And it’s about time. Mary Vesco, Reed’s principal for the last 12 years, said she has been looking into the possibility for five years. I wonder what took her so long to figure out something needed to be done to teach the male students how to tuck in their underwear properly; or remind the girls that it is not appropriate to come to school dressed for a beach party. I know, I must be getting old and set in my ways, but K-12 is not a place to reflect expensive fashion trends of the day or promote and advertise gang affiliations. It’s a place for all students to learn without being bullied, having to be a sex symbol or show that they are too poor to buy clothing that would make them “more” acceptable to their more fortunate peers.
When I attended parochial school, uniforms were not required until we reached the fourth grade. The beginning of third grade taught me why uniforms are a good idea, especially when you are poor.
The Salvation Army had a huge second-hand store about two blocks away from my house. The central New Jersey heat, humidity and sleepless nights were finally showing signs of giving up their hold on the summer from hell. With the first day of school only a week away, my parents and I walked to the store of used goods to buy my new wardrobe for the school year.
Most of the clothes were picked over but my mother found what she thought was a great pair of all-wool knickers, a wool cap, dress shirts and creased pants that needed a little alteration. No doubt, they were clothes that had belonged to some very rich kid from the other side of the city. My parents were excited. We lived in poverty but their son would be one of the best dressed children at Saint Peter’s School.
The days were getting shorter and colder. It was time to wear my new wool knickers, wool cap and dress shirt and learn a lesson in life.
That morning during my six-block march to school it started to rain. I ran between the drops but my all-wool knickers and cap were wet anyway. Unlike other material, wool takes a long time to dry. I froze all day. During lunch period in the cafeteria, I noticed my usual friends didn’t come around. Everyone seemed to be ignoring me as if I did something wrong. Finally, the last bell rang and it was time to go home.
On my way home a few of the fourth-grade boys started picking a fight with me. They called me every name under the sun and said they didn’t want any “rich kid” hanging around with them anymore. After stealing my cap, beating me up and throwing mud on my wet knickers, I finally made it home. Mom was heartbroken and admitted she had made a mistake. Years later the same boys and I became the best of friends.
High school wasn’t much different. If a guy didn’t wear penny-loafers, argyle socks, a shirt with a turned-up collar and comb his hair with a pint of wild root cream oil, no self-respecting girl would even look at him. If the girls didn’t have their hair quaffed a certain way or wore plain clothes, she was considered “square” and excluded from most social events. Ah, where did the early ‘50s go?
Things aren’t much different in schools today. Trend-setting, bullying, spreading false gossip about people you don’t like and back-stabbing your best friend to further your own agenda are still the basis for peer pressure that draws the line of conformity between gender, poverty and wealth.
Even in the somewhat liberal society we live in today, many teen-age students are still judgmental and prejudiced. They measure a person’s worth by the color of their skin or their manner of dress and have no tolerance for people who are not like them or their parents.
Wearing uniforms should reduce class distinction based on the facade of wealth and pretense. Now, Reed High students can look past the fashion of wealthy trend-setters and find true friends and meaningful relationships among their peers with humane values — friends who are not quick to prejudge someone because of the clothes they wear or the preconceived notion of material things they “think” someone may or may not have.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.