Tuesday, August 25, 2015


My family is dealing with something both obnoxious and welcome: school uniform policy.

School started this Monday for our foster kid (and I know I’ve said we wouldn’t have him once school started…well…“developments” occurred that will keep him with us longer. How much? Who knows anymore? We plan, God laughs, Grace endures). Anywho, he’s now attending a school with a uniform policy. The look’s familiar to many: khaki pants, navy polos, black or brown school shoes, under-stated gym shoes for PE, no hats. Which is to say, nothing interesting. And while he was excited when we went shopping (new stuff? Wahoo!!!), once it came time to deal with looking like everybody else, said excitement faded.

For instance, when I dropped him off on day one, I removed his hat and he immediately covered his head with his jacket. His cute version of being shy, while worrying about how he looks. Plus, several kids didn’t have the “proper” school shoes on, and that seemed unfair, and he was feeling out-of-place, and worried about new teacher/new friends/what everyone’s thinking, so began whining, “Why can’t I wear my gym shoes now?! The other boy’s wearing his gym shoes.” I resisted. But only for 87 seconds, forgive me. I then let him swap shoes, knowing I was only outsourcing that fight to his teacher, who’d demand a switch in half-an-hour’s time. I should email an apology.

The point is, his problem with the uniform was about the uniform, but so much more.

Here are reasons I love the policy. Morning routine will go super fast once we’re not debating whether favorite pants are clean, or if the shirt properly “matches”, or if there’s another acceptable hat, since Shane lost one last night (I do that…oops). Bus comes at 6:36am now. Every minute counts!

Besides, more substantively, I remember the pressures of my school clothing being an advertisement to potential friends, or fodder for rivals, and how that impeded relationship building. Such status signaling will occur with uniforms too, though probably less of it, which could nurture better community. Finally, I suspect families with fewer resources than mine are glad to feel less keeping-up-with-the-Joneses-and-Isners pressure, as regards their kids’ fashion choices. Doing what’s better for poorer families is, I’m convinced, usually what Christians should support.

Still, there are reasons I hate the policy too. I don’t believe the job of kids is to make their adults’ worlds easier. We care for kids because of the disruption to our lives they bring, not in spite of it. So while uniforms will create smoother mornings, such smoothness isn’t a primary value for me.

What’s more important, I think, is whether our foster son feels good about himself, whether he’s able to express his inner life adequately. Or better yet, magnificently! Yet forcing one clothing style keeps him from standing out. Isn’t that the opposite of self-expression? Isn’t it wise for a boy to grow comfortable with standing out (for positive reasons)? Speaking his mind (kindly)? Discovering his joys (without diminishing others)?! Being a leader?!

Thus, generally speaking, I don’t consider sartorial creativity a problem that needs to be managed or disciplined into submission. Plus, the gender assumptions annoy me- e.g. girls can wear earring studs; boys can’t- as if there’s one expected (accepted?) way of being a girl or a boy. Lastly, if it’s not clothes, then extracurriculars, shoes, backpacks, etc. will pressure families economically. Does the uniform policy alleviate enough money worry to justify dampening a poor child’s range of expression?

I’m not yet convinced. After all, in the emergence of any new identity – be that for a growing child, a newly-retired Christian…a church- a bit of chaos ought be anticipated and tolerated. Growing is messy, sometimes contradictory, often challenging. Responding to that by enforcing conformity, though, doesn’t put unity in the community. It dims the lighting of the whole. After all, distinct, differentiated identities, by definition, stand out and shine. That’s only healthy. Which is why I’d prefer no clothing policy, or something less strict. Clothing is symbolic, and I want our foster kid’s imagination encouraged. Though, again, I’ll enjoy those simpler mornings…

Grace and Peace,
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