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CASUAL CLOTHES VS. FORMAL EDUCATION

09/01/2009 11:53, Published by Anonymous, Categories: In Print, Parenting



I was walking down the school corridor, and all the other kids turned to stare. “Hey Ricky,” said Pam Wintermute, a fellow fifth-grader with whom I was in love, “How come you’re wearing your P.J.s?” I looked down and, horrified, had no answer for her. I fled toward the classroom, wondering, “How’d I forget to get dressed? Why didn’t Mom say anything?” I had no idea what to do except sit red-faced at my desk and pretend nothing was wrong.

I had at least one going-to-school-in-pajamas nightmare each year I was in grade school. Some people have going-to-school-NAKED dreams, but I was too modest for that; I’d have died painfully in my sleep. Even so, these pajama dreams tended to be long and taxing, and I’d wake up exhausted. Little did I know that my dreams were prophetic: Someday children WOULD go to school in pajamas and other clothes with that kind of shapelessness and comfort.

A list of timesaving tips in a parents’ magazine suggests that, in order to ease the morning rush, kids could be put to bed in tomorrow’s attire. I guess it’d be up to each family to work out whether this universal 24-hour costume would be clothes or pajamas. Most kids strike a compromise. Instead of putting on shirts and pants or skirts suitable for sitting at desks and writing in complete sentences, nowadays kids (including mine) go to school in sweat suits, T-shirts and blue jeans suitable for food fights and rolling around on the floor like puppies.

“Get this:” said my wife Betsy, reading the local paper over breakfast. “Jane Wilson wants school uniforms.” (Jane is the president of our school board.)

“No way!” said 10-year-old Sally.

“They can't make us wear them, can they?” asked 13-year-old Marie. She sat at the table wearing her usual teen camouflage – dark and flappy.

Wendy, our kindergartner, sat behind her cereal bowl wearing an insane and flashy combination of unmatched floral prints. (Her outfit might be OK for strolling around the grounds, but she’d have to be talked into wearing something less remarkable before we’d let her go out through the main gates.) Wendy offered no opinion on uniforms, but I knew they would streamline our morning routine.

“What would the uniforms look like?” asked Sally.

“Maybe orange jumpsuits like they wear at the county jail,” I suggested helpfully. The kids looked at me.

“Oh stop,” said Betsy, “They’d probably be dark green or blue with plaid skirts like I used to wear to Catholic school. Boys would probably have to wear neckties.”

“I can’t picture the boys in my class wearing TIES,” said Sally. “Flea collars, maybe.”

“What’s Jane’s official reason?” I asked.

“She says it’d close the gap between the haves and the have-nots,” said Betsy.

“What gap?” I asked. “EVERY kid in town goes to school looking like a bum.”

“Oh stop,” said Betsy. “It says here Wanda Verish favors the idea, too.” Wanda, also on the school board, has a son named Sammy in Wendy’s kindergarten class. Locally famous for being a picky dresser, Sammy will only wear shirts whose sleeves end at mid-bicep, and pants of 100 percent cotton that have no constricting cuff. He says cuffs “choke” his ankles.

“Look out, kids,” I counseled. “You’re going to wear uniforms designed by Sammy Verish.”

“Dad,” said Marie, “YOU don’t think we should wear uniforms, do you?”

This might be the last time she’d ever seek my opinion, but since she’d asked... “Well, leotards help get ballerinas into the mood for leaping around. Maybe student clothes would help make a kid feel like listening to the teacher. It’s worth a try anyhow.”

Marie actually sent a letter to the editor. “I am an individual, and I have a right to dress like one,” she wrote. (Luckily the editor did not respond: Show me a teenager who dresses like an individual, and I’ll show you a kid who lunches alone.)

Marie is disappointed that I’m not going to man the barricades with her, but she doesn’t know about the clinical research into School Clothes I did in my youth. Even though my mom dressed me up like a B-student, I earned only C’s. Some days, after my mom left for work, I’d run back upstairs to change into old blue jeans or something else casual – to match my attitude toward schoolwork. My findings? Good clothes did not enhance my performance, but bad clothes made me feel comfortable about being a slouch.

Every time I’d bring home a report card, my father could see that the B-student attire wasn’t working, and he’d threaten to send me away to wear military-academy gray. Dad may have been onto something, but we’ll never know. He never made good on the threat, and my Inner-Student remained in its pajamas, eating chips, with its feet up.

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