Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Discipline in the classroom: Why the argument about school uniforms isflawed.

I am a fan of structure. The fact that I can say that and know that it does not conflict with Art or being an Art Teacher may confuse you.

I am not going to lie. I will be forward with you right now and tell you that the military structure changed my life.

The Air Force gave me the opportunity to grow up into an adult with responsibility and achievement that comes with accomplishment.

That is why I feel that some are going to automatically dismiss my stance as some sort of pseudo-military lock step statement and not consider it as a fair portrait of the state of education.

We desperately need school uniforms. Yes, quote me on that. I will stand by that statement day and night. But I will explain that statement and allow you to see why it has become necessary.

Uniforms are a needed component for discipline. Every person in the military knows this; some more than others. Let's consider your average 18 year-old, fresh from graduation and eager to enlist. What common life experiences does he have with a 32 year-old former boxer who has also enlisted?

That answer- the shared experience of basic training and the uniform that they are wearing. I was that 18 year-old kid once. And the other guy was an other guy in my basic training flight. This man was a former light weight boxer from Miami. We did not have a lot of common ground, but I recognized one thing right away.

He knew how to exercise. He kept a steady gait when he ran. He knew how to save his strength and when to expend it. So I emulated his behavior; I modeled how I worked out during basic training on his example. I respected him then, and I still do today.

But let's face facts. In another life, like in the civilian world, he probably would have considered me a pesky kid and ignored me.

But why then did he help me? Discipline. And not the kind of discipline that is created out of fear of some one else. Instead the military teaches each soldier the proper care and wear of their uniform. It starts off small. I can not express to you the number of threads each soldier in basic has to hand pull out of their freshly issued uniform. The Technical Instructors seem to have a radar-like ability to detect and illustrate each and every stray thread. The results of which are such that a recruit does not want to experience them again.

But this is only the smallest step- pulling loose threads out of uniforms. Soon there is how to properly display the uniform when its not in use, how to polish boots and shoes, and even how to wear the hat.

This is time spent ensuring everyone looks like everyone else. These are shared experiences that allow you to demonstrate that you have paid your dues. That you want to be a part of the crowd of individuals who are all wearing the same clothes that you are. Each uniform and your ability to wear it is a clear indicator of your dedication to your purpose.

Why then could we not use a similar means to teach students how to take pride in their appearance? And can that not bridge into teaching students to take pride in their work?

People who are against the use of school uniforms will tell you that there are no hard scientific facts saying that school uniforms improve the academic performance of a school. They will also tell you that it does not make it safer to attend at a school that has a school uniform. They will also tell you that poorer school districts are more likely to have a uniform policy and that the use of a uniform restricts students' freedom of expression and their right to express themselves.

The purpose of school uniforms should not be to strictly raise the test scores of a school. It does not work like that. There is not a grand machine for a school where you plug in factors and watch grades come out. The purpose of school uniforms should be to and yes I am going to quote on this one. Discipline is a primary instructional function of military academies, and it starts with the proper wearing and care of the uniform; when successful, it ends with a code of citizen conduct, self-esteem and pride. This is a quote from the book "Military High Schools in America" by William Tousdale.

When you look at this against Maslow's hierarchy of needs you can plainly see that the use of school uniforms helps students meet the esteem level of development. Furthermore you can see friendship achieved through the use of uniforms as well. By focusing on schools in poorer districts and point at the lack of increase in school grades you are only ignoring the greater detour to achievement, poverty.

Looking at Maslow some more you can see how violence in a school system further blocks a student's ability to achieve.

That leaves only the last issue that objectors of school uniforms will use against it.

The issue of free speech. For this issue I will once again turn to the book "Military High Schools in America," page 95 and 96.

"A question I consistently asked cadets I interviewed is related to this new social group in which the boy finds himself. I asked them if they ever thought about what their teen years spent at a military academy have meant in relation to what their life in the larger outside teen world might have been. I asked whether they missed being able to dress as they please, change their hair style and color whenever they had a whim to do so, go to fast-food restaurants with friends, attend impromptu parties, drive around with friends, 'hang out,' go to the movies on weekends, attend rock concerts, wear earrings, and have body piercings, tattoos, or brandings, if these appealed to them. In short, I asked whether they regretted not living the public high school life out side of home of permissive parents so common today. With one exception, the answer has been a clear and emphatic "No." One cadet said he sometimes thought about missing the senior prom. More commonly, cadets replies that when they were home on leave they found that they no longer had much in common with the kids they had hung out with before, that they had changed a lot in ways that seemed important to them whereas their old buddies and acquaintances appeared much the same as before. One cadet, a boy from an abusive home, said 'When I look in the mirror I feel proud of what I see, of what I have become.'"

The use of a uniform does not limit ones ability to express oneself. If anything it removes a lot of the distraction that inhibit individuals from making meaningful expressions. This is a stance you would fully expect from a Veteran, that I know. But it might be a stance from an Art Teacher that may confuse you. But discipline is something you need every student to be aware of in the art room.

Consider then an art room. They will have lots of paints and other chemicals that need to be, at the very least, closely supervised when in use. It may have a wheel for pottery, and the tripping hazard that comes with it. If it has a wheel then there will be a kiln. A small furnace that can turn dried mud in to a substance similar to stone. Then there are the collections of scissors, exacto knives, box cutters, paint stirrers and other tools. To throw students in a room with all of this without trying to inspire discipline is not only foolish but is dangerous.

Are school uniforms a bandaid and something that will fix education in America? No and I am not going to say they are. Can they turn a middle tier school and help them achieve more? Absolutely, Maslow illistrates that. Are they a start? Yes they are; a start at least.

Just like getting that brand new uniform you have to take a step, find that first thread and pull it. Have some discipline.

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