Saturday, March 05, 2005


Bumping into some kids coming home from school yesterday, I started thinking about a news story from earlier in the week. A Muslim girl took her school to court so that she would be allowed to wear a full length jilbab instead of the school uniform.
She won.
This is the kind of story that gets all sorts of different people in a froth for all sorts of different reasons. Hidden agendas were at work on both sides of the debate.
You could stand by the ruling and maintain that the rights of the individual are paramount and that people should be allowed to express their religious beliefs in a free country. You could disagree with the ruling and argue that state schools should be secular. You could go even further and maintain that if the girl and her family disagree so fundamentally with the culture of the school, or even the country they are in, they always have to option of pushing off to another school or another country. Choices were clearly open to her as she did move to another school and doesn’t intend to return to the one she took to court.
So, it was all a bit pathetic really. The school now has to employ one less teacher to offset its legal costs and a few lawyers have sponged a little bit more money to help pay-off their third homes in Tuscany. Few, if any, hearts and minds were won as a result of the verdict. Interestingly, the fact that the girl was represented by Tony Blair's wife wasn't that widely reported. I wonder why?
Fair enough, a decision has been made and we should respect it. Having said that, we could have done without some of the unpleasant rhetoric that followed the case; from both camps. Accusing a school of Islamophobia, even though it consulted with Muslim clerics before establishing its dress code is pathetic. Accusing a school of Islamophobia, when your husband is the single person most responsible for the spread of Islamophobia in this country is worse than pathetic.
As an aside, what is it with the language of political correctness? How is it that we are supposedly afraid of some groups yet hate others?
  • Homophobia
  • Islamophobia
  • Anti-Semitism
Why aren’t there terms like Jewophobia or Anti-Homoism? I may seem to be trivialising serious issues just to come up with silly sounding expressions, and I am, but there is a serious point here as well about the subtle use, or misuse, of language that I will leave be for now.
Anyway, I like the concept of school uniforms and anyone who maintains that they are a fascistic control mechanism, designed to rob children of their individuality at an early age, is a nutcase. That, or they've never seen a group of South London school children in regulation dress. Outside of the Rio Carnival, I can’t think of any other groups that are less uniform. When I was at school you could distinguish each individual in a group of thirty kids just based on their tie knot alone; with the coolest dudes somehow managing to wear ties that were 90% knot, with no more than one inch of tie hanging off it. And as for the shoes ...
Plus points for the wearing of school uniforms include:
  • Most importantly, there is much less pressure on the kids to acquire expensive 'designer-wear' clothing, making the local streets that little bit safer for old ladies shuffling home with their pension money
  • Uniforms encourage an 'esprit de corps' and make it easier to distinguish friend from foe. Both factors are useful in the heat of battle during end of term fights with other schools. On the subject of fights, it really is time that school uniforms across London are updated to include short scabbards, knife proof vests and pouch-mounted field dressing kits.
  • Unless the kids are organised enough to maintain a separate suit of clothing in a railway station locker somewhere, it's a lot harder to bunk off from school and spend the afternoon in a pub or titty bar if you're wearing a uniform. Harder but not impossible …
  • A group of kids in uniforms looks great should your entire school ever break out into a spontaneous song and dance number, complete with swooping tracking shots taken from a helicopter flying low over the playground
  • Speaking as someone who didn’t realise that he had crap dress sense until after he left school, it's great getting up in the morning and not worrying about what to put on. Plus, unless they're sitting next to you, people won’t notice that you've been wearing the same clothes for several weeks
It's also no accident that exactly the same benefits apply to wearing a suit to work. Shame most offices don't have adult playground facilities though ...


Ian said...

The other advantage of school uniforms is, of course, if you get stabbed by a gang of youths it gives the police a bit of a head start as regards where to start looking - just make sure you get a look at the badge on the blazer as you fall to the pavement clutching your wound.

Stef said...

Also, my old school uniform came in a snazzy shade of maroon that did a fine job of obscuring blood stains ...