Saturday, September 14, 2013

Uniforms and Patriotism

News item: Mississippi Students Upset After 'Patriotic Day' Apparel Flagged
Mississippi Students Upset After 'Patriotic Day' Apparel Flagged

Apparently a school in Mississippi declared Sept. 11, 2013 "Patriotic Day" and said that students could "either wear a white shirt containing an image of the American flag, or their regular school uniform," according to the Huffington Post.

Two students violated that policy by wearing regular T-shirts that said “America, land of the free, home of the brave” and "U.S. Pride." They were told to change their clothes because he shirts did not follow the school dress code, and now the article reports that the school is considering not having a "Patriotic day" next year.

I seldom get inspired to take time out of my day to comment on news articles and such, and most often other people say what I would have said anyway or a simply idiots. I was feeling inspired,this morning, however. Here is my take on the matter (which I also posted in the "comments" section of the article):

Patriotism is fun and all, but WHY are we patriots? "Guess what everybody? You can wear a DIFFERENT SHIRT than you always have to today, so long as it is THIS PARTICULAR SHIRT that we say you can wear!" I really don't get how that helps me understand why I am supposed to feel patriotic about this country. How is this serving the educational message of the school? If discipline is one of the primary educational missions of this particular school, sure, but I don't see anything empirically or intrinsically worthy of patriotism about being allowed to wear a US flag image on your shirt one day out of the year, and the rest of the year you may only wear your school uniform.

If the point of the uniform is to create an atmosphere of...well...uniformity among the student body, then are we to assume that patriots are allowed to express their individuality once a year now? Are those the only individuals that are allowed to express their individuality? Are those who do not wear the flag not patriots? Is no one else allowed to express their individuality on any other day of the year? Is there something special, better, greater about being a patriot as opposed to not being a patriot? Suppose someone wants to keep their patriotism in their hearts (as many do about their religions, for instance), would they be singled out by the "expressive" patriots for ridicule?

I am going to go out on a limb here and say if you want to maintain uniformity and discipline, you can do it: the same uniform, all year long. If you want to allow free expression, you can do that too: no dress code, all year long. I can even accept a "free expression day" in a uniformed school in which everyone is allowed to wear whatever the heck they want (all right, you can add "within acceptable community standards" if you are afraid of someone showing up with "swear words" on their shirt or in non-gender-appropriate underwear). But "Patriotic Day," in which you are "allowed" to wear one specific alternate uniform, especially one that is as loaded with subtext and meaning as the American flag, and nothing else, strikes me as facetious and against both the spirit of the principles behind school uniforms and the First Amendment's guarantee of the freedom of expression.

Thank you.