Friday, 1 December 2017

Lost in Translation: School Uniforms

For this here blog re-launch, I have decided to also dip again in the always fruitful Lost in Translation segment, this time tackling an issue which first caused me intense bewilderment before I just gave it up altogether. 

School uniforms.

Put yourself in my shoes: I grew up in a school system where school uniforms were all but unheard of (including in religious schools) and where teachers could - they mostly didn't, but they could - wear all kind of eccentric garments (my favourite remaining to this day the epic complex-landscape-with-houses-etched-across-a-brownish-trouser-suit that my Latin teacher used to wear - it was epic, you should have seen it). And yet, the common issues used as arguments for a school uniform were and still are also absent:

- people (yes, including teenage girls) dress according to the weather
- their clothing is typically modest
- the behaviour of students is certainly no worse than in England
- kids have no trouble feeling like they belong to their school and that other children who are not from said school should therefore be shunned (yes, they are able to work that out even without the help of designated blazers)
- bullying over clothes is no worse than in the English schools I worked at (sorry to break it to you, but English kids are just as able to pick on be-uniformed peers, they just make fun of how clean the uniform is or focus on bags, shoes and hair-dos).
- they seem to be able to recognise and follow or rebel against arbitrary rules just as well as the British

So I really struggled to see the point of adding to my already heavy workload as a teacher by having to pretend like I cared deeply whether the students were tucking their shirts in, wearing their clip-on tie, asking me before they took off their blazers, and following the one million rules on how to wear your hair up or down (because if your hair is down it will get caught in stuff and you will DIE, as demonstrated by the astronomical rate of death-by-hair recorded amongst French kids).

I had to remind myself constantly to Be cross! It's disrespectful! Don't forget to make them fix their clothes! when really they looked just fine to me. I listened to countless parental hand-wringings over even the smallest issue - clip-on ties were a particular favourite: When are they going to learn to tie them if they don't have to wear a real tie as part of the uniform? as one anguished parent once asked (I don't know, you could always, maybe, just show them?) - Luckily I knew how to answer that one: I just needed to look grave, shake my head and utter in hushed tones - I'm so sorry, it's a health and safety issue you see... - 
I had teachers explaining to me that they once worked in a school where the kids only had to wear a polo-shirt and jumper rather than a shirt and blazer, and the behaviour.was.appalling, Isabelle, APPALLING! (everyone knows that all behaviour issues are solved by clothing, as the immaculate behaviour of toddlers wearing their Sunday best amply demonstrates.)

In the end I did acquire the automatisms needed to berate the students appropriately, but I never managed to care. I collected  reason after reason from as many sources as I could in an almost anthropological effort to try and see the point of it all, and whilst I can give you as many reasons as the day is long, don't believe in a single one of them. Sorry England. I tried ever so hard! 

But I can't even escape it now, because now I am a parent myself, and belong to groups of other parents, and they love to care about this stuff, to the tune of 100s-long comment-threads on Facebook at the slightest provocation. So, as this is my blog, I am going to take matters into my own hands. It's not going to be easy to hear, but it's for your own good Britain.

Wait. First you will have to come a bit closer, because it's a secret and we are about to stop pretending:

Are you ready?

Ok, maybe go make some tea first, to steady your nerves.


Ok, I'm about to take the plunge, hold on to your screen.

Here goes: the only actual reasons why your kids wear school uniforms is because 
a- it looks nice
b- that's how it's kind of always been

That's it. 

So, my dear anguished parent brethrens, you have my official permission to stop caring. It doesn't actually matter any more than the weird rule about not sitting on the grass patch on the left in the Jardin du Luxembourg whilst the one on the right is totally fine.

It's probably easier to just follow the rule, but you don't have to think there is any reasonable argument behind it. 


Now we can start fighting about attendance rewards instead.


  1. Rambling response...... I had to wear a uniform through school I just became inventive with how to make this dreary awful thing unique, a part of me. I hated it, I didn't particularly like school, mainly to do with all those stupid rules and no one wanting to answer the why question. I then ended up in jobs that had uniforms too, just as uncomfortable, but worn with a bit more pride, ultimately I now have jobs where I can just be me and it is wonderful. I can understand uniform when your in a job where to be recognised is necessary or to be safe is essential. My daughter loves her uniform for school, on her 1st non uniform day she wanted to wear her uniform! I am quite suspicious that the kids are in uniform so that the parents have to pay regularly for them to have days without it on! They seem safe enough and happy enough on those days. My addition to your observations would be the logo or no logo argument, there is uniform and then there is everything with a logo on it from pencil to socks to me this is a leap too far! I thought having a logo on book bag and drinks bottle was Mandatory until I asked. On the 1st day my little one was one of only 2 who had their own no logo book bag and only a handful who could pick up their drinks bottles without searching for the name sticker as they all looked the same. A little individuality is pretty useful sometimes.

    1. That's one of my big qualms about it! seems expensive to get all the items required! Two entirely different sets of clothing with growing children doesn't sound very economically sounds...

  2. Every once in a while, some erstwhile politician in America points out that we could solve oh, so many problems in our public schools if the children were required to wear uniforms, and the American public collectively throws back its head and howls "How will they express their individuality if they have to wear UNIFORMS?!?!"

    Glad to know it's an issue in other places too, even if not for the same reasons.

    Also, nice to see you back. Hope all is well.

    1. Well, over here, everything is solved by uniforms in schools. Apart from all the things which aren't!

      We are well thank you! 1/5 more numerous than when I checked in last :-)

  3. I'm so glad to see you back on the blog! This is so interesting to read. I also get a little annoyed at the insignificant uniform details that are "supposed" to be a big deal. For example, at the Catholic high school my siblings attend, boys are required to have one particular brand of pants. There MUST be a blue tag on on the seam on the side of the pants, and if a teacher or administrator does not see said tag, that boy is breaking uniform code. Ridiculous. I'm fine with uniforms (it makes getting ready in the morning very fast and easy, and I actually think that plaid uniform skirts are cute), but in the way that my older brother's small classically educated school had them: you were required to wear a certain color of polo and a certain color of pants, you could buy them wherever you wanted and the styles could slightly differ. Let's have none of this "Be in uproar over tiny things that don't matter" business, because life is too short to care about things like that.

    1. Thank you! very kind of you to say! I have missed it!
      I agree with you, uniforms do look nice (you should see all the little primary school kids in their matching jumpers and checkered dresses, it's pretty adorable!

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