Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Schools uniforms, religious symbols and annoying teennagers

The school I went to didn't, at that time, have much in the way of a school uniform. More really just a dress code - and that was pretty elastic. Still, I do recall being told under no uncertain terms that wearing a T-shirt with the legalise cannabis campaign logo on it was unacceptable.

Perhaps today I could have got away with it by insisting I was a Rastafarian or something and that such garb was required by my religion. But then I would have had to go to court - and this would have been a real drag, which brings me to the case of Sarika Watkins-Singh:
"Yesterday, a high court judge ruled that the exclusion of 14-year-old Sarika Watkins-Singh from Aberdare girls' school in south Wales because she continued to wear the bracelet - a symbol of her Sikh religion - was unlawful."
I'm a bit agnostic about the whole uniform thing myself but I think schools should be allowed to insist on one if they want - not least because such policies tend be be strongly supported by the parents.

And schools need to have some kind of dress-code. I appreciate there's some who don't agree. But these tend to be either teenagers themselves or the sort of bloggers who, despite being over thirty, are still teenagers at heart. The sort of people who sincerely thought, for example, that the Shabina Begum case was about the 'right of women to control their appearance'. Bah! These form part of the myriad commentators who have had teenagers described to them. Let's keep it fucking real, ok? For every one that wants to wear a movable tent to school, there's a thousand - on a conservative estimate - that would like to turn up looking like hookers. They shouldn't be allowed to; neither should the boys be allowed to look like extras from a 50 cent video.

And make no mistake, this is what this case is about. I have to say I found the Shabina Begum case amusing - what with all the wailing about 'integration' and shit from the usual quarters. Hmph! Articulate and stroppy teenager insists on wearing whatever the fuck she likes to express her 'identity' - except her identity just so happens to be about being immersed into a group. Fairly typical British teenager behaviour, as far as I could see.

As is the case with this bullshit bangle case. The response from HP Sauce was entirely predictable - and the comments thread depressingly so. Nevertheless, in his dissent from this, I couldn't find anything to agree with in what Norm had to say. Don't get me wrong - from what I've read of the school in question, it sounds like it's run by a load of anally-retentive assholes who have way too much time on their hands. I tell you this: some of the places I've taught...if this is all these people have got to worry about - well, it's pretty easy to identify those who have an easy life in this gig.

But, but - better a school run by anally-retentive assholes than one where no-one's running it, where the fucking kids are setting the agenda, where the goddam management have effectively surrendered and have instead reduced themselves to ingratiating themselves to the pupils. This is why the court should have found in favour of the school.

Norm argues that secularism does not proscribe wearing religious symbols in public spaces. I agree - but this isn't - to my mind, anyway - about secularism but whether schools can set their own uniform policies or not.

He is, however, also unimpressed with the argument about uniform:
"The school, it would seem, was willing to allow exceptions of practicality (a watch for telling the time) and - what? - fashion (ear studs). So, not everything on the pupils is quite uniform. By what reason, then, can it be said that an object important to a person on account of her identity speaks to a less important consideration than these two? You will struggle to get an answer to that question."
Disagree - and methinks Norm is taking the whole 'uniform' think a little too literally here. There is, as far as I understand, no specific requirement in Sikhism to wear this particular bangle so the young lady's 'identity' is intact. And I think it's fairly easy to draw a distinction between this and these two examples. Watches? Goddammit all! If consistency is the problem here, let us insist that every pupil wears one. This would stop the little toads turning up late after lunch claiming they 'didn't know what time it was'. And earring studs are not just a matter of fashion. If you have pierced ears but don't wear them then the holes will close over. So for a school to insist on no earrings at all would amount to them proscribing pupils' fashion sense when they are out of school - and that really would be intolerable.

I'm a pagan and as such I insist it is integral to my identity to teach my classes wearing nothing but my birthday suit. Would any court in the land vindicate my beliefs? I sincerely hope not. And neither should they have done so in this case. Let's not be silly about this. Teenagers like to insist that it is their 'right' to do whatever the fuck they want. It's entirely understandable - it's a stage of development driven by hormones, acne, shit like that. But a mature society tells them they can't and gets them to do more press-ups instead. It's the present lack of commonsense to recognise this, still less to impose this, that goes some way towards explaining why we're in the state we're in.

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