Uniforms, uniformity, conformity or inclusivity?

Sheela Ramakrishnan

When Teacher Plus asked me to do a piece on uniforms – I must confess that I was not sure what stand to take – for or against! In spite of being well into middle age with several “schooling” years behind me, I could not find a clear-cut perspective. And so I thought, what better way to express this than to make this ambiguity itself a theme and throw open some thoughts to you. My first dilemma stemmed from motherhood – the first teacher every child encounters. As progressive moms (or so I would like to believe) we want our child to be independent, self-reliant and more than that – unique! We try at every opportunity to enable and nurture in the child the capacity to think and act for himself or herself and not follow others blindly. And yet when the same child starts displaying signs of all that we have “trained” him/her to be – and becomes an individual in his or her own right – we are somewhat uncomfortable in accepting that individuality and uniqueness! Be it in career choices, ways of dressing or choosing spouses or personal statements and opinions. This is a big contradiction! So what do we want as mothers? Uniformity or conformity? Or a bit of both? And how easy is it for a child, when into adulthood, to slip from one to the other without any conflict?

I am not for a moment claiming that I have perfected this balance – far from it! But to be aware itself is half the battle won. I struggle each day to hang on to my belief that society needs individuals and not herds as I let my children “go and be”.

I am not sure where uniforms of any kind fit into this thought process.

My next dilemma stemmed from the profession of teaching – quite akin to motherhood, but more connected to the head than heart. As an educator, I have the same onerous responsibility of enabling children to think and act for themselves. “Make sentences of your own and not from the text” – “Don’t copy – write your own answers,” “Your essay should reflect your own thoughts and opinions,” are some of the refrains that I always used and they come to my mind in a rush of confusion – to be contrasted against “Why haven’t you worn your uniform today” , “Your skirt/trouser is not the same shade as what the school prescribed” , “Your tie/badge is missing” – what message are we really trying to send out? Do we want individuals or clones? Are my students justified in getting confused as they grow?

The author is a partner at Edcraft, Hyderabad, a firm engaged in making teaching-learning materials, conducting workshops and providing consultancy services. She can be reached at edcraft94@gmail.com.

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