March 27, 2013
My malarkey-meter internal alarm clanged last Tuesday night at the Carson High School meeting about proposed school uniforms when Principal Ron Beck opened the meeting with this statement: "The reason for the standard student attire has absolutely nothing to do with the current dress code at all. The total reason we're doing it has to do with safety and security at the school." Really?
Beck explained that the Newtown, Conn., massacre caused the administration to re-examine school safety and security at Carson High, with its 52 doors and 2,200 students. I do believe the school district must improve safety and security at Carson High. I do not believe dressing all students alike is going to measurably improve safety. If school uniforms are the first line of defense, we are in serious trouble.
Parents raised concerns at the meeting about cost ($250 per year per student), the poor quality of the present uniforms at the middle schools, and the suddenness with which the proposal was introduced with little opportunity for families to budget. Where is the data to support the assertion that schools and students are safer with uniforms? Has student achievement at the middle schools improved since uniforms were adopted?
A recent letter to the editor reminded students that Principal Beck warned them last year to adhere to the dress code or there would be consequences. If this is only about safety, then show us how uniforms (which would cost families of growing teens an astounding $550,000 annually) are safer than security guards, a key-card system, and door lock controls. If uniforms are an easy but costly way to avoid enforcing the existing dress code, then the strong objections of parents, students and community members matter.
I believe that uniforms encourage "widget education" that stifles individuality and encourages the institution to consider and teach students uniformly, without regard to individual needs. The purpose of education at the high school level is to help each student become a functioning adult. Uniforms enable one-size-fits-all thinking, which is especially problematic in a school so big that, Mr. Beck concedes, this administration cannot identify each student individually. In the words of Frederick E. Crane, "Mediocrity finds safety in standardization."
The administration claims that the decision has not been made, and the uniforms have not been picked. But so far this process stinks of "decide, announce, defend." The most effective way for the administration to debunk the belief that the decision has already been made is to listen to the outcry and slow the process down. Postpone possible implementation until the 2014-15 school year, and encourage a full and open discussion that involves all students, faculty, parents and community members. Otherwise, a decision crammed down the throats of students and families will not improve the safety, security, unity or achievement of Carson High School students.
Carson High School will hold a public meeting on the uniform proposal at 6 p.m. today.
Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.