Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mandating school uniforms demands civil disobedience

Last night the Rockingham County Board of Education voted 8 against 4 to implement "standard mode of dress" at Reidsville Middle School and Reidsville High School next year. In other words, there will be school uniforms at those schools this coming fall.

There was quite a turnout at last night's meeting. More than there's been at any meeting since I started attending regularly last summer (I've only missed one meeting during that time and that was last month, on the night that Mark Childrey asked me to fill in for him on Monday Night Live). Several students of Reidsville High School rose to speak during the public comments portion of the meetings. I thought that they were considerably more passionate and articulate in their arguments than most of the "grown-ups". When the vote came, at least two of the girls who spoke broke down in tears.

Steve Smith was one of those who voted against "S.M.O.D." His belief was that unless the heart of the parents and students and faculty was fully invested in this, that it wasn't worth pursuing. Steve Smith wanted to postpone the vote but board chair Elaine McCollum said that because of procedure that a vote had to be taken during the meeting. When the vote came only Steve Smith, Amanda Bell, Celeste DePriest and Lori McKinney voted against implementing the uniforms. All the others voted to enact it, except Herman Hines who abstained because he felt that unless this was something being considered for all of the students in the system that he couldn't conscientiously take part in the vote.

To say that I am disappointed in several members of the board would be putting it lightly. I told Elaine McCollum – someone who I have known and respected more than she'll ever know quite a lot over the years – that this was not right. I told her that if evoking a sense of spirit and pride at the schools was the goal, then that can't be something that's created from the top-town. It has to inherently be there to begin with. The board can't mandate this "sense of belonging" into being. McCollum told me that by roughly a six-to-one margin, she heard many more parents tell her that they did want the uniforms than parents telling her they didn't want them. And she told me that "you know me Chris", that she has never been a person who would have wanted anything like uniforms. I've known Elaine McCollum for enough years to trust her on that. That still doesn't mean that I can approve of how she voted on this though. Or that I can be approving of several others who voted for this, for that matter.

McCollum stressed that this was going to be a pilot program. Meaning it should be considered a "trial run" at Reidsville Middle and Reidsville High. There are going to be reports made every few months about how well it's working. I have to wonder how much the rising seniors of Reidsville High were considered. This next year is supposed to be the best of their high school career... and the school board is going to play games with it. Would the members of the board who voted for this have enjoyed recollecting how their own high school senior years were diminished because they were forced to wear a school uniform?

By the way, Ron Price voted for the school uniforms. He spoke in favor of them a few times during the meeting: something that met with considerable sniggling from members of the public ("Oh the irony," I told fellow former school board candidate Penny Owens).

When I was running for school board, I made no secret about being a proponent for a strong dress code. I still believe that. If a thing enforced, the dress code is more than adequate. Enforcing a uniform will fix nothing. It will not do anything that wasn't already there waiting to be done in the first place.

As we were leaving the meeting last night, I met with a few of the students from Reidsville High who spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. And I told them something: "Remember Thoreau."

So here it is: I am going to go on record as stating that last night's vote dictates a little "civil disobedience" on the part of any parents and students of the affected schools who do not wish to adhere to this uniform code.

To the parents of every student, and to every student at Reidsville Middle School and Reidsville High School: the school board has voted to make you wear school uniforms.

Now let the school board try to enforce it.

I wouldn't ordinarily advocate something like this in defiance of people... well, some of them anyway... who I happen to personally know and believe are good and have the best of intentions in mind. But no matter who is in charge of it, if government is wrong then it becomes a duty of conscience for the citizens to protest with due diligence and force if need be. Indeed, I believe that there is not only a moral duty to defy government in such circumstances, but a dire Christian one also.

You don't have to do what government tells you to do simply because government takes a vote or makes a threat. And this particular body of government has neither legal force or the moral authority to back up any threats it may make, either.

Defy the board. Adhere to the dress code that is already in place. Within those reasonable limits, wear what you want to wear at Reidsville Middle and Reidsville High. Encourage your friends to violate the new uniform code too, if they also believe it is wrong. Don't buy a single piece of prescribed attire.

Make a show of public force about it. And then dare the board of education to do something about it. Tell the board that if it wants to have you wear a particular outfit to school, then you will be glad to do so... provided that the board foots the bill for it. But until it does so, tell the board to stay out of your bedroom closet.

What's the board going to do? Suspend or expel every student who doesn’t adhere to the new uniform rules? How much teaching do they expect to be done at Reidsville Middle and Reidsville High if even 25% of the students are suspended because they don't dress as monotonously as the board is dictating? How much teaching would they expect to accomplish if 50 or 75% of the students refuse to adhere to this unreasonable demand of the board?

I don't think that there would be very much teaching that would be done at all. And the board would be forced to back down on this empty threat that it has made.

It's like this: we can either meekly accept this decision by the board and thus go on to teach our students that they must do whatever government tells them to do. Or we can choose to defy the board and demonstrate to our young people that there is still such a thing as freedom in America if we choose to have it.

In this situation, as best as I can understand it this is definitely a case where disobedience to government is obedience to God. And if there is going to be an America worth handing down to our children, then we the citizenry must make that America come about ourselves, instead of trusting those in government to make it happen.

That even applies to such things as decisions by the local school board.


Anonymous said...

So why are school uniforms so wrong? So wrong that they deserve disobedience? Is it more than "individuality"?

I heard of people getting killed over a brand of sneakers; but I've never heard of uniform-on-uniform-because-of-the-uniform violence.

Unknown said...

I truly dont think inforcement of uniforms is going to create unity or discipline for RHS or RMS students. I feel that this has done nothing but create unnessasary confusion and rebellion. Reidsville schools should implement the rules and dress code they already have in place before they create another rule thats going to be broken.

Anonymous said...

I think the principals of Reidsville Middle/High Schools should feel really stupid right about now. So many parents/students have come out to the last two school board meetings and have done an excellent job at pointing out that the Connect Ed surveys that they claim to have done is in fact bogus. On top of that, Wanda Totten - one of the names that was on the list of parents that decided to bring this before the board as being "for the SMOD" has actually come forward & said she was "fenced" on the idea of it and never said she was for it. Also, one other parent said the same thing-they were only interested in the whole idea of it, next thing they knew their name was in the paper as being one of the commitee members in support of the SMOD! I think this puts a whole new light on this subject