- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2007

Whenever I hear parents arguing for their children’s “right of expression,” I can’t help but suspect that these are parents who already have allowed their children to express themselves too freely and in too many ways.

That came to mind as I read an online account of parents nationwide organizing in objection to school uniform and clothing policies. I did some more research, and as far as I can tell, the parent groups in question are unanimous in feeling that any policy restricting sartorial choice on the part of a child limits his or her freedom of expression.

Notwithstanding that the Founding Fathers most definitely did not intend for dependent children to enjoy the same constitutional privileges (the operative term, by the way) guaranteed law-abiding adults, the same meritless argument can be made for employees who are restricted in what they can wear to work. Is a policeman’s right to free expression violated because he must wear a uniform? Likewise, does a bank trample constitutional liberty by telling an employee that stiletto heels and a miniskirt are not in keeping with the image the bank is attempting to project to the public?

Ironically, however, the parents in question have unwittingly hit the nail on the head. School uniform and clothing policies are designed explicitly to restrict the use of clothing intended to express arrogance, rebellion, claims to superiority, disrespect, gang membership, sexuality and profanity.

If such expressions are restricted, the only expression that remains is, “I am a self-respecting person with due respect for authority and the sensibilities of others.” So, I ask: Just exactly what essential expression do these oppositional parents feel their children are being denied?

Furthermore, it is one thing to claim that a policy restricts free expression; it is quite another to demonstrate that said restriction causes harm, a demonstration that is thus far lacking. As far as I can tell, the only evidence of anything remotely resembling harm is testimonies from youngsters to the effect that they don’t like wearing uniforms.

Some of the groups in question make the argument that requiring parents to purchase uniforms violates the guarantee of free public education. Hello? The last time I checked, parents are expected to share the cost of their children’s education by purchasing paper, pens, pencils, rulers, notebooks and other school supplies.

One indignant Anderson, Ind., mother complained that purchasing uniforms for her five children would cost a whopping $641, or $128 per child. I’ll just bet she would spend a lot more than that if her youngsters wanted clothes that would enable them to express themselves. (She has filed suit complaining that uniforms restrict her children’s ability to exercise that supposed right.)

Before we leave the topic of school supplies, consider: If a child comes to school with a profanity stenciled across the cover of his notebook, is the school trampling his rights by telling him to keep the notebook at home? Just thought I’d ask.

The arguments put forth by these disgruntled parents lack internal coherence. For example, Vickie Crager, founder of Asserting Parental Rights — It’s Our Duty, claims that uniform policies interfere with parents’ right to raise children without governmental interference. Someone should point out to Ms. Crager that by sending a child to a public school, a parent consents, a priori, to governmental “interference” in child-rearing matters. Personally, I think it’s far less intrusive for the government to dictate what clothes children have to wear to school than to decide what history they should believe.

The research on uniform and clothing policies is inconclusive. The most highly publicized study, done by sociologist David Brunsma, failed to find significant association between uniform policies and attendance, achievement or school violence. On the other hand, principals are almost unanimously in favor of them. Given that they are on the front lines, I’ll give principals the benefit of doubt.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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