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Subject: Speaking of Uniforms: My Thoughts

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Date Posted: 22:05:29 08/28/10 Sat
In reply to: Cindy 's message, "Speaking of Uniforms..." on 19:45:39 08/25/10 Wed

A few facts to consider: In the states, uniforms are used mostly in private schools, which, due to issues such as religious freedom and our deference to private enterprise in all things, are given enormous latitude in how they teach. (Creation science!) The story, if true, certainly makes more sense in a private school context, where the Principal might conceivably have total latitude to demote a visitor to student status, and enroll her as a student in his school. In the States, there is much more of a "like-it-or-lump-it" attitude for jobs, schools, and most private endeavors.

It is interesting to note that the two radio DJs listened to the story without ever questioning it. I won't say the story is likely, but I do believe it is possible. Although it was not mentioned during the call-in, remember too that unlike most other countries, the schools here also permit corporal punishment, so presumably that might have at least been on the menu as well.

If true, the story is fascinating for both what is said, and what is left unspoken.

Let us assume for purposes of argument that it is true. To me, it is blatantly obvious that the Principal took advantage of the mother’s predicament to effectively strip her of her adult rights and privileges and drop her back into adolescence. Why? His motives are easy to understand. As a bureaucrat constantly besieged by parental complaints and pleas for special privileges, it must have been enormously satisfying for him to turn the tables on a demanding parent and use her own request as an excuse to place her squarely under his thumb.

If you doubt his true intentions, consider his uniform requirement. It would have been far easier to simply let her sit in on her son’s classes as an adult. As an alternative he could have quite reasonably requested her to follow those rules that made sense in her particular circumstance. Instead the Principal dogmatically insisted that she follow ALL the rules, knowing full well that his edict meant she had to suffer the indignity of dressing – and thus being treated like -- a juvenile.

The only logical pretense for this request would be to make her presence as unobtrusive as possible by making her a student – and then making her toe-the-line. As an educator, he knew that uniforms can be a powerful tool for enforcing identity, and he insisted on the school uniform because he knew it was the key to reducing her to schoolgirl status. One can imagine him smiling with satisfaction as he spotted the discomfited mom in her crisp new uniform, nervously biting her lip, awkwardly tugging down her skirt, scampering to her classes down the unfamiliar halls, lining up with the other girls, scurrying to obey her teacher’s brusque commands. How would the Principal treat her when he saw her in the halls? If he was in a benign mood, perhaps he would treat her to a condescending smile, or a pat on the head. If not, perhaps he would reprimand her in front of her classmates, admonishing her to straighten her tie or pull up her socks.

The school would most likely have restrictions about cell phones or electronic devices already. The Principal might also quite reasonably request that she leave her purse at home, and carry only her student ID, to prevent her locker from becoming a target for thieves, further increasing her sense of vulnerability. Any piercings would have to go, of course, and as for her hair, might it be more convenient for her to cut it short, or to arrange it into a ponytail or perhaps some nice pigtails, so that it didn't get in the way?

As the gum-chewing offense makes clear, she could expect no special treatment. If anything, her former status as a parent might cause the Principal and the other teachers to hold her to a higher standard, and deal with her transgressions in a more forceful manner than they would be empowered to do if she were not an adult. Might the Principal in particular take a special satisfaction in being strict with her? If she dilly-dallied at her locker, might he speed her along with a sharp SWAT on the seat of her skirt?

The gum-chewing incident suggests a predilection towards the latter approach. Clearly he had instructed the staff to treat her PRECISELY as they would any other student; otherwise they never would have sent her to his office for such a trivial transgression, or if they had, he never would have detained her. Instead, he chose to punish her for gum chewing, which wouldn’t even be an offense if she were regarded as an adult and not a rebellious hoyden.

With her uniform infraction the Principal pushed the envelope still further. Why not send her home to change? One can reasonably infer that she was not permitted to drive to school, and that she had to either walk or take the school bus. But he could have easily allowed her to call a cab, and go home and change on her own, or simply sent her back to class with a warning.

Instead, he escalated her transgression and further emphasized her status as a naughty delinquent by calling her mother! Note that he didn’t call her husband, or a girlfriend. Instead, he forced her mother to drop whatever she was doing and deal immediately with her daughter’s misbehavior. By forcing her mother to fetch her underwear, instead of simply allowing her to handle the issue herself, he reinforced her dependence on her parents, while making the situation as inconvenient for both her and her mother as he could.

One can easily imagine her angry mother arriving, brassiere in hand, with a thing or two to say to her careless daughter! One can imagine the daughter, eyes downcast, her feet tucked under her, fidgeting as her mother and the Principal reprimanded her for her careless disobedience. Indeed, does anyone think the Principal would have objected in the slightest if the mother had turned the daughter over her knee and disciplined her on the spot, with the Principal watching?

Fodder, perhaps, for another story, as the original poster suggests…

One additional thought. It is interesting to speculate on the psychological impact the uniform may have had on the mother. Did dressing and being treated like a teenager make her more likely to misbehave? Or to put it another way, was chewing gum so irresistible to her that she had to be reprimanded for it TWICE? And since she was obviously briefed on the uniform requirements when she enrolled, why did she select a black bra? Wouldn’t a passing glance at a mirror (which any young woman would have made on her way to school) reveal her error?

Was it an honest mistake, or open defiance? Was she showing off for the other girls? If so, punishment was definitely in order!

Of course, once such a role reversal was begun, it might quickly consume her. Francois asks who cared for her seriously ill son. The fact that her mother was summoned to the school suggests that perhaps her mother was staying with her, taking care of her son, and supervising her through the entire process. A structure that ensured that discipline at school would be matched by discipline at home.

Once the adult mom agreed to become a student, the Principal was empowered to impose all sorts of fatuous restrictions on her. She wasn't allowed to go home and change, which makes sense, since under school rules she could hardly be expected to have a parking space. Thus she was forced to walk to school, or take he bus, which means that all of her neighbors would now see her, and begin to treat her as a schoolgirl as well.

One can imagine her embarrassment standing on the corner waiting for her bus or walking past their houses as her amused, smartly dressed neighbors passed her on their way to work. How many of them might take advantage of her loss of social status to settle a score, or simply for their own amusement? For example, might they arrange for her to become some sort of student representative, which would require her to appear, in uniform and in character, around town at various meetings and events? Might a work rival arrange a field trip to her employers, so her subordinates could enjoy the spectacle of their boss in a school uniform, being ordered about by her teacher?

The fact that the mother freely agreed to wear the uniform and abide by the school's countless petty restrictions, and her amused call into the radio show to recount her adventures, suggests that this was a reciprocal relationship, and that she embraced her new role with relish. The multiple gum chewing violations strongly suggest that she was a young woman seeking structure and discipline. Is this the story of a “teenager” rebelling against an authority, who inevitably responds with more punishment, and by restricting her behavior further? If so, the Principal would have no choice but to escalate her punishments. On some level, did she want to be punished, just at the Principal wanted to punish her? It’s hard to imagine why she would have phoned into a radio show to brag about her experiences if she did not enjoy them on some level, or realize that others would find her tails of crime and punishment intriguing.

Let us hope that on one of her visits to the Principal, she received the structure and discipline she so clearly needed.

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