Uniforms suck: teaching through consequences

Tim Hibsman

I saw a mother dropping off her son at school. All around the front of the school, children were walking in the same direction wearing the same school uniforms. The mother pulled her car up in front of the school and the young boy opened the door and started to get out of the car. He was tugging on his new pants as his mother gave him a stern look.

“Mom, these uniforms suck,” he said in an irritated tone. “I don’t want to look like everyone else. I want to wear my own clothes. I want…”

“I don’t want to hear it,” she said sternly. She appeared to have a lot on her mind as she looked in her rearview mirror and waited for him to head into the school.

“I don’t want to wear a uniform. I hate uniforms. Uniforms make me look stupid. Uniforms…”
“Quiet!” she said loudly. “If you don’t wear a uniform you won’t be allowed to go to school.”
“I don’t care,” he said matter-of-factly trying to annoy her.

She got very upset with his last comment, but she remained calm and started to formulate her response to his rebellious statements. “You don’t care? If you don’t wear the uniform they will kick you out of school and you will be a drop out.”

“I don’t care.”
“Then you can get a job in the fast food industry wearing a uniform. You can be a security officer and wear a uniform. Maybe you could join the Army and wear a uniform. Oh, if you can’t find a job, maybe you could rob a bank, get caught and go to prison and wear a unifor…”
“I got the point, mom,” he said as he begrudgingly accepted his mother’s reasoning.
“Good. Get to class. Don’t be late. Love you.”
“Yeah, me too,” he said as he accepted her argument and joined the sea of identically dressed students as they headed inside the building.

Lessons learned:

  • Show the child the possible consequences of their actions. If you continue to act this way…this could be the outcome. Positive and negative consequences should be provided to show how choices in life make a big difference. If you graduate college, this will happen… If you dropout out, this will happen…
  • It is important to engage the student with rational answers and reasoning. It is not enough to say do it my way; but explain why it is important to do it the way that is requested.
  • Examples help to prove a point (real-life examples, hypothetical examples, etc.). Graphic examples help to provide a picture of reality that helps the student to clearly understand.
  • Discipline is important. Talking back should not be tolerated. Providing an alternate opinion in a civilized manner is the appropriate behaviour.
  • Students need to see positive and negative examples in life. Prison uniforms are obviously examples of bad uniforms. Graduation uniforms (caps and gowns) show success, accomplishment, and achievement. Medals and awards on police or military uniforms show bravery, courage and great accomplishment.

The author is now out of the K-12 classroom and is a Professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He can be reached at [email protected].

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