Homeschool or Traditional School?

When I talk about the possibility of homeschooling my children, many people are skeptical. Stereotypically homeschoolers are anti-social religious zealots. But is that the reality? As with many stereotypes, there are people who meet that description, but many do not. I would venture to say that most homeschooled kids do not meet that description.

When looking up information on line I am having a difficult time finding any support at all of the stereotype. I like to have information from both sides, but it seems that the only people who find it worth talking about are either homeschoolers themselves or have some reason to be biased. The information that I am finding cite numerous studies that support the idea that homeschooled children are better socialized than children in traditional schools, and have an easier time getting into college. I would like to know more about these studies, and I wish that they had larger focus groups. I also would like to know how these students were found.

If the children for these studies were found in homeschool support groups, they are already part of the homeschooling community that actively engages in the community. Many of these kids are also active in other clubs and activities. I hesitate to trust the statistics completely because of this possible bias. It is possible that there is an unrepresented amount of children who are at home, isolated from people whose beliefs do not agree with their parents’, perhaps even homeschooled to avoid discovery of abuse. This is obviously a worse-case scenario, and I doubt that there are very many of these, but the scenario just points out how biased the studies may be.

So far this sounds like a real downer on homeschool, but that is far from being my intention. I simply want to point out a few holes in the research. All of that said, I would like to homeschool my children because I do believe that it can be beneficial. The key word is ‘can’. Because the parents are in charge, the parents have control over how homeschooling turns out.

Many homeschool parents choose to have their kids learn through the community, which means that they built relationships with people from all walks of life, in many different settings. This is the type of thing that traditional schools have great difficulty with. Students spend most of the day with children their own age, learning social skills from people who are no more skilled than they are. Once they get out of school, so much time is spent on homework, that doing anything outside of school is a great challenge. There are many studies out right now about the levels of stress on students, even in elementary schools.

The differences between how homeschoolers and traditional students spend their days has a huge impact on their social skills as well as their maturity and goals. Homeschool students have more time to pursue the things that interest them rather than only focusing on the things that are chosen for them. This gives them a greater sense of personal identity, and a love of learning. I believe that everyone is born innately curious about the world, but the way that schools have traditionally taught takes all the fun out of it and makes it a chore. While homeschoolers may gain more in the way of study skills, I believe that it is this love of learning that contributes more to their success after school.

Many people who think that homeschool is a good thing, but don’t want to deprive their children of some part of the school experience, be that the rites of passage like prom, or the perceived social benefits, decide to supplement traditional school with home based education or outings. That is a great idea, and I wish that more people would do that. There is one flaw, however; doing this does not give all of the benefits of homeschool and traditional school together. You end up with all of the ups and downs of the school environment and end up with very little time to spend on this type of enrichment. When it is possible, it can help to negate some of the negative associations that students can get to learning, and give them access to more information, which is certainly better than nothing. Many people though choose to homeschool not because of the perceived benefits, but to avoid the common downfalls of schools.

Schools foster a very specific type of social outlook. Students are pressured to fit in, which makes it more difficult for them to ‘find themselves’. This is supposed to happen during the growing up period, but in our culture there is a struggle for people as they leave school and adjust to the real world, only to find that the person they were trying so hard to be has no place in that world, and they don’t know who they are underneath that. Homeschoolers on the other hand, never experience that massive peer pressure and, provided that their parents allowed them freedom, they already have all of that figured out, which gives them a head start in their post-school lives.

Teachers in traditional schools can try their best to study things that their students are interested in, and to share their own passions, but despite this, much of the time students are studying things that they have little interest in. Not all students are interested in the same things, and it is impossible to cover everyone, someone will be interested in everything, another student may find that his interests are never discussed.

What are some other reasons that parents choose to homeschool? In general it is to have more control over the things that your kids learn. This can be behaviors (bullying, maturity, study skills), ways of thinking (religion, tolerance), or really anything. There are some things that kids can learn in public school that they do not want their kids learning, whether that is evolution or intolerance of others, homeschool allows parents to teach their children what they want, for better or worse.

Many of the benefits that I see to homeschooling are really just logic, whether or not the studies are trustworthy, one can see that spending time with many different people means learning to communicate effectively with different types of people. It makes sense that if you are able to study the things that you love, you will love learning. But this does bring up a conundrum. How do you teach the things that a child needs in life but has no interest in?

That really depends. To me it seems that in order to be well-rounded, you do not need a high-school level education in every subject. More important than certain subjects is the ability to acquire information. First up is reading – this one is easy – let the kid read about things they find interesting. My mother is a librarian at a middle school. Every year she meets many students who tell her that they do not like reading. So she asks them what they are interested in and sends them to that area, or suggests something they might like. Even if that ‘I don’t like to read’ idea does not go away, they usually leave with a book or two and will come back – even if it means sneaking away from their friends to do it.

Study skills, like learning about quality sources, looking for differing opinions, and different ways to present the information (formal presentation, written paper, power point etc.) can all be taught, like reading, in the context of any material the child is interested in.

It is not so much the material that we need to know in today’s society, but the skills we use to acquire information and interact with the world. If you are not an engineer, math is only so helpful your day to day life. But you do need those basics. And those basics can be taught in fun ways. I will not even try to delve into that here, just run a search on ‘hands on math’ and you will find hundreds of ideas, even into middle school level.

In the interest of understanding quality sources, I would also put learning the scientific method in the category of life skills. Many people seem to misunderstand what science is. Science is not a collection of infallible facts, it is a system of best-guesses. Science gives us a way to consistently improve our understanding of the world by providing a framework with which to come up with new ideas and narrow the possibilities nearer and nearer ‘the truth’. All with the understanding that we will probably never know the full truth.

Beyond that, education can largely be child-led. As much as I think that people need to understand history, this is more about learning about cause and effect. The people who make decisions need to be well versed in the past so that they can use that to make informed decisions. That said, if history is taught in fun ways, and focusing on a child’s interests, everyone should be able to find some sort of history to teach. After all history is just a collection of true stories, and what child does not like hearing stories.

The other thing that I would like people to have more knowledge of in general is different religion. There is a great emphasis on learning one’s own religion, and I think that is fine, but in order to have an understanding of others, we need to understand a little about their beliefs. I understand that this may not fit into everyone’s interests, but as a protection against the dangers of acting on a misunderstanding, if the lessons of forming an opinion only after doing research, which can be taught with any subject matter, I think that the worst aspects of ignorance on this can be negated.

So homeschool or traditional school? That decision rests largely on the type of people the parents are. If they will use homeschool to isolate and indoctrinate their children, I do not believe that is good for the children or society, but if homeschool will be used to give the children the opportunity to learn to love learning, and find their place in the world then if you can do it, go for it!

That said, from a practical perspective, how do you make it work? Unfortunately, no matter how much the parents might be amazing teachers, or might benefit their children, if they cannot afford to have one parent stay home with the kids, homeschooling is usually not an option. Some people might be able to find a way to have each parent work opposite schedules, or have the child in the care of others for some of the time. This takes a very large commitment, and often rests on a delicate balance.

Homeschool can be an amazing experience, and that I wish everyone could have, but not all parents are suited for it, and even more cannot fit it into their lives. It is unfair that something that has so much potential is only an option for so few. It is also unfair that the stereotypes may prevent people from ever trying something that could be so beneficial.

 

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Should I have Kids?

This is a common question these days, and I know I struggled with it. For many people the answer is obvious, for others it is not. I know that when I was trying to make this decision I looked to others to tell me what to do. Obviously that is not the best way to make such a personal choice, but it is easier to just do what you are told than to make a choice, or to be the one held accountable if your decision is not the best. In order to possibly help, I will tell you a bit about how I made my decision.

When I was little, I always wanted company. I lived in a small town with very few children my own age. I always wanted siblings, and I would often pretend that I had them. But I was a very bossy kid, and I found that my imaginary friends didn’t complain, so I usually pretended to be a mother. I remember imagining a line of millions of babies following me around no matter where I went.

In elementary school, most of my friends were several years younger than I was, and I spent my recesses ‘mothering’ them. I taught them some arts and crafts, as well as playground games. But really only a few of them do I really remember, they were the ones who I played with a lot, but it was mostly an ever-changing group of younger kids that were willing to listen. At this time, one of the greatest compliments I ever received was that I would make a great mother.

It may seem odd then that by high school I had decided unequivocally that I would never have children. By this point I had not really spent much time with young kids in several years, the most I had really seen of them is grocery store temper tantrums. All of the anti-teen pregnancy campaigns had worked better on me than intended. I was completely disgusted by anything baby. Pregnancy sounded miserable, and the physical changes like bigger feet and un-losable weight did not seem worth it. All for an outcome that did not sound so great to me; sleepless nights, diapers, burping, feeding, cleaning… I could go on. And the kids themselves seemed like nothing but trouble, at the time I was not a perfect angel, and I knew people who were way worse. The spoiled kids at the store didn’t help either. It all seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I enjoy my freedom, and I did not want to be tied down. That said, I had always known that if for some reason I did end up with kids, I would do the best I could for them, but I was terrified that it would not be good enough.

I kept this attitude until long into my marriage, but it was wearing through a bit. I knew that a lot of what had shaped my opinion was about teen pregnancy, and since that is not where I was in my life anymore it was not a bad thing at that point. My concerns still were there, but the more that I spent time with people my age and older who had good kids, the more my fears about spoiled kids and rule breaking subsided. I was still scared stiff by the idea that I would not be good enough. I spent several years debating whether or not to have kids. I knew my husband wanted kids, and that he would be a great father. He never pressured me, the only time it even came up was when I talked about it, but I did want to give him something special, which might be part of why the idea kept coming up at all.

After awhile of doing a lot of soul searching, internet searching, and pros and cons lists it occurred to me that I would be happy with either outcome. This may not sound like much, but for me it was an epiphany. Still terrified that I may not be good enough, I knew that I would not be as bad as many parents. I also was beginning to form ideas of how kids learn behaviors and the different things that people can do to shape them, so I told myself that I would do whatever I could to make my kids the best they can be, and they would not be the spoiled ones in the store, but rather the (probably more numerous) ones that I had never really noticed because they were so well-behaved.

We stopped trying to avoid getting pregnant. After awhile, a close friend, who was deliberately waiting, got pregnant. I was shocked to discover that I was jealous. I thought that the world had decided that I was not worthy of kids. I was rather surprised at how hurt I was. We did not change anything that we were doing, but this realization helped me to know that the decision that I had made was not a bad one for me.

Soon enough, I did get pregnant, and we had our son. Now we are expecting our second child. I am very glad to have kids, but I would never tell someone that they should. There is one argument in favor of having children that I would like to take this opportunity to dispute. I do not think that they fill any void that I had before. I know that many parents would think that is a horrible thing to say, but in reality my life was complete before I had kids, and it is complete now. Think of it like a pie chart of my family. Each family member has their own slice, but there is not some void represented that a child would fill. Each kid also gets a slice, but before the pie was still at 100%.

I know that some people are not cut out to have kids. I know that some people’s lives would be unsuitable for raising kids. I know that some people cannot afford kids. I know that some people just don’t like kids. I have been there and I respect that. If that is you and you are struggling to decide because you feel pressured by others, stand your ground. Down the line you might change your mind, or not. Either way it is okay. Right now, you come first. It is your happiness that matters. If you think that you could not be happy taking care of children, then don’t let others talk you into doing it. Your unhappiness would affect your kids, if you cannot be happy with it, they will not be happy.

I don’t care what other people say, you do not need kids to be happy. Lots of people are very happy without kids. This idea comes from the old-fashioned notion that people are supposed to have as many kids as possible. Many religions still encourage large families. I cannot say that is a bad thing, but we do have to put it into a modern context. The reason behind this is so that people would be ensured that someone would be able to take over the family business. Kids were less likely to survive into adulthood, and having more kids increased the odds that some would make it. People also needed the labor to help take care of the land, or produce whatever it was that made the family money. This is not such an issue now either. There are plenty of people already in the world to do this labor.

We are at a point when overpopulation is becoming a problem. For this reason I choose not to have more kids than would replace my husband and I. Two kids, that’s it. That said, with better health care and longer life-expectancies, we are still adding to the total.

Money is another big contributing factor. While at one point having kids made the possibility of earning money easier, today raising kids is a huge financial cost. Even though most everything that my son has is second-hand, mostly gifts, the cost in essentials like diapers and food is noticeable. If you feel the need for your kids to have all-new things and a full nursery you will be feeling the pinch a lot more. That is not to say that my kids are lacking anything, I just have a different idea of what is essential than many people do. I believe that my kids will benefit more from the time and effort that I give them than the money I spend on stuff for them. I would rather save it for experiences and college than to spend it on stuff.

Ultimately the decision is yours. Do not let others make it for you. Notice how you feel in reaction to events in your life that may play a role. Put thought into it. Consider other’s opinions, but know that what is right for some people is not right for others. Make sure that you balance what is important to you with what would be necessary for raising kids. Right now I am putting off a lot of travel I would love to do so that when I do it I can share it with my kids. Right now they are too young to appreciate it, and we are taking the time to establish ourselves so that we can do this when they are older. I realized that my life did not have to end when I had kids, but some things do get put on hold.

Remember kids are a lifelong commitment, if that scares you right now, it might be better to wait. If you are nervous about the commitment, it is healthy. It means that you are taking everything into consideration, and it is a lot. Just think it through and be patient. Not all of the fear will ever go away. I am still terrified that I will not be good enough for what my kids deserve. I am still afraid for the world that they will be inheriting. But I made the commitment, and I am sticking to it. The fear helps motivate me, but it was not that long ago when I was frozen by it.

I am not saying that this is the natural progression that everyone will follow, because it is not. Everyone is different, some people know the answer before they ask the question. I was there for a long time, on both sides. I understand both, and I know that the answers lie within.

 

Choice in Health Care

This is a really big topic, and the center of a lot of debate at the moment.

When I was pregnant with my son, we spent a lot of time looking over all of the information about the different tests and things that were available to us. We decided not to do any tests that we could not do anything about. What that means is that if the result of a test would tell us something, but we could not do anything to change the outcome then there is no point. One of these tests would tell us that our child would likely have down syndrome. Because there would be no way to lessen the probability following the test, we decided not to do it. Additionally the risks associated with the test were far more likely to cause problems than the likelihood that it would find anything. I have worked with down syndrome kids and we knew that if anything were to happen we would deal with it.

That said I was seeing many different doctors within the practice so that I would have met any of the ones who might end up delivering the baby. One of these doctors (luckily they were no longer employed there by the time I went into labor) was very indignant that we opted not to do this test. I understand that doctors have their own personal beliefs, and that they are supposed to do no harm. We were very upset that she refused to respect our choice, especially since that choice, according to the statistics, the science, was the less damaging. The doctor agreed that there was nothing that could be done about the results, and understood our risk/benefit analysis. Unfortunately the doctor’s personal preference to know took precedence and made us very uncomfortable.

This is something that is the patient’s choice. It has no effect on anyone else’s life. Us knowing in advance would change nothing except potentially adding problems because of the test.

Some people choose to have the test because if the child is more than likely going to have down syndrome, they would terminate the pregnancy. This would be considered a medical reason and is subject to different rules than if the parents chose abortion for a healthy child. I respect that choice. Having children is a huge responsibility, children with special needs more than doubly so. Although I do believe that every person has worth I know that many people would not be able to handle the care that these children require.

Abortion is a choice that does affect other’s lives, mostly the parents and the child’s. That choice should be about what is best for those people. If the parents, specifically the mother, know that the child would not be well off growing up in that household or situation, they have the options of adoption or abortion. It is the responsibility of those involved to make the decision about what is best. Just being alive is not always the better option. I used to say that having a child would end my life, not in a literal sense, but in a figurative one. When I was younger I would not be able to devote the time to improving my situation if I were to care for a child. The child would come first, and unfortunately would not be able to be brought up in the way I would like if I did not have a job and an education.

So what about the other big debate right now? Vaccines. I believe in free choice. I do not like it when the government imposes things we have to do. As far as I am concerned wearing a seat belt should be a personal choice. The statistics are out there, it is undoubtedly safer with a seat belt, but the only life lost would be your own, yes other lives are affected by this as well. In a perfect society I would say that people need to take that into consideration as they weigh the risks and benefits (?) of not wearing a seat-belt. I know however that people tend to be self-centered and not consider that others would be affected by their passing.

What does this have to with vaccines? I believe that people should be allowed to make their own choices. However people are not very good at weighing the data, or considering others. I really feel silly for repeating some of this, but the original study used to back the argument that vaccines cause autism has been retracted, and the author discredited. The other risks that are often cited are concerns about the inefficacy or side effects of the vaccines themselves. If the vaccine is ineffective, you are no worse off than if you did not have it, so I believe there is no more to be said about that. As far as side effects, these are usually minimal, a little soreness, but come on, you stuck a needle there, why wouldn’t it be sore? Yes, some people are allergic to certain elements of the vaccines. The chances of this are extremely remote. Those who are too young, do have a bad reaction, or find that the vaccine is ineffective are those who have to count on herd immunity. As a culture we have had this type of immunity for long enough that some people forget what the risks really are, which makes a real risk/reward analysis skewed. It can also allow people to forget that their decisions can affect others.

This is an article about a child who was exposed to measles. And this is the response from an anti-vaccine advocate. One of the points made in the response is that the man who carried the infection had been vaccinated. This means that he is just as much of a victim of the shrinking herd immunity as the child. Yes, I have problems with the pharmaceutical industry, but that is about them charging too much for things. They have something of value and a monopoly on it. They are taking advantage, and not realizing who that might hurt, but I do not believe they are evil. If you look at some of her links you can see that the evidence does not all fit. The risks associated with the vaccine are stated, but it is clearly stated that those risks apply to the people who should be counting on herd immunity. Her link about the court case has a headline reading “Merck Whistleblower Suit A Boon to Vaccine Foes Even As It Stresses Importance of Vaccines”.

I do believe in free choice, but I am an idealist and think that people should have the ability to make informed decisions when they are given the information. I have a problem when what I believe should be the case is not the case. In the case of vaccines, I am tempted to say that the government should take away people’s right to choose, for other’s protection. But if I do that, am I any different than those who want to take away women’s right to make decisions about abortion? Am I any different than those who advocate taking guns away because some might be used to kill? Am I any different than those who are trying to take away our right to choose our leaders? If I choose to limit people’s right to spread misinformation I am not different than anyone who tries to limit my speech against corporations or governments. These are rights I believe in, and I refuse to participate in setting a precedent that would assist taking away these rights, and others. I can only hope that giving people the information and teaching them how to use it (including reforming our current school system) is the best way. I am not willing to risk the future of our democracy in order to combat one ill-informed decision. A functional democracy depends on having an informed populace. That is what we need.

 

Why my Son’s Favorite Game is Mine Too

I had a problem. I work afternoons, and my 18 month old uses when I leave for work as his queue to take a nap. On my days off, he would stay up until bedtime! I had to come up with some routine that he could follow whether I was going to work or not.

I decided that we would pick up his toys before I left for work, and do it at the same time on my days off. I had no idea how well that would go over. I figured that it would end up with me putting the toys away and him pulling them back out again, just like when we tidy up before vacuuming.

For the first few days, my son mostly just watched, and I tried to get him involved. I am pregnant, and the bending over is difficult, so I was not sure how well this routine would work as I progressed.

After a few days I was able to get my son to pick up a few things that he knew the names of and bring them to me. Now it has been just over a month and now he recognizes the names of most of his toys. He has been saying more of them, and his spoken vocabulary is growing faster than it was before.

To my son, it is not work. To him it is a word association game. I sit in front of the drawers where his toys belong and ask him to bring me something while pointing and saying the name of it. He gleefully skips off to find the item. I start with the words he knows well, like ball or block. Once those are out of the way we move on to ones he doesn’t know quite as well. When he down to only a few options left on the floor, I go ahead and introduce newer words. He usually needs some help with these, since he tends to look too far away, but he is very proud once he finds the right thing.

I know this game will not last forever, but right now my little man is so helpful. I get the room tidied up every day and all I have to is sit and point. My son gets not only fun, but good habits, and an expanding vocabulary. It is a win for everyone!

Freedom of Expression; Gender Identity

My son is about 18 months old now, and I want it to be his choice when he gets his first haircut, because I believe that it is about self-expression. His hair is getting long enough to be in his eyes, and I sometimes manage to pull it back for awhile before he takes out the hair tie. Because of the long hair people always assume he is a girl, but especially when it is up. I don’t really care, at that age gender doesn’t mean anything. To me the only thing gender means is how you have sex, and some limited biological brain functions. Most of what we consider gender identity is created by our culture.

Today my son was wearing a red flannel shirt and jeans while his hair was pulled up in a pink hair tie because that is what I happened to have with me. A gentleman stopped by to say hi and asked “who is this sweet girl?” I introduced him as my son. I thought it was rather amusing that it was more believable to the man that a little girl would wear a full boy’s outfit than that a boy would have long hair in a ponytail. In our culture girls have more freedom in this regard than boys do. We have fought for it. A century ago a girl wearing pants was even more taboo than a boy wearing a skirt is today.

Not only do women have a box they are expected to fit into, so do men. For women it is about fingernails, hair, and makeup. It is about shopping for shoes and clothes that allow her to be the woman she is supposed to be. For all of the fighting that women have done to be equal to men, there is still a box. The fight is not over.

The problem is that some men feel like by women gaining ground they are losing it. That is not the point. I am not sure what about the feminist movement gives that impression, but some people’s notion that women are trying to take over might have something to do with it. Men are confined in a box too. They have always been, and have not put together a fight the way that women have. Men and boys are pressured to be macho. “Be a man”, “Grow some balls”, those types of statements are endemic of the battle that they face. The equivalent “Act like a lady” is reserved for specific situations, but for the most part women have permission to be more manly than men have to be womanly. Not only is the behavioral box more confining for men, they are also more confined in dress. Women are expected to wear makeup, but the choice not to is not as taboo as the choice of men to wear it. Women can wear all sorts of tops, dresses, or skirts or pants. Men get shirts and pants. The variety even within that is very limited. As a costume designer I find designing for men from the 19th century on rather boring. And to top it off, men are expected to support the women in life in a way that they can do the shopping they are supposed to do.

I believe that the crisis that some people have with gender identity would not be nearly as bad if they did not feel pressured into a mold they did not fit. When a boy is forced to be a boy they feel the need to push back just because they like some things that are considered ‘girly’. Rather than sending this child on a whirlwind of identity, how about we just let him play with the dolls if that is what he wants. Later he may turn out to be straight, or he may turn out to be gay. He may even turn out to identify as a girl. That is okay.

To me it seems that the dichotomy between male and female has created a very damaging society. I understand that for some people who identify as their non-biological gender they only feel complete once they have completed their gender re-assignment surgery. I have no problem with the surgery, if it is that important to you, go for it. I support you 100%. My concern is that some people feel that in order to fit they have to completely identify as one or the other. I would rather live in a society where a man is allowed to wear a dress and makeup when he feels like it, but is still allowed to go hunting with the guys. Rather than having distinct gender identities, and spending so much time categorizing people (including adding new distinctions) we should just let people be themselves and skip the labels. For some people just being allowed to be themselves is enough, they would not need to go through all of the physical changes. For others the body they were given is not themselves, and they should have the right to change it.

 

Freedom of Expression; Costumes and Dress Codes

A few days ago I was reading a blog by a teacher about the day after Halloween. I did not save the link, and I should have. One of the students wore a cape to school that day. The teacher kept considering telling the child to take it off, but she noticed that a child who is normally awkward and clumsy was far more confident. The article seemed to be written in order to pride herself on doing a great thing for this kid, as it seemed to help him in the future as well. No students even mentioned the cape, although teachers did do a double take. I think that all of this is great. But in the end, the teacher, while she did compliment the cape, told him not to wear it again. I cannot figure out why.

I wore costumes to school every day. I got a lot of flak for it from my peers, but it allowed me to be who I am. In high school, people who did not know me by name knew me as Little Red Riding Hood because I always wore a red cape that I had made. Today there is a lot of discussion about school dress codes. They are being attacked for being sexist, and even for creating the very over-sexualized environment they were created to fight. I agree with all of those points. The rules are often stated in ways that target girls more than boys. They are nearly always more strictly enforced with girls than with boys. By making such a big deal of it, we are teaching young kids to look at one another’s clothing and bodies and question “Is that enough clothing”, “Shouldn’t they cover up more?”, and “Why, what is wrong with this outfit that I have to change?” We are saying that what they wear is more important that who they are, and more important than why they are at school.

Some of the rules are unfair to certain body types. In my district short and skirt lengths were determined by arm length. A silly rule since some girls were completely within regulations and still showed ass when they sat down, while I broke that without ever being questioned since my skirt was plenty long because my arms are long.

This is not the message we should be sending kids. We need to be encouraging them to look beyond the clothes, and beyond the body to what a person is really made of. When we focus on the clothes, the person gets lost. This encourages people in our society to dehumanize one another. This allows people to do things to people without feeling regret. Whether that action is teasing in school, or physically assaulting someone. We live in a society where we do not have the luxury to personally meet everyone that we interact with. This means that we cannot afford to make any of the interactions we practice with those we do know contribute to that dehumanizing effect.

The point of many dress codes is to avoid ‘distractions’. This is ridiculous. The fact that a girl’s skirt is a little short, or that a boy’s pants are too baggy (showing my age a bit) should not be allowed to be a distraction in the first place. A teacher notices that someone is leering, call them out. If they persist, they should be sent to the office. Not the person they were looking at. We should not be teaching children that others, girls especially, should cover up so that people looking at them can feel more comfortable. We need to be teaching children that people have different tastes and make different decisions. We need to be teaching children that they are responsible for their own actions.

I went to a middle school with a more extreme dress code, called a Uniform Code of Dress. It was not quite a uniform, but very close. We had 2 colors of pants or skirts we were permitted to wear, in one style, and 5 colors of polo shirts. This was initially instituted to prevent students from wearing gang colors. My friends and I were so out of touch with that world that we could not even tell you the names of the gangs active in our area, let alone what their colors or signs were. I would probably have worn gang colors a lot without realizing it, as many people do.

This system ended up in a lot more time tied up in determining if students were within regulations or not. Not only were we measuring if the girl’s skirts were actually longer than their finger tips to also trying to determine if someone’s pants were the right color. My first dying project was adding coffee to the washing machine while washing a slightly lighter skirt that had been called white too many times to make it more khaki. After I left the school, it was decided to keep the style restrictions, but lift the color rules. So the entire reason for the Uniform Code of Dress was thrown out the window.

During this period I was very frustrated with the rules because I could not express myself. I took to wearing what I call “happy socks”, or the ones with bright colors, pictures, or separate toes. I took a lot of time braiding my hair on the car ride in so that it was as weird as possible. In trying to find ways to express myself I tested the limits that no-one had thought to make. But I also lost something. The goal was not about me being me, but rather about being strange or drawing attention to myself. I still wear the happy socks, but the hair took too much work, and did not really mean anything to me. Later I turned to doing elaborate masks in makeup, which worked when I had an hour and a half bus ride each morning, not so much once I started driving. I kind of miss the masks.

There is another issue that is gaining attention these days. Gender identity. I think that this ties in perfectly with this topic. In high school I had a gay friend choose to wear a skirt one day. I honestly did not even notice it until he mentioned at lunch how much shit he was getting. He had chosen to do it in part to find out what the reaction was. He committed to going a full week. Of course when he stopped, the people around him may have felt like they won, but there is no point in continuing something on the principle of proving someone wrong.

I do believe that clothing is a key way to express who you are. I look back on that as inspiration to be myself no matter what since I cannot wear costumes to work every day. These days wearing a full costume is rare because I am lazy and getting all dressed up to go shopping doesn’t really feel worth it. Childhood is a special time, you do not have to worry about what bosses or clients think. If we allow children to express themselves when they are young, they will be more accepting when they are older, and they will have a better concept of who they are. I do not think that expression should be restricted unnecessarily, to me it is a part of Freedom of Speech. It is a human right.