Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thinking About This Dress Code Makes Me "Emo"

Let me say this from the outset: I think that "emo pants" are ridiculous. (You know what emo pants are, right? Those skinny pants that look OK on girls, but have started to be worn by some teenage boys, especially those who are fans of the punk-based musical style known as emo. If this still isn't ringing a bell, you can see plenty of examples here.)

I can't imagine for the life of me why someone of the male gender would want to squeeze his, umm, manhood in something so restrictive, and the look itself is rather gender-neutral; I've seen guys who dress in this style that I thought were girls (and girls who I thought were guys dressing like girls). I've never had a student dress like that, but if one did, and we had a good enough relationship, I might be hard-pressed not to look him in the eye and say, "Dude--when you get home tonight, please give your sister her pants back!" (I should also mention that, despite all this, "Emo Pants" would be a great tune name, so don't be surprised if I write that tune somewhere down the road.)

But even though I don't agree with this particular fashion choice, I will--to paraphrase Voltaire (or possibly his biographer)--defend people's rights to exercise it. That's especially true when stories like this appear in the news:
Seth Chamlee, a student at Kimbrough Middle School in Mesquite, found that out the hard way on Tuesday. School administrators gave him a choice: Go home, or trade his skin-tight skinny pants for slacks provided by the school.

He went home. And he’s going to stay there.

“We’re going to home schooling,” the boy’s mother, Cindy Pope, said Wednesday. “He can learn more without the distraction of what to wear."
Good for you, Mom. It's too bad that more people don't have the resources to do what you just did, because that would appear to be the only way that school administrators might see the error of their ways: Hit them in the pocketbook, by virtue of the state money lost when students like Seth are no longer enrolled in the district.

I've railed against over-restrictive school dress codes in the past (just click the "Dress Codes" label at the bottom of this post for more posts on the subject), but Mesquite is about as extreme as it gets. Check this out:
[I]n the Mesquite school district, the [skinny] pants are banned outright. The district, which boasts one of North Texas’ most conservative dress codes, only this year granted female teachers permission to wear open-toed shoes and male teachers the right to sport facial hair.

“We don’t allow striped shirts or check shirts,” said Laura Jobe, a district spokeswoman. “There are certain types of clothes that are not acceptable dress style.”
I'll have to save the inquiry as to what's so evil about striped or checked shirts (they make some kids look fat and lower their self-esteem?) for another time, but let's back up a paragraph for a second. They just recently allowed teachers to wear facial hair. And sandals! (But only on the women for the latter; I guess these are the same people who ran my school district when I was a kid; down there, they outlawed sandals on male students, because they were afraid that--I swear I am not making this up--hairy toes on guys might sexually excite the girls in the classroom.) If they've only recently seen the light on treating adults like responsible human beings, I guess it's easier to see why they still treat the kids so badly.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I was once contacted about a private teaching job in Mesquite, which I turned down outright because the district's ban on facial hair for teachers was still in effect. Although the band director assured me that the policy didn't actually apply to private teachers, I considered that even worse--I would be some sort of Other walking around there, possibly incurring the wrath of male teachers who were subject to the code. But by and large, I didn't want to have anything to do with a district that treated teachers in that manner.)

Look--I understand the arguments from the other side: Kids need to learn how to obey rules; they're in school to get an education, not show off their fashion sense, blah blah blah. (And the worst one of all: They're never going to get a job in the business world if they don't dress more nicely. Never mind that many kids will never set foot in the business world, and, as I've said before, with some of the things that have happened on Wall Street in recent years, I'm not so sure that we should be holding up the business world as a role model in the first place.)

But it seems like those in charge should pick their battles a little more wisely. I still believe that there are a lot of kids out there--not the extremely smart kids, not the thugs-in-traning, but the big, big middle--who wouldn't mind school so much if it didn't seem as if the administration weren't throwing roadblocks at them every step of the way. And I defy the Mesquite administration to tell me exactly how these pants detract from someone's education. (Evidently, they said that "his appearance was disruptive when he sat down." But what were the administrators doing looking down there in the first place?) As Seth's mom said in the linked story, "To not be getting your education because of pants...I don't want him to learn that."

I just have trouble believing that this anything more than the administrators' desire for power and control, even at the expense of actual education. And it's why I'll continue to shout this from the rooftops: Education won't be truly improved until we require all of them to remain teachers in addition to performing their administrative duties. It's obvious that their time in the proverbial ivory tower is often spent thinking up new ways to control people's lives--time that would be better spent on actual teaching.

Oh, and I can't let this story go without one more quote from MISD spokeswoman Jobe:
In Mesquite, Jobe said that although district officials don’t necessarily have a problem with skinny pants outside of class, they’re not appropriate for school.
They don't necessarily have a problem with the pants outside of school? That makes it sound like they would control students' lives there as well, if they thought they could. Be afraid, Mesquite parents. Be very afraid.

And if anyone can tell me exactly what causes Mesquite to frown upon striped or checked shirts, please hit the comment button. (Want to see what the fuss is all about? Seth appears in a FOX 4 video here.)


Hall Monitor said...

Skinny pants are terrible. I applaud this principal.

This story made! Check it out for all the crazy headlines from our schools.

Kev said...

Hall Monitor, I said at the very top of the post that I think the pants are ridiculous. But I'd rather have any student who decides to wear them learn that they're ridiculous through the marketplace of ideas (getting ridiculed by their peers, failing to get a job by showing up to an interview dressed that way, etc.) than by being dictated not to wear them by an adult.

As I said in the post, I'm not against all dress codes; I'm just saying that administrators should pick their battles carefully. If they continue to nitpick at kids for doing things that aren't really disruptive, those same kids will just tune them out when it's time to discuss more serious matters. And again, I'd like to see more emphasis on actual teaching in schools instead of all the administrative power-trip stuff that gets in the way.

BTW, your blog is great! I'll certainly be a regular visitor.

Striped shirts said...

I hate the emo style, though it's not as bad on girls as men. Whats wrong with normal jeans, striped shirts and smart shoes?