquille O’Neal, you cannot stop it, you can only hope to contain it.

Let’s talk about this picture for a bit, taken from Gretchen Kelly’s original piece about this:

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This is almost cute in its naivete.  I have thought at least four of those things.  I’ve thought at least one of them this week.  Shoulders and collarbones, ladies, are awesome.  This look?  Insanely sexy:

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Note both a shoulder and a bra strap.

But anyway.  I’m getting– heh– distracted.  But here’s the point: teenage boys can be distracted by ridiculous things, and expecting the girls to be even a little responsible for them when they are barely responsible for themselves is offensive on a number of levels.  You cannot allow male distraction to determine female clothing.  It’s fucked up and wrong and it needs to stop.  If you’re seriously concerned about it, go gender-based and get the sexes separated entirely.  You will still have seventh grade boys adamantly refusing to stand up every once in a while and will have to deal with the oh shit he has a boner moment as a teacher and decide what to do about it.  That would happen if you put him alone in a room, too.  Welcome to puberty.

(At this point, I realize that this post is likely to be longer than part one.)

(HA!  That’s a reason for boys to not wear tight clothing!  Boner prominence!)

The reasons that dress codes should worry about tightness and/or revealingness are Reasons 2 through 4 up there.  Why?  Because intent matters.  Because we do need to worry about people who are going to school for reasons other than academics– and intentionally dressing to “show off the goods,” so to speak, is a problem– and because one important aspect of dealing with particularly middle-school aged girls is that they frequently have no idea what they’re doing.  

This is where I start dancing around violating the “women are not responsible for men’s reactions to their clothing” rule, but I really do think there’s a difference here: if you’re wearing yoga pants because they’re comfortable, I don’t have a problem with you.  If you’re wearing them to get Billy in 3rd hour (or, for that matter, Jenny in 4th) to look at your ass, you’re deliberately disrupting the educational process– or at least aiming to– which is an actual and distinctly different problem.  This is not the same as demanding girls be responsible for boys’ reactions.    It’s expecting girls to be responsible for their own actions.  You aren’t at school to catch a boyfriend.  You’re at school to learn.

This may be a distinction without a difference, and I’m interested to hear people’s reactions to it.  It does mean that schools do have a non-sexism-related reason to police tight and/or revealing clothing– because it’s not as if you can institute a rule that if you think something is comfortable it’s okay.

And, honestly, I’m much more concerned with #4 anyway.  The maturity level of middle-school aged kids in a single cohort (and this is true for boys and girls) is incredibly variable, and can vary insanely over the course of the year.  Ask any sixth grade teacher, in particular: they are, by and large, teaching children in August and September and right around March they start getting caught making out and grabbing each other’s asses.  And frequently they have no idea that something is showing off too much chest or too much butt or too much leg.  Why?  Because those legs have grown six inches in the last five months, because those boobs weren’t there a year ago, and because what do you mean I have a butt.  Go into any middle school in America and you will find eighth grade girls who look like they’re ten and eighth grade girls who could walk into a bar and not get carded until they opened their mouths.  And just because a girl looks like she could walk into a bar and not get carded does not mean that she has remotely the emotional, physical, and, yes, sexual maturity to be able to deal with what has happened to her body over the last few years.

Schools take on a lot of responsibilities beyond reading and ‘rithmetic, guys.  One of them is trying to guide these kids through adolescence– trying to literally keep them comfortable in their own skins.  And rules about tight and revealing clothing need to be there, for two separate reasons: to keep the ones who legitimately are showing off from deliberately screwing up what is supposed to be a professional atmosphere, and to help those who have no idea from doing it accidentally.  At some point, somebody– and generally it needs to be a female staffer– needs to pull Susie aside and make sure she realizes that it might be time to think about a new pair of pants, or to call her parents and suggest that they do it.  Because it seriously might be that three months ago those pants fit just fine and she doesn’t realize that they look like they were applied with a spray can this morning.

True story: I had an eighth-grade girl walk up to me once while I was at the front of a school bus.  I had my hand on the top of the seat in front of her.  The girl dropped her entire rack– and she was probably a C-cup– onto the top of my hand and my arm.  She had no idea that she was doing it.  If you’re sitting at a desk, they’ll come over and lean over the desk to show you something, with, again, no idea what they may or may not be showing off.  If an adult woman lets me look down her shirt, or pushes her boobs into my hands, ten will get you twenty that she’s doing it on purpose.  Teenage girls don’t all have that awareness of what they’re doing yet; they may legitimately have no idea.  Or they might.  Either is a problem, yes?

Here’s the problem (he said, 2200 words in):  All of the last, oh, six paragraphs or so can end up in practice looking exactly like Girls are Temptresses Who Must Be Controlled to Save the Boys. As I said earlier, a distinction without a difference.  And I’m not into that.  I think it’s offensive and ridiculous.  But how do we insert a difference in there so that it’s clear that this is coming from a place where 1) the most important thing about being in school is the learning part, and 2) when someone breaks tight/revealing dress code rules, keeping the focus on education, and making sure that the kids are aware of how they might be perceived?

Enforcement, of course.  The focus should never be on making someone wearing inappropriate clothing feel bad about it.  I understand the reason behind, say, making uniform violators wear a bright pink 4XL I’m Out of Uniform shirt, but it’s not my job to make kids feel bad, and in most circumstances if a disciplinary intervention produces shame it’s probably one that should be avoided.

And it’s here, unfortunately, where I kinda run out of ideas.  While I don’t much like the Shame Shirt, the advantage of it is that it keeps the kids in class.  I don’t like the idea of keeping Jenny out of class because her pants are too tight or her shirt is too short (left unsaid so far: an operational definition of “too tight,” which is virtually impossible) and I also don’t like the idea of letting her know that if she doesn’t want to go to class all she has to do is wear a miniskirt to school and bam she gets to sit in ISS all day.

The best solution, it seems, is for the school too keep a lot of spare uniform-appropriate clothes on hand, in a wide variety of sizes, and require uniform violators to put those on.  Problem is, that’s expensive and difficult and those clothes are going to go home and not come back a lot, which is why most schools go with the Shame Shirt solution– or just locking kids in ISS– instead.  I suppose schools could go the same route my kid’s day care goes with and require parents to send a spare set of clothes to school with their kids, but that’s ridiculous on a lot of levels too, chief among which that– yep– they’re gonna grow out of the spare clothes too.

I’m stopping at 2748 words, guys, and I hope I’m not breaking my own rules anywhere.  Let me know how I did in comments.

On school clothes (part one of two)

school_kidsYou may have noticed– and hopefully you clicked through and read the whole thing– my reblog of a piece Gretchen Kelly did for Feminist Friday about school dress codes.  All in all, it’s a really good piece, and I popped up a couple of times in the comments to address stuff that I thought was worth discussing, all the while going I will not blog about dress codes in my head.

Well, fail, I guess, because here we go.   A couple of words of warning: first, I currently expect this to be a bit on the long side, and second, I think I’m probably just going to stream-of-consciousness the whole thing rather than try and organize it in a way that makes sense, because it’s Sunday night and this is a complicated subject and I still don’t feel like thinking as hard as it probably deserves.  So if you catch me contradicting myself or something doesn’t seem quite consistent, that’s why.  Like I said: complicated subject.  Feel free to point out what I got wrong in comments; I suspect that this might generate a bit of lively discussion, as Gretchen’s piece has attracted nearly sixty comments so far.  You should read her piece before you read mine, but I don’t necessarily plan on addressing her directly.

You guys know that I teach, or at least until this year I was a teacher.  What you may not be aware of is that every school I’ve ever taught at has at least nominally had a uniform.  I started off at a Catholic school, of the jumpers-and-skirts variety, moved to a Chicago Public Schools school that had a loose one, and then to my current district, where we’ve always had uniforms of some sort but of a looser definition than the Catholic schools do.

I have been to many, many faculty meetings about dress code in one way or another.  I have made an ass of myself at many, many faculty meetings by trying to address some of the questions that I’m going to raise here.  No one but me is ever interested in discussing them.  Which is stupid, because you shouldn’t have a dress code if you don’t have some idea of why you have a dress code.

Here, for example, are several reasons to have a dress code:

  1. Control.  You want to be in charge of the decisions of your students, and to let them know that you, as the administration and the teachers, are in charge.  One of the ways you let them know that you run their lives is by controlling what they are allowed to wear.
  2. Modesty/”Distraction”.  Note that this one is generally girls-only, and is closely related to #1.  Girls’ bodies are inherently dangerous, particularly to boys, and the best way to make sure that the boys’ days aren’t ruined by the girls’ bodies is to cover up the girls’ bodies as much as humanly possible.  It is critical to make certain that at no time is it possible for a girl bit to make a boy bit any more rigid than it ordinarily is.  Note that “distraction” is not always sexual in nature; things like pink hair or piercings can be deemed “distracting.”
  3. Professionalism.  Going to school is a kid’s job.  Adults are expected to dress in certain ways for their jobs; kids may as well get used to this idea right now.  Also something about promoting habits of mind to go with the orderly atmosphere you are creating by requiring everyone to dress similarly.
  4. Social leveling.  If the kids are all wearing the same thing, it makes it more difficult for the rich kids to show off their money or for the poor kids to look like they don’t have as much.  Also, conformity issues: it’s harder to single out kids for not joining the crowd and wearing the New Cool Brand (which they may or may not be able to afford) if everyone has to wear the same shirt.
  5. Gang affiliations.  This only applies to certain schools, obviously, but if you have a gang presence in your neighborhood frequently you want to do your best to make certain that kids can’t outwardly display gang affiliation.  This is hideously tricky; keep reading.

You may have already figured out from my phrasing that the two I have the most comfort with are #3 and #4; #1 is wildly unnecessary and #2 doesn’t always have to be problematic but very frequently is, particularly when you add religion into the mix.  #5 is essential if you’re in a school with a gang problem but requires an ever-evolving list of things to ban as the symbols and signs evolve.  Most of the school uniform drama-outbursts that make their way into the media is from people trying to shove the first two in where they don’t belong; for example, a chaperone father being turned on by a prom dress and trying to slut-shame the girl wearing it.

In fact, lemme make this crystal clear right now: women are not, under any circumstances, responsible for the reactions of men or boys to their clothing.  Period.  Point-blank.  If at any point in this piece I say anything that appears to contradict that statement, I should be called on it and I am wrong.

See, nearly 800 words already and I’ve barely gotten started.

Anyway: your reasoning for why you’re controlling your students’ attire should inform the level of control that you’re exerting over that attire.  If you are interested in controlling your students, and control itself is the virtue, then you’re going to be worried about things like belt buckles and shoelaces and hairstyles and all sorts of nonsense.  You’re also setting yourself up for an immense number of fights.   If you just want your kids to look professional, then maybe the fact that Brittany has pink shoelaces on one shoe and green on the other isn’t a problem.

So let’s talk about how you control clothing.  There are two ways.  A proscriptive dress code is a thou shalt not dress code.  Don’t wear this, don’t wear that; you can wear this in this way but not in that way.  These dress codes tell you what not to do or, frequently, what not to show, and are often actually referred to as “dress codes.”  A descriptive dress code specifically tells the kids what to wear, and is less concerned with “nots.”  The most extreme version of this is the classic Catholic school uniform, where every boy and every girl in the building are going to be basically wearing the exact same thing, often bought from the same vendor.   These are often not called dress codes; they’re called school uniforms.

These things can bleed into each other, obviously, but the more alike the kids look when you walk into a building the more likely it is that you’re dealing with a descriptive dress code rather than a proscriptive one.

I don’t like proscriptive dress codes.  The reason: the more rules you have for what can and can’t be done, the more fights you’re going to have with your students, and every second of arguing about dress code is a second I’m not spending instructing.  Just for example: yoga pants.  I’m a grown-ass man, right?  And I don’t have a daughter, and my wife prefers to wear jeans.

I don’t know what the fuck a “yoga pant” is, I have no intention of learning, and I’m not about to waste my time arguing with a  twelve-year-old about whether she’s wearing them or not.  Kids become lawyers awful goddamn fast when they think their pants are capris and you think they’re yoga pants.  (Is that combination possible?  Hell, I have no idea, but one school I worked at officially laid down a rule that if the pants had rivets anywhere on them then they were jeans, regardless of color, fabric, fit, or any other consideration.  Rivets=jeans=against dress code, period.)

Any and every rule can be made obnoxious in this way.  For example: say you don’t want your kids dying their hair.  So you make a rule saying you can’t dye your hair.  Then Brittany, who was a blonde last year, starts the year as a brunette.  Do you make her go change her hair back to her normal color?  No, that’s ridiculous, and you’d have to ask her what her natural hair color is.  Maybe she was breaking the rules all last year!

Okay, so you modify the rule: you can’t dye your hair unnatural colors, because kids with blue hair are distracting.  You just made it against the rules for every black and Hispanic kid in your building to go blonde.  Did you mean to do that?  Or do you ban specific colors, and then get into bullshit about whether someone’s hair is mauve or turquoise or blue, and this specific shade of blue isn’t actually prohibited on your list of “unnatural” colors.

(The solution is to not give a fuck about hair color.  Yes, Damien’s blue hair will be distracting– for an hour.  So will his next haircut.   So will your next haircut.  I shaved my beard off once and was fending off questions about it for a week.)

I find that the best way to handle a dress code is to set general rules that are clear and easy to follow and to expect the kids to stick by them– if you make a rule, it is critical that you stick by that rule.  If not, get the hell rid of it.

For example, I see no reason at all to ever care about any of the following things:  hair, ears, noses, lips, feet, shoes, shoelaces, belts, accessories of any kind, including necklaces, rings, bracelets, or other forms of jewelry.  We once mandated that all students wear belts. It was pointed out that some kinds of girls’ pants don’t have belt loops.  Okay; we modified the rule that if your pants had belt loops then you had to wear a belt.

Can you guess what happened?  The kids started cutting off their belt loops.

This is fucking ridiculous.

And, see, again: I’m coming at dress codes from #3 and #4.  I want the kids to look reasonably clean and neat, because they’re at work, and I would like there to be some social leveling going on.  #4 never really works, but it does help a bit.  The kids just find other things to signify status with.  This is a particular problem with gang affiliations; you’ll discover midyear that all the kids who are 2-6ers have been wearing a rubber band on their left ankle or something like that.  Ban that, and they start wearing their collars a certain way.  You can never really get rid of it.

Here, to my mind, is how to do a dress code: either go whole-hog, like the Catholic schools, and specify a certain shirt, pants, belt, skirt, jumper, and type of shoe for every kid in your building, and then provide a specific local vendor who provides those items at a reasonable cost and vouchers for your families who can’t afford the uniforms, or go descriptive but simple, and don’t stress out about the things you don’t cover in your dress code.

For example, if I wrote my school’s dress code, it would look like this:

  1. Polo or button-up shirt with a collar (boys and girls).  Long or short sleeve, colors to be determined by the school.  Most in my area have settled on blue, with some allowing other colors.
  2. Dress pants.  Dress pants do not have rivets, are not made from denim, and are not form-fitting.  (Note: never ban a specific style of clothing. You will fight for years about what cut a pair of pants are or whether pants are “yoga pants” or “stretch pants” or “leggings” or “jeggings,” which I think might actually be a thing, and whether that matters.)
  3. In colder weather, a plain one-color sweater (define colors as necessary) may be worn.  The sweater must be one piece and not have a zipper.
  4. Skirts of XXX color may be worn by either gender.  Skirts above the knee should be paired with leggings of XX color.  (Skirt length rules are hideous and horrible.  I’d honestly just insist on everyone wearing pants all the time just to avoid debates about skirts.  This is the best I can do; I’ll get more into it tomorrow.)
  5. Shoes must have a back to them; IE, no flip-flops.  (I know I said earlier that I don’t care about shoes.  This rule could be rephrased as “Shoes should actually be shoes.”)
  6. Shirts shall be tucked in at all times, and pants shall be worn at the waist.  Shoes with laces should be tied.  Y’know, screw that last rule.  I mean, it’s true, but it doesn’t need to be part of a dress code.
  7. And that’s it.  I give no shits about anything else. Everything else is up to the kid.  Glory in yo’ spunk, as BB King might say.

That’s already 2000+ words, and I haven’t gotten into talking about sexism yet.  So I guess I’ll continue this later this week.  Maybe tomorrow, but no promises.