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Lloyd Waters: Do high schools need a dress code?

October 06, 2012|By Lloyd Waters

I used to have a dress code policy at my prison, and was surprised recently when I read of Superintendent Joe Padasak’s difficulty as he attempts to implement a dress code policy for the Chambersburg Area Senior High School.

A school dress code can often help to reduce problems, but then again it doesn’t appear that we Americans are concerned very much about dress these days, or school problems.

Just maybe Superintendent Padasak’s goal is to create a more safe school environment for the students who attend Chambersburg high. Apparently he believes that some structure and order can be realized through an implemented dress code.   

Back in the ’60s at Boonsboro High School, I was counseled one day for wearing black pants and a white shirt to school. It seems that week there were a lot of boys wearing the same attire and school officials thought we were up to something. I told the school counselor I liked wearing black pants and a white shirt, and besides Elvis liked those colors.

The world has changed a lot since then. More kids today want to be gang members. 

Our dress norms have changed too.

The simple aspect of wearing a “hood(ie)” became controversial when Geraldo Rivera suggested that Travon Martin in Florida would not have been shot if he wasn’t wearing a hoodie.

A lot of our youth innocently wear hoodies today. As one teacher at the recent dress code meeting suggested, kids need an opportunity to be “creative” and do not need a dress code.

In the 1971 riot at the Attica (N.Y.) state prison, all the inmates wore hoods to conceal their identity. That was creative. As you read the local newspapers and descriptive reports of bank robberies, most of the robbers wear hoods. That, too, is creative.

Many people remember those examples above and today “hoodies” are no longer a clothing of mere innocence.

What would happen if the students, on the pretense of “creativity,” requested to wear hooded sweatshirts to class at Chambersburg High? 

One parent at the meeting asked the superintendent if it would be all right to wear a  T-shirt that said, “I am American”.

Maybe other students, expressing their creativity, might want to wear  T-shirts with different pictures and messages like Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, Malcolm X, President Obama, Poncho Villa,   James Earl Ray, Tupac Shakur, Nikita Khrushchev, the Joker and Martin Luther King.

Jesus, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi  T-shirts might be a little too provocative for the school hallways.

Awe, what the heck Joe, why not just permit everything? The more “creativity” the better: 

“We’re letting you back in school, Jesus. We’re just not telling the ACLU this time.”

Einstein  T-shirts would be OK too; seeing a student wearing an Einstein  T-shirt might tend to renew my belief in our education system. 

It’s also quite popular these days to wear one’s pants down around the knees.

Nothing offensive, mind you, just our youth displaying a little more of their “creativity,” or whatever. We shouldn’t be alarmed by this behavior; they’re just expressing themselves. 

I sometimes think we protest too much. Why not just permit our evolving youth to evolve and not get too excited by the changes that are coming our way.

Then again, by not providing a little structure and guidance, that “creativity” notion can often get our kids into some serious trouble later in life.

I can hardly wait to see the results of the new dress code.

For now, Superintendent Padasak and the community seem to be at odds on the proposed dress code issue. One side trying to hang on to a little organized structure that might minimize or prevent bigger problems, and the other side promoting yet more permissiveness that might bring greater tragedy to the neighborhood.

Who will win this dress code debate? Not necessarily the one who makes the most sense.


Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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