Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Not Uniform

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  • steve black,

    Don't I see two people in that photo who are out of uniform? I've always felt that if uniforms are good for the students (for whatever the reasons they come up with) then the same uniforms should also be good for the staff, volunteers, principal, etc.

    sunny mt albert • Since Jan 2007 • 116 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to steve black,

    Those are staff, yeah.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    My children wore a uniform at primary school in the UK. The good thing about the uniforms was that they were the same design everywhere, within a range of about 7 “colourways” (light blue, royal blue, dark blue, green, purple, yellow, red; and black or grey). Schools could do their own sweatshirts with the school logo on if they wanted, as well as a school tie. Secondary schools had a similar arrangement. You could buy school uniforms at the bigger supermarkets, as well as Marks & Spencer and some of the larger clothes chains. It was very handy.

    My son said the boys complained about having to wear a tie every day in summer when the girls didn’t have to. The principal said any boy was welcome to go without a tie if he was wearing a dress. Noone took up the offer.

    Girls could wear trousers if they wanted to, and some did. As above, boys could in theory wear a skirt or a dress if they wanted to, but none (in a predominantly RAF town…) did. So while an XX trans (or non-binary, so the children tell me) could dress in something vaguely gender-neutral without too many issues, I imagine it would have been a lot more socially difficult for an XY to do the same.

    So gender neutral uniforms? Hell yes. Of course there will be some children who will say “but I want to wear a skirt!”, but I don’t see why that’s different to any other “but I want to wear item X that isn’t part of the school uniform!” complaint.

    I have a whole other reason for supporting school uniforms that include trousers. They are (or can be, should be) warm. It is important that children stay warm in winter, particularly when they’re attending a virus transmission & incubation centre every day; and clothing is an important part of staying warm.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Don’t see why kids need uniforms. Most European countries, they don’t. We didn’t in my sixth form, and the world didn’t fall in because a few kids went to school fully goffed, punked or metalled up.

    It’s all about indoctrinating kids into subordination for the sake of it.

    (The only reasonable argument I heard is that it suppresses gang colours. Which is a bit of a sad indictment. Also, what if all those angelic looking year 5’s were actually Crips/BP? Riccarton’s blue, right?)

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    It's not about gang colours. It was just really, really convenient. No "I've got nothing to wear" in the morning. No confusion over which clothing item was going to need to be clean the next day. And no (or not much) "I'm not wearing those shoes/other clothing item of uncool brand".

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Wow that document reads like it was written by thoughtful, intelligent, experienced educators who consulted widely before coming up with the policy!

    Oh and I went to Green Bay High School when it was uniform-free. None of the claims made about lack of uniforms in schools were apparent to me in the time I went there. Frankly as far as I can tell most folks have been conned into paying the uniform industry relatively large amounts of money for no benefit to their children. But that was merely my experience.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    It was just really, really convenient.

    My kids went to non-uniform high schools, and that was way more convenient. I didn't have to worry about having uniform clean and dry in the mornings, and they just got dressed, like they did every other day.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    OK, I fully accept that YMMV on the convenience front.

    I am quite serious about the warmth issue though.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    I have a whole other reason for supporting school uniforms that include trousers.

    If only they made warm clothes that weren't part of a uniform ... oh wait.

    As for angsting about "what to wear" - yeah some days it happened - sort like real life that we all have to learn sometime. Teasing about not wearing the right clothes - yeah I got teased about those red courds - I also got teased about my hair and my grades and my name and ... oh yeah everything. Uniforms had nothing to do with it.

    One thing that was true was you couldn't easily distinguish students from staff well except that staff were usually (not always) up front teaching in class. Apart from that our teachers were friends with whom we played sport after class. It was like they were humans too ...

    oh that's the point uniforms define students as less than human ...

    That's a really important lesson. Like learning to hate gays and have fights ... which BTW we didn't have at Green Bay high School when we were uniform-free and were treated like young adults.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Rosemary McDonald,

    Gender neutral uniforms....hell yes.

    Weather appropriate, easy wash and dry, non-iron, hard wearing and reasonably priced. Not only convenient, but avoids the stress of Young Person's angst if they do not own the latest 'must have' fashion garment.

    Believe me, this is a huge issue in some schools.

    Looking at the photo, despite the same dress...individuals stand out.

    As for the Ministry guidelines....goodness me, another day that I give thanks for being past the school age kid stage. Having said that, I acknowledge that difference can lead to bullying and this needs to be addressed. A small rural high school some 40 years ago. Two openly gay male students (not a couple) and a 'trans' (watch me get this wrong) boy. (He was more a she than a he?)...Anyway, all was out in the open, no bullying. Scroll forward 20 years and straight but not macho nerdy students were unmercifully bullied by the rugby types. Took one of the nerds to lose it and roundly beat the bully to get it to stop. This was a boys school...and the DP was awestruck that the bullied student fought back. Much head shaking.
    While it is useful to talk about gender and sexuality and difference....can't we start by really, really encouraging tolerance? And respect.

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1344 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    Certainly there are warm clothes that aren’t part of a uniform. It’s just that without a uniform, children may not have warm clothes, or may not wear warm clothes, even on the days they need them.

    My children have been to schools with uniforms, and without. I went to a (all-girls’) secondary school with a uniform for the first 3 1/2 years of high school, and a very liberal (co-ed) boarding school without a uniform for the last 2 years. Despite the fact the co-ed was liberal for the time and place, I still picked up attitudes there towards homosexuality that I had to unlearn later; and which I hadn’t learnt earlier at the girls’ school. My daughter goes to a (all-girls) school with a uniform, and her vocal acceptance of the full range of sexualities makes me both proud (of her) and ashamed (that I was so much less enlightened at her age). So I think all that has far more to do with the culture of the school than the presence or absence of uniform. In the past, lack of uniform has tended to be associated with a certain style of schooling, but there’s no reason why you can’t have a uniformed school with a liberal culture, or a mufti school with a conservative culture.

    Besides which, I think there are two questions here:
    1. Should there be uniforms (boring argument had many times before); and
    2. If there is a uniform, should it be gender neutral (much more interesting discussion).

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • Vivid,

    I realise the figure of 1.2% comes from the report. but it does seem to be too high by an order of magnitude. A 2008 study of New Zealand Passport holders has a figure of 1:6,364 and that figure is said to seem high.

    Wairarapa • Since May 2015 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    It’s not about gang colours

    That justification came from a teacher, that they wouldn't be able to stop the kids fighting over gang colours if they weren't made to wear a uniform.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Josh Petyt,

    1. No there shouldn’t.
    2. Yes, if you must have a uniform it should be gender neutral.

    Here in Japan the kids tend to like their uniforms. I was quite surprised when I first heard the girls saying their uniform (that I thought was hideous) was cute. In fact at the few schools that do not have uniforms often girls will invent their own uniform-like outfits. I was at a seminar where on the second day I was confused because one girl in my group had on a different uniform. When questioned she told me that her school had no uniform so she chose her own and what’s more, she had more than one.

    Japan • Since Apr 2014 • 44 posts Report Reply

  • Mikaere Curtis, in reply to Emma Hart,

    My kids went to non-uniform high schools, and that was way more convenient..

    My son goes to a non-uniform school, my daughter to a uniform school, and we think that it is marginally more expensive for my son's school clothing needs.

    When I went to high school in the 80s *everything* was expensive, like *really* expensive compared to today's prices in real terms.

    e.g. I bought some no-brand dress shoes back in 1985 when I was in 6th form *on special* for what would be $210 today. Who would even consider spending that kind of money today on a non-brand item ?

    So, now that we have the privilege of cheap production labour coupled with really top notch production techniques, then, yeah, non-uniform is more of an option. Back in the day, not so much, unless you had the both the time and skill to make home-made clothes.

    Tamaki Makaurau • Since Nov 2006 • 528 posts Report Reply

  • Nicola,

    I was decile 3, and we had the standard issue white polo - black pants/skirt - red sweater with school emblem. And a uniform bank for those on low incomes, I think.

    It was cheap (let's face it, high school kids keep changing size), there were several places you could buy them, and you could probably pick them up in the op shop if you were quick enough. You could even buy the school emblem and sew it on to a sweater if you were so incline - my Mum did.

    But the best thing I liked about it, in hindsight, was the way it worked for everyone. Many girls wore black pants. Some wore skirts. The brethren girl wore a long black skirt. And two of the boys wore skirts. As adults, I think they would probably identify as women (and used the girl's bathrooms at school), but they may not have been the only ones - the uniform worked around this and let the students choose.

    Also, it helped that they had a brother in the First XV - everyone knew bullying would not be tolerated, and the next year we gained a transfer student who was bullied at a neighbouring school because of it. I take that as proof that a vocal supporter or two can make a big difference.

    Since Jun 2015 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • James Littlewood*,

    I wore a uniform and hated every minute of it. Does that count?

    Later on, I didn't have to wear a uniform, and choosing what to wear was the least of my worries. Believe me.

    Those stats on trans kids are enlightening. I'd have thought uniformity (neutral or otherwise) was a poor way to allow someone to explore and identify their identity. But then, I'm not trans. Anyone?

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 410 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    Believe me

    Nope I don't. Sorry but I went to such a school. There was angst but no more than my friends had who went to uniform schools.

    Perhaps we could trust kids to learn to cope with angst

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Rosemary McDonald, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Believe me

    Nope I don’t.

    Are you saying I'm lying?

    Misguided?

    Or simply not allowed an opinion, based on experience?

    "Perhaps we could trust kids to learn to cope with angst."

    Perhaps we should look at the youth suicide rate, the number of youth needing counselling or psychiatric care. The there's the whole on line bullying thing...back in the day you went home, and maybe the bullying was over. Today, it follows you everywhere through social media and the like.

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1344 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    Are you saying I’m lying?

    Misguided?

    Or simply not allowed an opinion, based on experience?

    Of course you are allowed an opinion. However, based on my personal experience I don’t believe you are correct. In five years at such a school I saw no such “huge issues”.

    So no I won’t simply “believe you”

    Nor will I accept that uniforms have any power to reduce suicide or bullying. Frankly I think that is utter nonsense.

    If you want to address youth suicide do that. If you want to pretend a uniform is affecting youth depression and mental health then I’m going to suggest you look at countries where uniforms aren’t forced onto children and consider that if there was a causative relationship then you’d expect those countries to have a higher youth suicide rate. Good luck finding that relationship because those countries that treat their children more like adults would appear to have a better mental health record than New Zealand.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to James Littlewood*,

    Those stats on trans kids are enlightening. I’d have thought uniformity (neutral or otherwise) was a poor way to allow someone to explore and identify their identity. But then, I’m not trans. Anyone?

    I'm always rather reluctant to write on trans* and intersex issues because they're not my issues. But the Ministry didn't just make this stuff up. They consulted with LGBTI communities, and the report is full of references to international research.

    Also, my underlying point is that uniform is one small, not terribly significant, part of a much larger picture of making schools a better place for kids who don't fit gender or sexuality 'norms'. I'm pretty sure that I'd have benefitted from sexuality education that acknowledged the existence of same-sex attraction, and I didn't get it. There was at least one gay teacher at my school, and he was thoroughly closeted.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • TracyMac,

    I went to what is now a decile 1 school (before the extra funding became available), and having a uniform was great, because it was a level playing field. There were plenty of us who dreaded mufti day, because we didn't have "cool clothes" to wear. Let's just say the selection of somewhat-fashionable clothes for teens in op shops in GI was lacking. Before the days of cheap overseas clothing imports, remember.

    But the uniform itself was ridiculous. I think it was over $50 for just the gym slip, and not much less for a jumper. Apparently most teenagers wore Charlie Browns or Nomads for uniform shoes. Forget it, they were too expensive. Also, being pretty damn gender-nonconformist made wearing a dress agonising. Thank goodness for a vaguely-worded clause about senior uniforms, which meant I could wear trousers to school in 6th form. As did many of the Polynesian girls, once I started.

    It seems that schools here in Oz have a lot more of the polo and trackies style uniform. I think it's great - particularly for high school, where maintaining a bunch of outfits suitable for school would cost a bomb. (Maybe not so much for senior students, who can presumably earn cash for clothes, but it should always be an option). Paying multi-hundreds for the old-fashioned style is ridiculous.

    Canberra, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 701 posts Report Reply

  • TracyMac,

    And yeah, sex ed that explained sexuality as a continuum, and one that can be fluid for some people, would have been great.

    Sure, sex with boys for me was adequate in terms of getting off, but it would have made the eventual cluehammer about my actual leanings a bit less shocking if I knew it wasn't a binary thing. If sex with boys is "ok", I can't be queer! Hah.

    Thank goodness for gender/sexuality educators like my partner used to be. She still has former students coming up to her on the street to thank her for enlightening them about these spectrums.

    Canberra, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 701 posts Report Reply

  • Rosemary McDonald, in reply to TracyMac,

    There were plenty of us who dreaded mufti day,

    Thanks TracyMac...I thought I was imagining it.

    The absolute horror of impending mufti days at the all girls school. We could not afford the necessary clothes....and for god's sakes it shouldn't have mattered to the girl....but it did. (She had an existing point of difference, which she staunched out, but not having the latest gear...just too much)

    I thought it was just her/me. You know, both of us neurotic, but I got talking to another mum with a daughter at the same school....and both of she and her girl were in counselling AND on anti depressants. For the same reason.

    It sounds really stupid now...and we're all well over it, but at the time...

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1344 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    I remember mufti days as being incredibly high pressure - you only had a few days a year on which to make an impression so everything had to be perfect. My kids, who have never worn uniforms, experience no such pressure. They, and their classmates, dress in all sorts of ways - sometimes for comfort or practicality & sometimes to express themselves, but any status clothes afford does not appear to come from money or conformity to a standard.

    My memories of wearing a uniform involve being cold in winter & hot in summer, wearing Monday's stains all week because I only had one pinafore, my mother stressing over whether my blouses were ironed, and always, always wearing shorts underneath so I could swing on the bars without embarrassment.. If schools must have uniforms they should be cheap, flexible and easy to care for

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report Reply

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