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Roxane Salonen, Published October 06 2009

Salonen: School uniforms serve as moms’ case for conformity

Ever since we’ve been involved in parochial schools, I’ve braced myself for the likelihood that one of our kids might rise up someday against the school dress code.

I was caught off guard the day it finally happened, however.

Throughout the past eight years, our school-aged children have, for the most part, dutifully donned their red, blue or white polo shirts each school morning and tucked them expertly into tan or black Dockers with minimal grumbling.

When our oldest son was in kindergarten, I kept expecting him to come home from school and quickly shred his uniform for something more in sync with the rest of the neighborhood. But he didn’t give a hoot that he was the only child within a 10-block radius who looked freshly delivered from Sunday school.

This year, however, the dam finally broke within our family.

The rest of the kids and I were waiting in the van in the school parking lot one recent afternoon, anxiously eyeing the clock and school doors. We had zero minutes to get to a tennis match and couldn’t imagine where child No. 5 might be.

Twenty aggravating minutes later, she emerged from the building with her friend, both of them clad in jeans and fashionable shirts.

Noting the unusual bulge in my daughter’s book bag, I realized the deed had been premeditated. Too bad they chose this day to pull off the Great American Parochial School Uniform Protest.

They really hadn’t broken any rules. It’s just that the surprise “Changing of the Guard” had produced unfortunate consequences for others within our family.

Even as my eyebrows furrowed, my inner child giggled quietly at the denim-clad girl walking proudly toward the van. Far be it from me to argue against individuality. I’m a little sister, too, after all.

But I’ll also argue that conformity isn’t always a bad thing.

Here’s a little secret: Most of us moms love school uniforms. We love that we don’t have to agonize over appropriate hip and skirt lines, straps and buckles. “Check the school handbook,” we retort at the first whimper of a protest, relieved to have official backing.

I’m also a huge fan of the unifying factor of school uniforms. While some kids might insist on sifting and sorting through whether those Dockers came from The Gap or Kmart, by and large, the sameness in uniforms keeps things fairly even and quite economical.

We also have non-uniform days – true celebrations at our school – as well as other ways to express individuality.

Without some amount of conformity, our world would fall into chaos. And I think it’s healthy for our kids to learn rules are important and most often exist not to restrict us unfairly but to protect us.

Despite my daughter’s quiet protests, I’m sold on the dress code. I’m hoping that by focusing less on their exteriors, my children and their peers might pay closer attention to their interiors – those parts of themselves that are vibrantly fashioned and unique beyond measure.

Salonen works as a freelance writer and children’s author in Fargo, where she and her husband, Troy, are the parents of five children. She also has a blog at www.areavoices.com/peacegarden