Sun | Dec 11, 2016

EDITORIAL - Commissars of skirt lengths (Pt 2)

Published:Wednesday | September 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Anyone, including ourselves, would be wary of questioning any insights, or diktats attendant thereto, on Jamaica's education system offered by Esther Tyson, who often contributes to this newspaper, including a letter in this edition.

Mrs Tyson, after all, has been a successful principal of secondary schools, most recently in a holding position at Tarrant High, where, over a single year, she was credited with halting a rot in education outcomes and instilling a new sense of discipline and pride at the institution. Mrs Tyson's strategy, apparently, includes a heavy infusion of faith.

This notwithstanding, and at the risk of desecrating sacred territory and inviting a backlash from hosts untold, we declare our surprise at the seeming conflation of a school's arbitrary declaration of hem lengths for girls' uniforms with discipline, or its capacity to achieve academic success. We are concerned, too, about a growing trend to dump all failures of discipline and poor results in schools on feckless parents who care little about the behaviour of their children and/or care little about their education.

The matter at hand is José Martí High School, where it has been decreed that girls' skirts fall 11 inches below their knees, a fact that was brought to public attention when a parent complained of her daughter being sent home for a dress that was an inch too short.

The ridiculousness - not to mention added costs to already burdened parents - of that Victorian imposition is one thing. It is another to comprehend how adding seven inches to hemlines would, of itself, as new commissars of uniform fashion now contend, translate to discipline. Or, as Mrs Tyson seems to argue, long skirts are helpful in rooting out "the culture of lawlessness that many students, supported by their parents, bring into school" - except, perhaps, making the girls obvious by their uniforms does the job.

It reminds of an example often used in this column: the solution used by Ed Bartlett in the 1980s to combat a growing problem of incest and older men having sex with children. The age of consent was raised from 14 to 16. With other things remaining the same, what was achieved was increasing the number of cases of statutory rape without addressing the underlying problem.

adressing the root problem

In other words, schoolyard commissars at José Martí or Tivoli Gardens High, armed with rules for judging whether a girl's skirt is a few centimetres short, won't attack the problems of discipline or educational outcomes. And it is likely to make it worse when children, whose parents can ill afford the additional costs, are thrown out of school.

Of course, there must be "respect for the rules and guidelines" that govern schools and other institutions, but such codes, as laws in a society, must be reasonable if they are to win respect and do not require an overly authoritarian hand for enforcement.

Indeed, this is the case whether the students involved are at José Martí High or Campion College, and their parents or guardians live in downtown Kingston or Norbrook. There is no inherent superiority in the latter, morally or intellectually. Schools require discipline, but the jackbooted kind is hardly going to produce a creative learning environment or enhance the quality of pedagogy. And if students cannot find bus fares or "afford lunch", why should they spend excessively on bolts of cloth for a single skirt.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.