Dress Like You Mean It: Part 0.5

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Topic: Dress codes at Christian schools
Standard disclaimers apply.

The dress code question seems to be a Lose-Lose situation for nearly everyone involved:

Students, nearly by definition, balk at restrictions of any kind on their free exercise of choice. Mix in a little adolescence and you’ve got a battle royale all ready to burst forth into an otherwise contented student community.  Well-trained students — the ones who have learned to ask questions and critique ideas instead of just swallowing them — usually pose the greatest trouble for dress code enforcement. It’s hard to give a convincing answer to questions like “Why must I wear my shirt tucked in?”

Parents paying thousands of dollars in tuition want to see their students looking like students hard at work, notrock concert attendees or couch potatoes or fashion victims. They’re also usually weary from fighting the battle over clothing with their teen daughters on an almost-daily basis.

Teachers don’t want to have to damage their own personal relationships with students (which are so productive in the educational process) over something as difficult as the question of appropriate clothing. Male teachers are especially endangered — if a girl is dressed provocatively, my male colleagues might end up spending half the class period fighting against the temptation to lust at what a clueless teen is letting all hang out …. yet that male teacher will probably elicit a sexual harassment lawsuit if he speaks honestly about his predicament.  Female teachers end up becoming the Clothing Police, an unwelcome duty. A firm dress code or uniform is practical and comforting.

As usual, the variety of viewpoints also mask their corresponding weaknesses:
Students, by definition, are young … and the young do NOT have an accurate view of life.
Their lack of experience in the world of daily employment, for example, robs them of any sense of perspective when it comes to living under restrictions.  Truth is — every workplace has a dress code, and many are more strict than a school’s dress code.  I fight most dress code battles at NCS with the boys. They will do anything to keep their shirts untucked. I don’t really give a care what they do with their clothing … but if my administration is going to impose a total of four rules on the boys (*gasp*), I’m going to try to enforce them.  And when those boys get their first job working at ChikFilA or OutBack or BiLo, their managers will demand a certain level of professionalism.

Parents and teachers can hide behind a dress code instead of grappling with real issues of dress, decorum, appropriateness, maturity, and modesty.  It IS easier to say “You can’t wear that!” than to take the incredible investment of time necessary to teach a kid why certain clothes aren’t welcome in certain situations. This is especially true of fathers teaching daughters what real modesty means and how men think. Teaching and parenting are Cross-bearing duties. They demand that we sacrifice ourselves (and our time and energy and comfort level) to invest in the next generation in meaningful ways.

Further, adults are just as quick as teens to judge harshly anyone who doesn’t dress a particular way. The difference is that teens judge on the basis of “coolness” or currency, while adults form their character assessments on firmly established moral codes and social norms calibrated for an adult’s world.  The stereotype of the father who forbids his daughter to date the boy wearing the tight skater jeans and lip ring holds true. Here in the South, the saying is “Don’t drink or chew or run with boys who do.” It’s a horrible theology of sin, but since it rhymes and nicely matches the South’s moralistic emphasis on external righteousness as a replacement for true righteousness, it’s a credo many adults live by.

Truth is, linking external codes for clothing to theological principles of modesty leads many Christian schools into the dangerous waters of Law-fencing and attempting to label internal heart attitudes on the basis of what a kid is wearing (or not).

And here I need to break in to discuss the whole issue of “modesty” as a concept.   Biblical Christianity is often described as misogynistic (woman-hating).  I disagree with that assessment because I don’t think biblical modesty lays the burden on females to be “modest” so the men can “stop lusting” …. but it’s easy to see why we bear that accusation …. More soon…..


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