Tag Archives: dress code

Dress Like You Mean It, Part 1

Taken me a while to get back to this… but here’s a bit of thinking to keep everyone busy till I get back from England 

I was stunned by the volume, clarity, and quality of comments my “preamble” post generated on the Facebook version of this conversation. I recommend checking them out before you keep reading…. because there’s some amazing stuff there!

Before the conversation gets too far derailed by specific dress code issues, I’d like to park on the theological corner of “modesty” for a few posts.

BACKGROUND: “On These Hang All the Law & the Prophets”
At NCS, we joke that we have three basic rules: 1) Love God. 2) Love your neighbor. 3) Don’t hurt the building (which is merely a restatement of rule #2 for the benefit of our building manager).

Amazingly, those 3 “commandments” really *do* cover the heart and soul of interactions within a school community.

Name me a problem that arises during the school day, and unless it’s a procedural issue regulated by the state of South Carolina, our “rule” most likely grows organically from an application of the Great Commandments.  I used to type up a giant list of classroom rules/policies and hand it out at the beginning of every year. Now I hold a running conversation with each of my classes as needed, usually commencing the first week, to discuss the specifics of loving God and neighbor during the 45 minutes I call “English class.”  Every problem, every conflict will emerge out of one or more people (including me) ignoring God’s basic framework for Life In The Kingdom.

I will fight for this view of a school rulebook. I hope ours remains thin.  We should cap it at 50 rules, and as soon as someone insists on a new one, we can’t implement it until we throw out one of the old ones.

I’m not saying that schools can’t (or shouldn’t) have more specific guidelines suggesting particular consequences for certain behaviors. Sometimes we are bound by law to react in certain ways to a student’s threat against his classmates, or someone’s cry for help. Sometimes it’s wise to at least set up a framework for how the school expects to handle typical classroom problems.

I am saying that, as sinners, our sinful hearts LOVE RULES.  We loooooooooooooooooooove them.

We clutch at the chance to define righteousness by marking a line in the sand: “Here, and no further” or “As long as you don’t ————–” or “I’m righteous as long as I’m doing ______.”  We will straight out gnats with tedious precision just to avoid mentioning the giant camel (or elephant, in the modern proverb) standing over in the corner.

We misunderstand the very heart of goodness. I hope each NCS graduate will always be able to recite Coart’s maxim, “A ‘good kid’ is not the kid who stays out of trouble. A ‘good kid’ is one who does good [deeds].”  In  Scripture, goodness is active. Righteousness results in right actions.  Salvation produces a heart that loves andkeeps God’s commandments.  Yes, we might “stay out of trouble” a little more, but that’s not the definition of our goodness.

I’m not righteous because I avoid certain people, places, music, books, words, movies, or actions.

My righteousness comes from my Savior and Redeemer, Christ, who obeyed perfectly and died willingly. He gives me everything I need for this life of godliness. I can’t add anything to the pile.  Paul says in Colossians 2 that no human law has any power to restrain the sin that’s within my heart.  Only Grace.

*Only* Grace. 

So why bring this up in a discussion of modesty?
 Next time….


~~~~Addendum, 6/23/13

So…. I never got around to writing the rest of this series. Sorry.

Here’s a teaser, though, for good thoughts to keep you going….  A link and a conversation

Dress Like You Mean It: Part 0.5

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…..


Dress Like You Mean It: Part 0

This is the first post in a series about the idea of dress codes. Figured I’d might as well warn you up-front. 

I’m writing as a Christian about Christians doing Christian-y things like education. If you aren’t in that situation but want to comment anyway, feel free. But I’m not going to dialogue with you about what the world in general should be doing, or whether France has the right to ban the burqa. My scope is narrow: Christian secondary education.

Further, these opinions are mine alone and not necessarily reflective of the school where I teach.  You shouldn’t assume that Coart agrees with me either.  I’m a big girl doing my own thinking here.

Finally, I write to think. I don’t write after I think. My views are always in flux and I can’t figure them out until I’ve stated a position that I can consider or reject or alter or whatever. So calm down.  If you disagree with me, your critique could help me formulate a better viewpoint on the subject.

All that said —
Every once in a while, the NCS dress code raises hackles among the student body. It’s always in those rough times of year when life is uncomfortable for a variety of reasons (it’s hot or it’s dark and cold or it’s really really really really really mind-numbingly busy) that the students dust off their rational faculties of debate and begin challenging. These past few weeks have elicited several questions and comments from students, mostly boys, about particular rules that annoy them — like the rule that they must keep their shirts tucked in at all times.

Supposedly, a Christian school’s dress code rests on the concept of modesty, which is certainly mentioned in Scripture. But theology and practice mash up into a nasty train wreck in this area. We’d like to think our dress code is an outgrowth of good theology, but usually the actual policies seem to have little to do with theology and everything to do with practical life at a school and with preventing phone calls from angry parents.

I’m not sure where all this series of posts will go, but I imagine a definition of biblical modesty is in order, along with some musings on whether the phrases “Grace-based education” and “dress code” can coexist peacefully.