I’ve heard a lot of chatter lately about how school dress codes are sexist and out of control. While I agree that all schools should tailor their dress codes to both genders rather than focusing specifically on female students, I’ve got to say: We need to cut it out with the school dress code criticism. School dress codes are necessary. If you are in the “Down with school dress codes!” camp, here’s why you might want to reconsider your position.
School dress codes teach students about professionalism. Do you think I’d still have a job if I showed up to work with my midriff exposed and my ass cheeks hanging out of my shorts for all to see? No, I wouldn’t. Unless you work as a server at Hooters or are a personal trainer at the local gym (both worthy professions with their own unique set of work-attire guidelines) for example, neither would you.
School is a professional environment. It’s where students go to learn, not to show off their taut skin and impressive muscles. Male and female students alike need to appreciate that there is a time and a place for certain attire, and school, much like many places of employment, is not the time nor the place to don “Sun’s Out, Guns Out” tanks or booty shorts. The beach? Absolutely the place. But school? No.
School dress codes teach students self-respect. Is it a person’s right to put his boxer shorts, or her breasts, on display for all to see? You betcha. But just because it’s his or her right doesn’t mean it’s appropriate in every situation.
Many dress code naysayers claim that by requiring students to cover up, we’re teaching them that their bodies are something to be ashamed of. Really? Think about it for a second.
We live in a society that judges a person’s worth based on how they look physically, and parents, teachers and mental health professionals, to name a few, are struggling to teach young adults that there are so many other things about themselves to be proud of as well. Students must learn that they are not important simply because they look good in a skintight T-shirt or low-cut dress. Their work ethic, compassion, sense of community and responsibility are also admirable qualities.
Teenagers are understandably in awe of their changing bodies and are in the midst of exploring their own sexuality and its role in their identities. Not surprisingly, many are wont to show off their newfound virility and muliebrity. After all, it’s one piece of who they are. The problem, however, is when they mistake their bodies as being entirely who they are instead of merely a part of who they are.
By requiring students to focus less on their physical appearance and more on all the characteristics that make them special, unique individuals, school dress codes help teach them that there is a lot to respect about themselves and their classmates, with pride and comfort in one’s skin being only but a small aspect.
School dress codes ensure the focus is on what it should be—the learning. Schools exist for one purpose: to educate students. When kids come to school half-naked, the focus shifts from academics to who’s wearing what. Students who are called out for a dress code violation aren’t being targeted unfairly, nor are they being body-shamed. They’re being asked to follow carefully orchestrated expectations, plain and simple—expectations they are already aware of and which exist for a reason.
Wearing next to nothing is a distraction. It may not be something we like to admit, and I agree that we should be teaching all students to respect the human body, but the fact remains that when someone comes to school without much on, it takes away from the task at hand. I mean, they’re teenagers for God’s sake—immature, raging bundles of hormones with fragile attention spans and brains that aren’t fully developed yet. That they are distracted by clothing that promotes drug and alcohol use or is too revealing shouldn’t be a surprise.
School dress codes are rules, and like it or not, as a society, we need to follow them. You can’t parade around a public park with your privates on display, can you? Not unless you want to get arrested for lewd and lascivious conduct. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to get service in many public establishments when you’re scantily clad. No shirt, no shoes, no service. Ring a bell? Being clothed is a requirement, and it’s one schools are not exempt from enforcing.
As with any public institution, schools have their own sets of expectations when it comes to conduct, and dressing appropriately is just one of many. Enforcing a dress code is not akin to asking someone to engage in moral decrepitude. There are much greater social injustices worth fighting than demanding that Billy gets to wear his shorts down around his knees and Susie gets to wear her bikini top to school. This is about priorities.
While all schools need to make sure their dress codes are all-encompassing and fair to both genders, the fact remains that school dress codes are necessary for the educational and social and emotional well-being of all students. Instead of bashing the schools, we as parents and as a society should be supporting and working together with them in the best interest of our children.