Archive for March, 2016

The Great Dress Code Debate

March 23, 2016

No-one likes being told what they can or cannot wear including many of today’s elementary, middle and high school students.

School systems across the nation have adopted dress codes including Middlesex County Public Schools. Supporters of school dress codes argue that strict dress guidelines have a positive impact on students, promote school safety, improve self-esteem and are in the best interests of the student. Even the U.S. Department of Education has weighed in on the topic and acknowledges the benefits of school dress codes. There are even cases where a student has gone as far as to sue the school district over a matter of dress, stating that dress codes are unconstitutional. Clearly, the adoption and administration of school dress policy is a hot topic for families everywhere.

Whether a proponent or an adversary, dress code confusion can pit parent against child in an uncomfortable battle that can set an unpleasant tone for the school day. There is a reason this conversation is so difficult; it involves issues of self image, freedom of expression, and gender politics all wrapped up in an argument at 7:00 in the morning.

The dress code debate is not a new one. Back in the sixties, dress codes choices were sometimes politically motivated such as black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. Such attire was protected under the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution. In the early seventies, girls were required to kneel down on the floor to ascertain if their skirts were long enough to touch the ground. As society changed, we developed new norms. Gone are the days when schools forbade girls from wearing pants and required boys to press their trousers. Today, more than half of American schools have some sort of dress code; however, those policies vary drastically between schools, districts, and states. This can be especially confusing for families that change schools. To complicate matters, there is no gold standard for what is acceptable attire in school. For most of today’s students, dress code grievances are probably not politically motivated, but are more certainly driven by their desire for self expression, which is a trickier line to navigate. Some students try to express something with their clothing choices, but it’s not like they are shouting in a language that everyone understands. Boys may choose baggy pants and hoodies because they are comfortable and want to express their fondness of hip hop, but to others those outfits scream ‘thug.’ Girls run into a similar disconnect between what they feel they are portraying with their outfit selection and how their peers and adults perceive them. In an ideal world all people could dress any way they want to, but dressing in a certain way can send out messages that puts students at risk. While a student’s choice of attire should not drive anyone’s actions toward that individual; unfortunately, it does have an impact on the way others perceive them which can lead to undesirable results.

Supporters of a strict dress code argue that without it inappropriate clothing will be worn in school. This can cause unnecessary distraction that is counterproductive to learning. They feel a school is not a club; it’s a place for education. Students should dress appropriately for the opportunity to learn. The same outfit on two different individuals may yield two totally different connotations. A detailed dress code removes the subjectivity of the rule enforcer whether it be a parent, a teacher or a school administrator and makes it easier for him or her to determine what the student is allowed to wear.

But even enforcing a detailed dress code is a sticky situation for adults. For example, the school says that shorts must extend past the tips of the fingertips, but your daughter insists that nobody follows the rules. Families with boys are not necessarily spared these arguments either as many want to wear saggy pants while the school requires that waistlines be hitched firmly above the hips. To their credit, students are not always wrong when they say that others get away with breaking the rules. Many schools employ the fingertip rule for skirts and shorts, and yet they also permit cheerleaders and volleyball players to wear extremely short skirts and shorts to games. This contradiction in rules can raise eyebrows and irritate students and parents.

School dress code policies often fluctuate from year to year as administrators attempt to keep up with ever-changing fashion trends. The popularity of skin-tight leggings, for instance, has prompted some schools to write new rules that spell out whether or not girls will be permitted to wear them as pants or if they need to wear a long shirt, skirt, or shorts over them. That means that an outfit that was permitted last year, may not be acceptable this year. Again, students and parents feel out of the loop as to what is and is not allowed.

Opponents of strict dress codes feel schools ought to consider what issues they are really trying to address and critically examine whether or not policing attire will realistically accomplish those goals. Many schools say that their policies have been constructed to promote respect and minimize disruption in the school environment. Some feel schools should focus more on discussion of respectful actions rather than spending time policing attire. They feel if schools are working to prepare children to become functional members of society, shouldn’t school policies simply mirror the unwritten public dress code. We already have public standards of decency and indecent exposure. Why shouldn’t those same standards apply in the school system?

We must remember that our youth gleans societal messages from many different sources. A survey of acceptable outfits worn around town to the local mall, the gas station, and football games will produce one image of what is acceptable attire versus the constant flood of images of scantily clad pop and movie stars that follow our children everywhere they go and paint a very different picture of the allowed norm. Those messages from pop-culture ring much louder for children than any implied public code. School enforced dress codes can help to alleviate some of the pressures that children feel to dress a certain way and can offer parents some guidelines to fall back upon.

And so the Great Dress Code Debate rages on…

The MCPS dress code can be found on pages 40 and 41 of the MCPS 2015-2016 Family Handbook.

Memo to My Younger Self

March 7, 2016

Last week during my travels I had the unique opportunity to visit each of the schools in our division.  Sometimes enlightened, sometimes inspired and sometimes discouraged by what I witnessed, I feel compelled to impart some advice as if I could turn back the hands of time and once again be an elementary, middle or high school student.

  • Remember that test, that breakup, that late assignment, that bad grade, that missed foul shot is just a piece of a whole, and tomorrow is another day filled with opportunity.
  • Be true to yourself, and people will like you…but…if perchance someone doesn’t like you, that’s okay too.  The world is full of people who you aren’t going to like and who aren’t going to like you.  Just remember to respect everyone, and never intentionally hurt anyone.
  • See the beauty in every day just in case it is your last.
  • Cherish what you have now and work hard for what you want in the future.
  • Always speak the truth and listen intently to what’s being said to you.
  • Surround yourself with people who lift you up and make you feel better about yourself.  Move on from the negative people who drag you down. Find positive people who will inspire you.
  • Don’t over think.
  • Don’t care too little.
  • Speak up.  Talk more.  Look people in the eye.  Be clear about what you want, what you don’t want, and what you need.  People will respect you more, and you’ll be a whole lot happier too.
  • Be consistent.  Being wishy-washy doesn’t just impact your relationships; it impacts your self-esteem and anxiety levels.  When you say you’re going to do something or be somewhere, follow through.
  • Share better.  Smile.  Smile lots.
  • Sometimes, believe it or not, your parents are actually right.  It may be virtually impossible to convince you to take the advice your mom gave you over dinner one night, but chances are she learned the hard way.  Learning your own lessons is very important, but feel free to skip and move ahead once in a while by learning from people who have “been there, done that”.  You’re not always right so listen to advice from other people.
  • Keep pursuing your dreams, and never give up.
  • Don’t be afraid of not succeeding.  Be more afraid of NOT trying and living with regret.  If you fall, pick yourself up, and keep moving forward.
  • Worrying about what other people think of you is a waste of time and energy.  Don’t let someone else’s perception of you (unless it’s absolutely fabulous!) become how you see yourself.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself all the time.  Don’t get caught in the trap that everything needs to be perfect, or nothing will ever get done.
  • Believe in the impossible.
  • The most deserving person does not always receive the accolade or win the award, but sometimes they do.  Be grateful when you are given a chance to shine and be introspective and reflective when you are not.  You will find yourself in both situations many times throughout your life.
  • Sometimes less IS more.
  • Walk tall no matter what!  Especially when you are afraid or insecure.
  • True friends are the ones who are there for you, who listen to you and who support you.  True friends will tell you when they think you are wrong and empower you to grow.
  • Don’t give away your power of choice.  Taking ownership over the choices you make in life will save you from a lot of healing work in the future.
  • Your brain doesn’t fully develop until the age of 24.  You’re going to make mistakes, a lot of them.  Consider the possibility though, that your mistakes are actually lessons.
  • Don’t rush to grow up.  One day, you’re going to be married, have kids, and comment on how your dog is so lucky that it doesn’t have any responsibility.  Just enjoy this time you have to be young and (hopefully) carefree.
  • Everything is going to be okay.  You’re going to lose people, get your heart broken, feel alone, and totally depressed.  Nothing is ever permanent, so next time you’re wrapped up in thoughts of how awful everything is – visualize the way you want things to be instead.  Eventually, the tide will turn and life will be more amazing than you ever thought possible.
  • Embrace change.  Don’t try to control what you can’t.  Let some time pass and see what develops.  Something fabulous might be right around the corner.
  • Surround yourself with excellence, and remember to be patient and cut yourself some slack.  Rome wasn’t built in a day!

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