Hannah’s MIDDLE SCHOOL Essay on Dress Code, Because We Still Haven’t Done Anything About this Sexist Bullshit (written circa 2009)

Many schools now have adopted a dress code, which is a rule stating the restrictions on what students can wear, and it seems on the surface to be very effective and a good idea. In reality, there are a lot of bad effects of dress code and countless reasons that it should be abolished. Dress codes can have restrictions than include anything from “no tank-tops” to “no
skirts above the knee”. Some of the restrictions seem fair, but overall, most are unfair. The dress code is unfair because it can cause students to overheat, it oppresses the creativity of students, whether an outfit is appropriate or inappropriate is up to a biased individual, most schools don’t have the required “opt-out” choice, and much of the research is either not very reliable or does not show good results.

One main argument for abolishing dress code is weather problems. There is an article online in “The Hindu” that stated, “The codes are for avoiding distractions; what about distractions caused by extreme humidity and further added by clothing, considering the fact that most colleges have their finals in May?” This article author, Niharika M., is discussing college dress codes. Colleges usually have finals in May, which can be a very hot month. A
month hotter than May, though, is June, which is when many high schools have their finals, in the sweltering heat. What do you think is more distracting, a girl wearing a skirt just one inch higher above her knee than the dress code permits or 100 degree weather? You can choose whether or not to be distracted by clothing, but you can’t choose whether or not to be
distracted by heat. Also, in many schools, students are required to follow dress code at school sponsored sports. They are also expected to follow dress code in gym. Most people do not follow dress code when they exercise, so it’s not fair that students are expected to when they exercise, in already hot weather that feels hotter when exercising. Also, many schools do not have very good air conditioning, and it can get very hot and humid in the classrooms, which makes it very difficult to concentrate. The whole reason for dress code is to increase concentration, but the heat really makes the code counterproductive.

Another argument against dress code is the creativity of students that is oppressed because of dress code. Most school systems encourage their students to express themselves creatively. This is why they have art and music classes, and offer drama and sports. But what about those kids who don’t express themselves through art, music, drama, or sports? What about those kids who express themselves through fashion? They are not encouraged like the students who express themselves in other ways like sports, and not only that, they aren’t even left alone. Instead, they are oppressed, and cannot express themselves. Growing up is a hard
time for many, and for kids that cannot express themselves it makes everything harder. A person may love bright clothing and want to express themselves by wearing a bright shirt and skirt with neon leggings, yet even with leggings (which are the same thing as yoga pants, which are not against the dress code, except they don’t flare at the bottom), the skirt must be a certain length above the knee. This does not make sense, since yoga pants and just leggings are usually permitted, since they are both considered pants. Why, then, is a shorter skirt over those leggings or pants not allowed, when the skirt just adds clothing on top of perfectly appropriate clothing? The dress code just does not make any sense.

Much of a dress code is unfair because it is open to interpretation by the principal or his/her designee, and the one deciding what’s inappropriate may be old-fashioned and strict. Many schools state that skirts must be no shorter than a certain length above the knee, but it is not specified whereon the knee it is measured from. Also, there is nothing about pants being
too thin in the dress code, but there was recently a situation where a girl who was sent to the office for breaking dress code because her pants were “too thin”. This is an opinion, and it is in no way against any code that I have heard of.

In my research I found out that California’s Long Beach Unified School District had spectacular research supporting their dress code. The number of school fights went down by half, school suspensions are down by one third, and every other measurable criminal activity in public schools throughout the city. This sounds like dress code is a very good idea. But it was discovered later, and this fact is not very well known, that a few other crucial changes took place around the same time as the uniform policy. One of the changes was a million dollar grant for the improvement of teaching methods. Which do you think would make more of a difference? Most people would agree that the million dollar grant would make more of a
difference. Also, a spokesman for this school stated that the dress code was the only change made around the time. Why would the school system lie unless the statistics were mostly caused by the other changes?

Not all the results from starting a dress code at a school are good, as I quickly discovered. Only the good results are advertised, and they’re largely one-sided. All school crime rates were different before dress codes, and all are differently affected by it. Miami-Dade County is Florida put uniforms in their elementary and middle schools, and the results were not
what they had expected after hearing the results of the California uniforms. There was only a very slight decrease in problems in the elementary school. In the middle school, fights almost doubled over a four-year period. Apparently in non-uniform schools fights also increased, which
is how the district administrators tried to justify it. It lacked supporting information, though. For example, how much did it increase in non-uniform schools, and was that less than in the uniform schools? Another fact is that that many schools with uniforms claim that attendance
has increased in their schools very slowly, but research has showed that it also increased in non-uniform high schools, even more than it has in uniform elementary and middle schools.

A big problem with dress codes is that they could be against the law in some places. A line of the Manual on School Uniforms states “Note that in the absence of a finding that disruption of the learning environment has reached a point that other lesser measures have been or would be ineffective, a mandatory school uniform policy without an “opt out” provision could be vulnerable to legal challenge.” An “opt out” provision is when a parent is allowed to excuse their child from having to follow a uniform. A school is allowed to excuse themselves from the “opt out” privilege only if it is a private school where students apply knowing about
the dress code or if there are other choices to switch to in the area that do not have uniforms. Neither of these applies to a lot of schools, so they “could be vulnerable to legal challenge”. It seems only fair that parents should be allowed to excuse their children from a uniform or dress
code: it is their children, so they have the right to decide the rules and restrictions for their child. It should be their choice what their child can or cannot wear to school. A dictionary definition of “uniform” is “an identifying outfit or style of dress worn by the members of a given
profession, organization, or rank.” This means that a dress code could be called a uniform, since it is an identifying outfit or style of dress worn by the members of a given profession, organization, or rank; in this case, a school. Keeping that in mind, the dress code should follow the Manual on School Uniforms. This manual also states that the school needs to provide
financial aid to those families who cannot pay for the uniform. Since a dress code is a type of uniform, wouldn’t that mean that the school would have to help families pay for uniforms, or clothes that fit dress code, since their original clothes and weekend clothes usually don’t fit the dress code? I really don’t think any school wants to pay for extra clothes for many families. It seems like it would just be so much easier for everyone if schools got rid of the dress code.

There’s also the fact that what’s appropriate is an opinion. Whether it’s 2-3 inches above the knee or halfway between the hip and knee, whether or not that it appropriate is an opinion of school board members, members who are much older than the students and who are elected by parents and not the people actually having to follow these rules, the students. These members are not likely to understand what students these days count as appropriate or inappropriate. We all believe that wearing shorts is perfectly appropriate, and the shorts we wear may be shorter than the shorts our parents used to wear, but that’s what we are used to. It’s not inappropriate or distracting to us. The fact is that there are simply no attractive shorts
sold that are halfway between the hop and thigh, except Bermuda shorts, which many don’t like or do not believe are flattering. Someone may feel insecure wearing Bermuda shorts because they feel that they are unflattering to their body, but it is so hot that they must wear
them. This means that the school is forcing some students to feel badly about themselves. If a student were to wear the Catwoman suit to school, or a black dress with one inch straps that hits halfway between the hips and knees with fishnets and black biker boots, they would be following dress code. That seems much more inappropriate and distracting to me
than shorts and a tee-shirt. A student could also wear a dress that fit dress code with bright feathers all over it. This would be much more distracting than shorts and a tee-shirt, but it would still fit dress code. I’m not saying that fishnets, tight clothing, or feathers should be banned: I’m only pointing out that there will always be another way to be “inappropriate” or
“distracting” no matter what restrictions are placed on students. The best thing to do is to eliminate most of the rules.
This dress code is also sexist. Boys can wear pretty much whatever they want and what they are used to wearing, but girls cannot wear what they want and are used to wearing. Boys and girls must follow the same set of rules, it’s true, but it affects girls much more than boys because it puts specific restrictions and bans on the kinds of clothes that are their everyday
clothing while almost nothing in the dress code affects the kinds of clothes boys regularly wear.

Sharon Schools claim to be fair to all students, no matter their race, sex, religion, or anything else, but they are breaking their own rules with the dress code. I currently have a few pairs of shorts in my closet that I cannot return because it is too late or because I have lost the receipts. I don’t believe they are inappropriate, and neither do any of the adults or students I have talked to. I ask to be able to wear these shorts, whether it’s
this week alone or in the winter with tights. Fashion is an art that is being oppressed. I can still show my style with the dress code, but it makes it much harder and more costly to get outfits that I like and that fit the dress code, not to mention that it will take much more time. A lot of
the things on the runways and that celebrities and fashion icons are wearing do not fit dress code.

I understand that some restrictions can exist, but that doesn’t mean that all of our free expression should be sacrificed. Schools should keep dress code rules that are created for safety, like the ban on roller sneakers, which could cause injuries in a school. Schools should also keep the ban on clothing with inappropriate logos, for example logos or words that promote alcohol companies, so that students are not encouraged to buy from those
companies. But schools should completely abolish all of the other restrictions, or at least have an “opt out” provision. This may seem like a terrible idea. Some might make an argument that if there are no restrictions, students will be out of control, coming to school in bathing suits or similar inappropriate clothing. But if you’re just walking around outside of school one day, do you see people just walking around in bathing suits? If the answer is no, which it should be, then why would anyone think that students would do so at their school? People usually don’t dress inappropriately in public, where there’s no dress code, so why would they dress inappropriately at school if there were no dress code? In fact, one of the vice principals of the school, Ms. Trahan, admitted that she gave up on dress code last year. Clearly grades didn’t drop and no one wore anything super inappropriate to school then, so why should they now?

On the first day of school this year, we talked a lot about taking a stand if something seems wrong or unfair, and that even if we are just one person or one student it doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference. Ignoring this letter would mean that all of what students have been told is a lie, and the administration and teachers at our school don’t really believe in the ideas
that they are putting in our heads. Dress code really is a form of oppression, and I am no longer going to sit back and watch it happen. I’m going to do exactly what the school has told me to do and take a stand for what I believe in, in the most respectful way I can. I have chosen to believe
that I can make a difference, even though I am just one student. I hope that I’m right.

Think about it logically and from a student’s point of view; is it really worth sacrificing originality, self expression, creativity, and the comfort of a student just because there’s a small possibility that some students may choose to be distracted by another students clothing choice? There are millions of things that could hypothetically distract students at school, like a
poster in a classroom, or an annoying noise a vent makes, but those still exist. It is the student’s responsibility to not let themselves be distracted by those things, so why are clothing choices any different? Some may say that it’s necessary to have a school dress code to create an appropriate and productive school environment, but they are overlooking the many flaws that come with this and ignoring any possible solutions or compromises.


Sources:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26875980/ns/us_news-education//

http://www.psparents.net/Dress_Codes.htm

http://beta.thehindu.com/life-and-style/nxg/article396839.ece

http://www2.ed.gov/updates/uniforms.html

http://712educators.about.com/cs/schoolviolence/a/uniforms_2.htm

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