Town Square

I'm almost ready to wonder about school uniforms

Original post made by Worried Parent, Midtown, on Oct 25, 2007

I overheard the conversation yet again this afternoon. Elementary school girls were talking about another girl behind her back and putting her down because she is not wearing expensive clothes. I have heard this coming from 2nd through 5th grade students. I have heard it personally at 3 different Palo Alto elementary schools. In talking with some other parents, I am aware of it happening at 8 different elementary schools. And it’s not like this is a new revelation. I’ve heard things like this for the past 4 years. I’ve intervened, but only to get blank looks.

I realize that there are a lot of affluent families here, but I find myself upset when conversations like this happen and children are excluded because they don’t wear expensive clothes, shoes, accessories or whatever. The language used is hurtful.

It’s times like these that I begin to wonder about school uniforms and how they might level the field. When you hear, “Oh my god - can you believe what she is wearing?”, followed by a break down description in a disdainful tone of voice coming from a 2nd grader, that’s when I think about the uniform idea in a more positive light.

Why post today? I'm just more disgusted than usual and am interested to hear from others.


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Posted by I agree
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Oct 25, 2007 at 3:52 pm

There is an interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal about middle school girls criticizing each other's fashion sense. I grew up wearing a uniform to school and I loved it. I knew exactly what to pull on every morning and it took about two minutes to get dressed.

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Posted by Pat Markevitch
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 25, 2007 at 4:32 pm

Uniforms aren't the answer. Because unlike boys who are taught at an early age to work things out, girls are told to be nice and not rock the boat. This causes girls to act out in a passive aggressive fashion. I will give you an example. Instead of resolving conflict openly, they will sometimes resort to talking behind other people's backs. You may overhear them say things like: "If you are going to be friends with so-and-so, you can't be my friend." I remember being told this when I was a kid growing up in Palo Alto. Back then, Palo Alto was a middle class town and not affluent like it is today. This type of behavior crosses all economic levels, it is not exclusive to affluent areas. If the kids all had uniforms, then they would talk about the girls hair or her size or her laugh. Some boys resort to this but not nearly as much as girls. I still see this behavior carried over into adulthood. I recommend a great book called Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons. It explains all about this passive aggressive behavior. It was a real eye opener for me. I hope anyone who has a daughter reads this book.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2007 at 9:22 am

As someone who grew up in a school with a very strict uniform, we all managed to find ways round it to show off. Backpacks, laces in tie up shoes, hair styles and barettes, watches, school supplies, you name it. We found ways around everything. Guess what, it did make life easier though and I would still recommend a uniform. If nothing else, it stops those long phone calls before school asking everyone what they are wearing!!

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Posted by my opinion
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 5, 2007 at 8:10 pm

Uniforms are not the solution. The thing that should be done is to teach your girls better than to berate others for their clothing choice; uniforms are just another evasion tactic. If this is really an issue (which is definately is), we should be teaching our girls better than to be this way. Changing the uniforms would prevent girls from talking about each others' clothes, but it may stem into them gossiping about other girls' general character. Usually this issue continues into high school, leading for an unpleasant experience for anyone who is the recipient of these claims. If girls are taught early to treat people the way they want to be treated (what ever happened to the "Golden Rule"?) and are continually reminded throughout school, then we may have a solution.

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Posted by Grandparent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 5, 2007 at 8:59 pm

As a grandparent of elementary school children, I would like to see some of the teachers dress and behave more appropriately.

I find it appalling when teachers have tattoos on their lower backs which can be seen when the teacher bends over. My grandson and his friends told me that it was a dagger. The boys in Third grade quickly learned to drop things on the ground so she would bend over and they could get a peek at her tattoo.

They later told me that it was called a "Tramp Stamp". Well that speaks a lot right there.

Another young teacher had a serpent tattooed up her leg, and wore a short skirt at the beginning of school to show it off. This was in First Grade.

Many small children cannot understand the wild change in hair colors in some of these teachers - purple, pink, orange, etc.

Some of the younger children do not understand pierced noses, and multiple piercing in the ears.
My grandson told me he thought that only bulls wore rings in their nose.

These young children are very impressionable.
If these teachers wonder why they are not getting the respect they deserve, perhaps they should look at the impression they are making on these small children.

I also feel that a uniform would be beneficial to both boys and girls.

I have noticed that my grandson acts more politely when he is dressed in a blazer and chinos, compared to how he acts when he wears his Spiderman T-shirt, shorts, and sandals to school.
I feel these clothes are more appropriate for a day at the playground, and not at school.

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Posted by PApa
a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:36 am

Pop culture influences, school bullying and materialism reasons aside, I think uniforms are a great thing. They save money on clothing budgets, time in the morning getting dressed and (I think) promote a sense of school spirit too. The schools could even let the kids get involved in the process: have them choose the styles/colors then have a school vote on it each year. Schools can still have casual Fridays where kids "can express themselves" with their clothes. Though I think schools should be promoting more intellectual means of self-expression so children are not so easily influenced by retailers and their brain-washing ad campaigns.

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Posted by the Mamas and the Papas
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:48 am

"Though I think schools should be promoting more intellectual means of self-expression so children are not so easily influenced by retailers and their brain-washing ad campaigns."
Replace "schools" with "parents" and I whole-heartedly agree with you. It's the parents, after all, who take their kids shopping. Place the blame/responsibility where it rightfully belongs.

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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 7, 2007 at 12:50 pm

Dear Grandparent -

I agree with your thoughts regarding the teachers, I think in almost any profession, when you have piercings, tatoos, etc. you receive (and deserve) much less respect.

What I don't agree with is your comments about what belongs on a playground in terms of clothing. Young children in school should spend their day doing messy science, making wonderful messy art, sitting on the floor in class, on the playground, running, hanging from the monkey bars, etc. Formal clothes have no place in a well-rounded school.

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Posted by dude
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 7, 2007 at 1:17 pm

I know this has little to do with uniforms, a bit more to do with additude of students in Palo Alto, generalized. I think kids should spend some time in the wilderness, preferably at a youngish age. Having to learn stuff in the outdoors really connects people, because they get the same treatment, and they are all going throught the same hardships. In a personal experience; my worst enemy and I were paired in a outdoors group together, we had the a really hard time together, but after 3 weeks in Yosemite we learned to respect eachother, and deal with stuff without trash talk/gossip.

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Posted by natasha
a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 7, 2007 at 1:33 pm

I'm with you dude. There's a great book on this topic called "Last Child In The Woods" -- highly recommend it. It talks all about how kids today are completely unconnected with nature. In our family we go on "nature detox" when the whole silicon valley thing gets to be too much, which is about every week. Just go hike Foothill Park or Arastradero Preserve, walk the tidepools, etc. It just brings your whole energy to a comfortable level. Camping is even better.

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Posted by Anamika
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2007 at 1:43 pm

You can teach your child to respect the other children(s) choice of clothes - but is it going to work all across the board? NO .. it is not and we all know that. There is going to be one show-off in the classroom, who will care less about respecting the other's choice of clothes. If this kid is the bossy kind, soon it will lead to conflicts amongst other kids who are 'taught' at home to respect other choices and not be mean.

Uniforms are the way the way to go ! I grew up in a uniform culture. Yes, there were other ways to show off - like backpacks, pens, erasers - but they didn't create much of an impact. It was very easy on my parents to get us kids ready in the morning - there was no question about - what will I wear - all I wore is the uniform !

I have seen one family bend over backwards in tough economic times, since their only child wanted an Eddie Bauer sweater that cost $80! The mom told me - all the kids from his school wear such clothes, he is the only one that stands out. They did try to teach him the values to respect what they could afford - but, in reality, there are times when parents just give in to get their kids to fit-in.

Teacher's & clothes - Grandma you are absolutely right. Teachers need to pay more attention to their attire.

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Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 7, 2007 at 2:21 pm

About your friend, Anamika, that's excessive. Tell them to move to Escondido -- a lot of the kids there have little fashion sense. They seem to have either a wider range of self-expression or a greater indifference. Either way it's refreshing.

In all my years there, wearing the right thing has never seemed to be an issue. I'm not sure what to attribute this to: bringing clothing styles from other countries, limited income, different values (a lot of these kids' parents are students themselves), or an unawareness of the 'hip' places to shop.

As a parent it's great - I never have to worry about my kids getting teased for wearing some of the bizarre color-pattern combinations they put together. One day I saw a little girl wearing what looked to be all her favorite clothes at once. Layers of skirts, layers of tops. The cutest little eyesore you'd ever meet!

Uniforms don't solve the problem - they just make it tolerable.

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2007 at 8:02 pm

"Wear what you want" was what I learned and what I teach my kids. They learn not to judge themselves and others by their clothes (or hair, or body art, or whatever). It's how you act that matters, not how you dress.

If others want to wear uniforms (children or adults), that's fine of course. But I personally am happy that we are less "uniform" in dress and appearance that when we all were kids, and more tolerant than we used to be. Don't judge the book by its cover, or a person by the way they look.