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Paul Little: Focus on kids, not their clothes


By: Paul Little

Why not get rid of school uniforms all together? Photo / Otago Daily Times

Once, at intermediate school age, I moved from a school where the uniform included a cap that had to be worn every day to a school where the uniform included a cap that was only worn on special occasions.

On my first day at the latter I was mortified when I found out I was wearing my cap when I wasn’t supposed to. I used to mortify easily. Kids can be sensitive about this stuff, although today’s mortification is likelier to be caused by wearing your cap the wrong way around.

How much worse it would be for a young person to have to dress like a girl when you are a boy, or vice versa – which is how trans students feel about having to wear a uniform designed for members of a more narrowly defined sex.

One solution is to make uniforms the same for all genders – male or female, trans or non, or anywhere in between.

This is one of a range of recommendations reported as being in a document from the Post-Primary Teachers Association called “Affirming diversity of sexualities and gender identities in the school community”.

Many of the recommendations got lost in the hullaballoo as the focus narrowed on the notion boys and girls should wear the same uniforms, which the report didn’t actually recommend.

Instead, it advocates: “Allowing all students to choose from a range of shorts, trousers, skirts of different lengths and styles, with both tailored and non-tailored interchangeable shirts” that “would be progressive in valuing diversity of gender expression”. And how refreshing to see the undervalued practice of tailoring getting a mention in such a document.

The report also talked about getting teachers – and it was particularly looking at you, sports coaches – to sort out their attitudes, about making changing rooms and toilets safe, and about involving respect for diversity in boards’ mission statements and the like.

The recommendations were sensible even if occasionally expressed in words such as “non-binary uniform options provide a safe space in which transitioning students can operate from a position of agency”.

Let’s hope whoever perpetrated that sentence is never allowed near an English class.

You can also judge the merits of the moves by the quality of the position such as that of Family First’s Bob McCoskrie who said in one breath: “Schools should be a ‘safe and affirming environment’ for all students” and “The fact that the PPTA are pushing this ‘diverse sexualities and genders’ agenda should concern all parents.”

The PM and Minister for Living in the 1950s, Bill English, wasn’t too fussed: “It depends what you mean by gender neutral,” he opined.

“Some girls’ schools have girls wearing shorts – I don’t know if that’s gender neutral or just girls wearing shorts.”

Whatever you say, Prime Minister.

What did you say?

The absurd assumption behind this whole debate is there should be uniforms in the first place. Students achieve at schools where people wear what they feel comfortable with and what expresses their identity, not from the joys of military style conformist uniforms.

And bullying comes from the mindset of the bully and those sad individuals will always find something to pick on.

Anyone who needs certain clothes to feel part of a team can always join a team. Individual choice will truly foster diversity. It will create a community of individuals who respect each other’s individuality, not an assemblage of people who are so frightened of each other’s difference that they need everyone to look the same.

Source: NZ Herald


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