The Corner


Uniformity and Individuality: A Tale

Schoolkids on the outskirts of Jakarta, January 2014 (Beawiharta / Reuters)

In yesterday’s Impromptus, I had some notes on National Review’s cruise last week in the Caribbean (and some photos to boot). A few of the notes concerned H. J. Robinson High School on Grand Turk Island. Here’s one of them:

At HJRHS, you wear a uniform — a smart uniform: navy-blue shorts or skirt; light-blue button-down shirt; matching backpack.

I’m a sucker for school uniforms. I believe in them totally — for schools of virtually every sort. That’s the conservative in me. The uniforms breathe order, civilization, learning. At the same time, the libertarian in me says, “Don’t tread on me! I’ll wear whatever the hell I want, expressing my individuality!”

Time and place for everything, of course …

Of course.

I wanted to share an excellent letter from an excellent reader. She writes,

Like you, I have always been of two minds about school uniforms. The conservative in me loves the tradition. The libertarian bristles at the conformity.

I once talked with a teacher whose school had switched to uniforms. She told me that, to her surprise, they actually enhanced her ability to see her students as individuals. Before, she saw “the girl who wears black all the time” or “the boy who likes T-shirts from rock-and-roll tours.” Before, she noticed, however subconsciously, who was in name brands and who in hand-me-downs. Now she saw them: their faces. And the kids responded to one another differently as well. The uniform removed an invisible barrier of some kind. I confess this story put me solidly in the “uniform” camp.

In related news, my first-grade daughter wears a uniform to school. The freedom from the drama of her deciding what she is going to wear each morning is worth the price of her tuition.

I bet! Great.

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