2000 Pulitzer nominee School & University Life

Variety of Uniformity Informative

Immodest proposal for modest kids

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 12 October 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock
Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — It was dawn. Oscar Hapgood was in the park, as usual, foraging for breakfast, when Duff McDuff ran up to him, yelling, “Oscar, they want me to wear a uniform to school. Help!”

Oscar, an executive turned vagabond, wadded up a newspaper sheet and wiped the dew off a bench with it. “Elaborate, please, young friend.”

It seems Duff’s homeroom teacher told the class how the School Board decided to ban individuality, so far as apparel was concerned. Uniforms would solve education problems. This was so obvious that neither from-scratch scientific experiments nor surveys of test scores, criminal records and demographics were needed.

The board appointed a special committee of board members, parents, teachers and others.

“That’s good news,” said Oscar. “A standing committee would deliberate something like this for months. But an ad hoc committee means you don’t need to worry for at least a year.”

“Maybe, Oscar. But Teacher said our district probably will do this real soon because of the school shootings and drugs and stuff.

“Teacher said the uniform will be knit sport shirts and twill trousers. Or we can wear T-shirts with the school emblem. The shirts will be white or red. The pants will be blue or khaki. Khaki is tan, right? Girls can wear skirts. Same colors.”

Lastly, Duff said, only white or black athletic shoes, of any brand, are allowed.

Oscar wondered, with all those choices, where was the uniformity of the uniform?

Little Duff read Oscar Hapgood’s smirk. “It’s to give us freedom of choice.”

Duff said gangs inspired the uniform theory. Their members so enthusiastically wear blue or red that they maim or kill one another over infractions of their dress codes.

Parochial students, with more strict uniforms, seem to be smarter, study harder and are just more serious, Duff was told.

Church schools have above-average, average and below-average students, just like any school, Oscar replied. This fact relieved Duff considerably.

The school board also was worried about socioeconomic indicators. The teacher said less-fortunate parents don’t dress children as chicly as wealthier parents. Uniforms would de-emphasize materialistic status.

Yet, Duff noted, children are real sleepy in the morning; so, if all their clothes are alike, they can dress with their eyes closed.

“Oscar, you can help me,” Duff said. “Go to the committee’s public hearing tonight, OK?”

Duff ran off to school. Oscar pulled from his sack a soprano recorder and blew Handel and Hendrix riffs, while thinking what he could say.

“Uniforms are a grand idea,” Hapgood said to the standing-room-only school board room. “This has such genius that children already are wearing only three or four outfits already.

“The unofficial uniform is old-fashioned jeans or new-fashioned cargo pants for the trunk and T-shirts and flannels for the torso, for both boys and girls. Almost all wear athletic shoes now. Nearly everyone’s hair is too short. The dress codes that schools and districts already have can take care of any problems of taste, distraction or liability.”

“This is good preparation for adulthood. Hamburger joints have uniforms as do repair shops. Business suits are so similar they can be termed uniforms as well, for women and men.

“If change is needed in school, the fairest and most equal way to keep children from envy of any sort is for them to attend class naked.

“They won’t be able to conceal weapons that way, either.”

The special committee gasped, as one. The chairwoman glanced over to the security guard, who nodded his readiness, at her signal.

“This would have to start in all grades simultaneously,” Oscar continued. “This is the absolutely most effective way to teach children how they are all alike while all being different. Teachers should not dress for class, either. Of course for physical education, appropriate supporters and pads should be donned.

“Yes, a few perverts hang around school yards. They would be thwarted by the fact that children would go to school dressed then leave all their clothes in lockers. There’ll be robes and flip-flops in the halls to grab for fire and bomb drills.”

“Mr. Hapgood, your time is up,” the chairwoman said suddenly.

But a couple of the committee members started whispering. They thought Oscar made a good point and asked the chairwoman to let him finish.

“Thank you, good people,” Oscar said. “Now that my proposal got your attention, all I need to say is that you are wasting your time and everyone else’s. Children learn through every aspect of their lives how they are alike as well how they are different Why doesn’t this committee instead try to raise standards of education?”

The next speaker proposed hiring local seamstresses for hems and cuffs. The last speaker wanted the contract for bolts of his polyester-cotton cloth.

Oscar dropped by Duff’s house afterward. Duff had watched the speech on the cable government-access channel.

“Were you serious, Oscar? My tushie would freeze on a plastic chair six hours a day,” Duff McDuff said.

“I am only as serious as I have to be,” Oscar Hapgood said enigmatically.


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