Yes, there is growing credence to the fear that America has more than a debt crisis but a discipline crisis. Our youth are falling behind the emerging Asian countries as we decline in math and science competitiveness, attention span, respect for elders, diet, exercise, dress and manners.
Of course, the building blocks start at home. In the end, though, the schools are asked to pick up the pieces. That said, the Antioch Unified School District is fighting the good fight. We have to start somewhere, and dress is, we feel, a fundamental. We want our students to see school as their “job” at this point in their life. Our defined mission, in fact, is to “prepare students for college, career and life,” and last time I looked there seemed to be a work “uniform” at most establishments.
Beyond encouraging a Dress 4 Success model, we also see disciplined dress as helping safety through easier campus identification; aiding the fight against gangs; building a sense of esprit de corps; buffeting the “keeping up with the Joneses” attitude; and minimizing campus distractions of provocative dress.
Where, then, is Antioch now? We are, admittedly, still a work of art in progress but we stand tall as a regional leader. We are certainly giving it the proverbial college try.
All our elementary and middle schools have adopted uniforms. At the high school level, our five career-based pathway schools have instituted them as well. Each academy elects their option(s) with student, parent and teacher input. For example, the Dozier-Libbey Medical School students choose scrubs.
Our two comprehensive high schools are in varying stages of implementation toward the ultimate goal of consistency. At Antioch High, the Engineering Academy has uniforms. AHS is targeting wall-to-wall academies with all students eventually wearing a uniform. The caveat is that the parents can legally opt out, which is allowed by California Ed Code.
At Antioch High, those not in an academy are asked to wear “spirit wear,” which are school colors or club or team wear. Last year only 60 students opted out of uniform or spirit wear – a tribute, in my book, to Antioch High School cohesiveness and site and parental leadership.
At Deer Valley High, the Law and Criminal Justice Academy and Delta Performing Arts have their own outfits. The remaining general ed students are encouraged to wear spirit wear. For better or worse, more students opted out than joined in last year, causing a Deer Valley enforcement nightmare. Life, like a football game, is all about making sensible adjustments and retweaking strategy so the site administration will try different motivations as we move along toward academy buildouts.
The crucial thing is that all schools, districtwide, will do double time this year to make sure every student adheres to our dress code, whether they are in uniform, spirit wear or opted out. We can’t stop what kids do after school but on campus we do not accept sagging pants and grossly exposed flesh.
Parents, most of our kids are well behaved but some bad apples can cause major disruption. We all want the same thing for our kids: that teachers can concentrate their energies on teaching and not on the likes of defiance, foul language, truancy, tardiness, bare midriffs and exposed underwear.
Now I know that there are those in the community that I could never convince on the board’s 5-0 voted dress policy. I respect their divergent opinions, as that is what makes this a great country. In fact, I find particular merit in one opposing argument that youth learn by making good choices. That said, I find preponderant enough practical reasons in this oft helter-skelter society to still elect a dress code.
A few parting observations … Our “uniform” policy stresses more the theme of general consistency than a draconian one-shoe-fits-all mode. We are not talking military khakis or even private school blazers and ties. In fact, there are dress choices within the policy that allow for shirts, sweatshirts and jackets (for example, Miliken High in L.A. has some 68 spirit wear options). Antioch schools, as well, have free dress days to mix it up a bit for the kids.
It is also well understood by those who have had the privilege of world travel that this debate is really patently American. Uniforms are, in fact, the norm worldwide. I have seen them in places as disparate as Mexico, the Carribean, Europe, Turkey, Lebanon, India, the Philippines and Japan.
As to the argument that we are stifling creativity, I would really hope that we are teaching our youth that creativity inherently comes from personality and ideas, not from a choice of slacks. I, for one, don’t see myself as a repressive type. In fact, I am fiercely independent and respect free thinkers. I don’t feel that a tie makes me a stiff, non-earthy person or that my wearing a pink shirt, which I did the other day, takes away my masculinity.
My wife is a product of Catholic school uniforms and hasn’t lost her creativity or spunk. Frankly, she doesn’t seem the worse for wear.